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At Long Last…The Humor Issue!

Ladies and gentlemen, wisecracks, cornballs, jesters, and twerps! After what has felt like eons of soliciting writers, fielding interviews, landing interviews, losing interviews, editing, copy editing, proofing, and an entire magazine REDESIGN, we have finally reached the best part. Childbirth. Out of the womb and into the world. After all, what’s the fun of stockpiling jokes when there’s no one to share them with? We can’t wait to share the entirety of Issue 11 with you. In it, we cover the gamut: church humor, potty humor, dark humor, community humor, tumor humor, tv humor, and puppets. Hopefully, if we’ve halfway done our job, the writing is as lighthearted and truthful as the subjects we cover. Oh, and did I mention the magazine has a brand new look, too, which we think you’ll really dig? 

Per usual, here’s a sampler of what’s to come, including the table of contents. Thanks for your patience as we’ve pulled this together. We’re sure it will be worth the wait. To order some extras for your nieces, nephews, and pets, go here. Until it lands in your mailbox, though, here’s Ethan’s Opener, where the magazine’s first wimple enters the stage.

Your Very Own Magenta Wimple

The secret sauce in every good New Yorker cartoon is juxtaposition. A good cartoon lines up two things you normally wouldn’t put together, and does it in a way that surprisingly makes a whole lot of sense. The illustration itself is usually an everyday life trope we know well: a patient and a doctor, employees in a business meeting, a husband and a wife out to dinner. They are situations we have a language for. Throw in an uninvited guest, though, and you have a recipe for jokes. Most of the time, the caption offers the curveball.

There’s the one of a pro football player, giving an on-field postgame interview, with a nasty look on his face: “First, I’d like to blame the Lord for causing us to lose today.” There’s the man in a flower shop, asking the clerk at the counter, “I need something that says, ‘I’m sorry about that thing I said that caused you to totally overreact.’” There’s the yoga class, everyone cross-legged in the lotus pose. The instructor beckons: “And now I want you to send out peaceful, loving thoughts to all sentient beings on the planet who have exactly the same political, economic, and religious beliefs that you do.” With each cartoon, the illustration sets the stage, and the caption turns that stage upside down.

This is how juxtaposition in humor works, by tearing down the barrier between the world we see every day and the subterranean, invisible world that we know but never talk about. Humor, in other words, peels back the shower curtain on our lives, revealing the banal and less-than-sexy truth, and yet does so with such a light touch that we can’t help but look. Somehow, looking makes us feel better.

At least that’s what humor can do. But not lately. Whether the subject has been the President, or Hollywood scandals, or the racial divide in America, “humor” of late has not been all that funny. Even the staples—Comedy Central standup, SNL, The Onion—have been hit-or-miss, often trading punchlines for cheapshots and laughter for scathing ridicule. This is par for the course in divided times, I suppose: moral outrage may provide juicy material for satire, but it is a non-starter for poop jokes…

I’m not saying that humor is only humor if it is toothless. Satire definitely has its place. What I am saying, though, is that humor is at its best when it is delivered at some expense to its teller and his/her audience, not at their behest. It was as true with Guildenstern as it is with Howard Stern: the joke must be on you to some extent. Somehow, the more particular that joke is, the more universal, and the more universal, the better.

Think about the person/people in your life who you feel really love you—those ones who have seen behind the “shower curtain” and yet still pick up the phone when you call. Odds are, that person (nothing against you) is a funny person. Maybe not a stand-up comic, maybe not a big jokester, but certainly someone who can handle the odd dissonance between how you ought to be and how you actually are, and can laugh at it. It takes a sense of humor for one person to love another, because the task demanded of them is absurd.

Humor has always been an emblem of grace for us here at Mockingbird. Since the beginning, we’ve felt humor is almost as essential as the message, as it tends to embody the “divine perspective” granted in being forgiven. If the world is a courtroom, full of accusations and demands, humor represents a recess in the proceedings, a superseding presence of mercy in a merciless world. Sure, some great humor comes from anger or despair, but the Christian message offers a different reason to laugh. If the Gospel is ever experienced for the ridiculous good news that it is, humor is, at least in part, an expression of relief.

Steve Brown describes it perfectly in his story about a woman who, after years of hiding an act of infidelity from her husband, suddenly feels the need to admit it to him. Though nervous, she decides to do it.

I saw her the next day, and she looked fifteen years younger. “What happened?” I asked. “When I told him,” she exclaimed, “he replied that he had known about the incident for twenty years and was just waiting for me to tell him so he could tell me how much he loved me!” And then she started to laugh. “He forgave me twenty years ago, and I’ve been needlessly carrying all this guilt for all these years!”

Her laughter is the laughter of the forgiven. It stems from a simultaneous flood of relief (“He forgave me twenty years ago!”) and a corresponding lack of self-seriousness (“How ridiculous that I carried this around for so long!”). This sense of humor comes from the ridiculousness of your happy outcome, and the fact that it had nothing to do with you.

This is why humor and hyperbole are reliable ministers of God’s grace. In various ways, they uncouple the truth from its sting. Humor has a way of including its speaker on the wrong side of the righteousness equation—there’s a delightful willingness to be wrong, because you can afford to be. Humor, in other words, is an expression of Paul’s great boast: “If Christ is for me, who can be against me?”

And yet, as “easy” and “light” as humor is, the theme has made for a shockingly difficult issue to pull together. Humor’s the kind of topic you have to embody, not just describe; if you have to explain a joke, you kill it. On top of that, try telling someone to “be funny” and see what happens. Nothing will be funny. Humor is spontaneous; it can’t be coerced.

That being said, we have plenty of laughs to dole out in this issue. We have an interview with comedian and show writer Jeannie Gaffigan, wife of comedian Jim Gaffigan, who talks to us about finding humor in brain tumors. We have an essay from award-winning humor writer Harrison Scott Key, and an essay on the sitcom of the century, Seinfeld, as well as a lesser-known puppet show from hell, Wonder Showzen. We have illustrations and comics from the New Yorker’s Miguel Porlan, from the zany and inimitable Glen Baxter, and from John Hendrix, creator of the “Adventures of the Holy Ghost” series. And that’s just to get your attention. The other gutbusters are merely waiting in the wings…

So, here’s hoping that, like a good cartoon, this issue points out an absurd juxtaposition—the most absurd truth we’d all have to be idiots to believe. I’ll set it up: there’s you, cartoon you, standing in the atrium outside the Divine Courtroom. You’re awaiting your hearing, reading back through your permanent record, mostly hoping the Judge bypasses that rough patch in ’03 (and to a lesser extent in ’04). You stand at the threshold of that courtroom on that final day, testimony ready—only to find behind the door not a courtroom at all, but a very noisy dining hall, filled with all your favorite people. Do you have the wrong room? Has there been a mistake?

The Judge approaches from the back, ensconced in light, but instead of the gavel, he’s got a serving tray. And he doesn’t hand you a verdict at all; with mock grandiosity, he instead offers you your party hat. The hat is magenta, a papier-mâché dunce cap, and if you look closely enough, the paper itself is your permanent record, all your life’s accomplishments, all glued up into this stupid-looking wimple. You’re not one for sporting magenta, or cone-shaped headgear, but everyone else has one on and, for once, being a dunce is a tremendous alternative to, well, the courtroom you expected. Lying before you on the Judge’s tray, though, lies the real test: Bud Light or Bud Light Lime.

The caption below reads: The Final Judgment.

Enjoy reading, and as always, remember the good news: that, by the grace of God, your life will one day amount to one magenta wimple, and that, most importantly, the joke’s on you.

Ethan Richardson, Editor

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A Gracious Misdirection: Humor as a Fruit of the Gospel

The following is excerpted from the “Fruits of the Gospel” chapter in Mockingbird’s Law & Gospel: A Theology for Sinners and Saints, available on Amazon or through our own store, here

trying-to-keep-it-together-on-the-californians

If the Gospel is ever experienced for the ridiculous good news that it is, then laughter is soon to follow it. And this is mostly because humor is, in part, an expression of relief. Steve Brown describes it perfectly in his story about a woman who, after years of hiding a moment of infidelity from her husband, suddenly feels the (spontaneous!) need to admit it to him. Though nervous, she decides to do it.

“I saw her the next day, and she looked fifteen years younger. ‘What happened?’ I asked. ‘When I told him,’ she exclaimed, ‘he replied that he had known about the incident for twenty years and was just waiting for me to tell him so he could tell me how much he loved me!’ And then she started to laugh. ‘He forgave me twenty years ago, and I’ve been needlessly carrying all this guilt for all these years!’ Perhaps you are like this woman who had been forgiven and didn’t know it.”[1]

Her laughter is the laughter of the forgiven. It stems from a simultaneous flood of relief (“He forgave me twenty years ago!”) and a corresponding lack of self-seriousness (“How ridiculous that I carried this around for so long?”). A sense of humor comes from the ridiculousness of your happy outcome, and the fact that it had nothing to do with you.

Humor and hyperbole are, then, delicate ministers of God’s good relief. In various ways, either through satire or self-deprecation, humor is a way of uncoupling the truth from its sting. It is a way of including oneself on the wrong side of the righteousness equation. It is a delightful willingness to be wrong, because you can afford to be. It also allows us the privilege of disarming the stings against us, to find humor in things around us that might have offended or wounded us before.

Humor can also be used as a form of gracious misdirection. It is a chance for the forgiven to put on a clown suit in love, for the sake of deflecting another’s judgment. This is precisely what Christ does for the woman caught in adultery, lining out a distracting drawing in the sand for her team of accusers (Jn 8:6). If we are so lucky, we experience the same willingness to play the fool, to feel the great pricelessness of God’s wonderful gift, and thus to ham it up at no cost to anyone.

In the realm of the Law, we must keep face. In the realm of the Gospel, we can laugh at our own faces in the mirror. In the realm of the Law, we must tediously craft emails with the right balance of seriousness and brevity. In the realm of the Gospel, we’re free to say precisely the ridiculous thing that comes to mind, without fear of what brand of trouble our words may bring. While the Law incites us to point our fingers at others in blame, the Gospel provokes us to return the pointing finger back to our chest, and shrug our shoulders, and laugh at the absurdity.[2]

[1] “The Laughter of God,” When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough (Keylife, 2014).

[2] Surely humor is part of what is meant by the meaning of pure love “casting out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). When we are out of the realm of fear, we are into the realm where self-ridicule is easy.

Buy your copy of Law & Gospel here!

The Virtue of Irreverence

The Virtue of Irreverence

I don’t remember the first time I heard Joan Rivers crack a joke, but I’m pretty sure I remember my reaction: shock. And asking whether women were allowed to talk like that–whether people were allowed to talk like that. And, over time, a deepening appreciation for the no-holds-barred humor that perfused everything she ever did.

Writing about Joan Rivers is quite a different animal from writing about Robin Williams. A few weeks ago I did the latter, and the feeling that accompanied that tribute was warmer, more familial. There was a quiet bravery to Williams, and a tenderness that inspired admiration–but…

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Telling Truth from the Underside

Telling Truth from the Underside

Despite a few recent Mbird nods, as of three weeks ago I had no idea who Nadia Bolz-Weber was. But she has come up in conversation, in text messages, and in my Facebook feed about a dozen times since then. So I decided to pay attention and buy her new book, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. Because I’m always on the lookout for how the humorous dimension links up with the theological, I was pleasantly surprised to read that Bolz-Weber is a former comedian with some thoughts on how standup comedy is an attempt at telling the…

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The Quirky Grace of Fandom: A Best of This Is SportsCenter Commercials

The Quirky Grace of Fandom: A Best of This Is SportsCenter Commercials

Being a fan’s a funny thing – you idolize certain players on your team, riding with them on their ups and turning critical on their downs. It’s tempting as a commentator on anything – sports, literature, movies, etc – to stand above all of it as the judge, the arbiter and critic, and SportsCenter does a good bit of that. But the critical attitude of standing above is opposed to the loving attitude of standing below, looking up. And the most charming parts of ESPN are not when they’re rating the five best closers in the NL East, but when…

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From the New Yorker