21 February 2007


After my bit in a Biblical Storytelling Festival on Sunday, one of those in attendance asked, "What's the point of humor?" My answer? "Well, it just sort of happened." That does not seem like an answer adequately considered. So here's a further effort.
  1. "It just sort of happened."

    This can be made a fuller answer than it was when given. The script, if you'll notice, does not actually "read funny." So some of the humor to which the questioner referred came from the performance: both the interpretation of the performer and the reaction of the audience. I was a little chagrined, for example, when the line I thought was a setup generated considerable response (fortunately, the punchline also generated considerable response), and equally chagrined when the comments I thought were funny were greeted with silence. But mostly I was troubled when the comments I intended to be serious were also taken as funny. In this sense, the humor "just sort of happened."

    Additionally, in this case, writing the story demanded that I come to think of Abram/Abraham as something of a real person as opposed to a mythic figure. While there are a few humorless people about, most people, to varying degrees, have a sense of humor. So if A/A is indeed to be considered a real person, it seems reasonable to think that he, in relating his story, may find some parts of his life amusing. At the very least, he was capable of laughter (though it is odd that Sarai/Sarah gets chided for laughing at the prospect of bearing a child while A/A does not). In that sense as well, the humor "just sort of happened."

  2. "It's funny because it's not me ..."

    We laugh at misfortune to others. And we laugh when people who have had the misfortune laugh at themselves -- people respond favorably when Al Gore cracks some joke about having almost been president. Some people (I presume) watch America's Funniest Home Videos. Toddler fall down go boom? Funny. Homer Simpson straddles mogul after mogul? Funny. Ben Stiller embarrassing himself? Funny.

  3. " ... oh, wait, yes it is me."

    Humor takes the edge off of truth. This is commonly cited as a reason for the use of humor, and is why, I think, we tend to laugh hardest at things that, given thought, cut closest to our nature. We laugh before we think. And we laugh harder because, subconsciously, we know already. So when A/A says something about most of his life's awkward situations coming about because of "just this sort of thing" [arguing with God (spouse, friend, pet)], people laugh because they can relate -- even if not right in the moment.
So, an answer no more profound, but better organized.

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