"Elesha, what did the fisherman say when he caught a fish?" said an overexcited 8-year-old. "What?" I asked. "I caught a fish" she replied, giggling hysterically.
"What did the lady say when she made a cake?" "I made a cake!"
"What did the banana say to the other banana?" "I'm a banana!"
"What did the man say when he had a shower?" "I had a shower!"
Suddenly I realised I wasn't laughing along with this lovely lady, who was now in hysterics. I felt sick to my stomach, my heart went cold and I started hyperventilating. Why wasn't I laughing? Had I missed the joke? WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO ME?? I then switched off the dramatics and regained my composure as an adult who "totally" had a sense of humour. It was comeback time.
"Ella, ask me what's for dinner," I said. "Okay, what's for dinner?" she asked. "Shut up and get back in the microwave!" I proudly replied. The laughter stopped and the poor girl looked at me confused. "I don't get it," she said quietly.
I'm proud to say I have a sense of humour; even though a small proportion of 8-year-olds would argue otherwise. I like it when I can (sometimes) understand jokes and I enjoy a good chuckle. That is why this month is such a good time of the year for me. Here in New Zealand it is our annual comedy festival which showcases international and local comedic acts, with stand-up comedy becoming a common prime time television feature.
Grubby Kiwi humour
Kiwi humour is ridiculously dry and sarcastic with every second joke targeted at our Australian buddies. I can guarantee that we only joke about Australians to stand-up for the feelings of our large sheep population (there are so many "ewe-phemisms" our woolly friends can take).
While it seems that our country has no respect for maintaining trans-Tasman relationships, it can be said that our jokes are just reflections of how much Kiwi's love pushing people's buttons. Kiwi comedians love stirring people and, given the increasing popularity of comedy in this country, it seems that Kiwi audiences don't mind a bit of controversy too.
Missing the joke
Last year I interviewed New Zealand comedian James Keating. James is a Christian who has worked in the comedy industry for over eight years. He says New Zealand comedians are internationally known for their provocative and distasteful humour. I guess that means we have some of the grubbiest comedians in the world.
This was evident last week when I watched a two hour stand-up comedy special polluted with racist slurs, sexist jokes, mountains of swearing and even comments about rape and murder. Now I don't want to be a buzz kill, because I seriously enjoy good comedy, but when a comedian's jokes start diving into such an uncomfortable realm it leaves me feeling irritated and gloomy.
This is definitely intensified when a comedian pulls out the religion card. I'm not talking just about jokes like the one about the vicar, the priest and the rabbi, but ones that make the sacred aspects of Christianity into the subject of a good gag. Gentle satire aimed at Christians has become increasingly common to the extent that it has been replaced by jokes that verge on abuse towards Christianity.
Holding back our laughter
Amy Widdecombe says in her article, 'Christians are the butt of bad jokes' that stand-up comedians tend to make two assumptions: "that Christians have no sense of humour and that all their audiences are unbelievers." I have no evidence to agree or disagree with either assumption. However I do think that as a Christians it can be easy to sometimes be mistaken into believing we aren't supposed to have a sense of humour.
It's kind of like that dinner table scenario when a sibling makes a bad call and you really want to laugh, but your parents are starring you down. It's awkward because we don't know how to react, so we play it cool and pretend we didn't hear it. We just let it pass us by and wait for a G-rated joke we can politely chuckle too. Until our sibling accuses us of not having a sense of humour and then our automatic reaction is to get defensive.
Ultimately there is no right way to react to such scenario because either way you are going to lose. Pretending we don't notice people making gags about our faith doesn't work because it will affect us in some way or another. But then being defensive makes us out to be some party killer with 'no sense of humour'. Neither option is going to stop comedians from pushing the boundaries, offending and exasperating people.
Dumbo Octopus and Star-Nosed Moles
So what is there to do? I think it's time to reclaim comedy for its intended purposes. I feel that Christians have got so caught up in trying to fend off the uncomfortable and offensive side of comedy that we have forgotten that it was created for good. The more I focus on the right and wrongs of comedy the more I forget that it was the creator that produced comedy in the first place.
It sometimes seems that God and comedy are on two opposite playing fields; however the two are natural cohorts. The fact that we were made in God's image means that he must have a sense of humour. Google the Dumbo Octopus and the Star-Nosed Mole and then tell me that God didn't have a little fun while he was creating the earth. God wouldn't give us such a gift if he didn't want us to use it or enjoy it.
Look at Jesus for instance he was a pretty whitty guy which is apparent in his original parables in which he makes off-the-cuff remarks at the Pharisees and has a chuckle at naivety of his disciples. It's high time we set aside the notion that Jesus was this lame, humourless, unsmiling party killer. Jesus illustrated the fact that God wants us to embrace humour, have a laugh and, yes, enjoy the life he has given us.
Let out yo' laughter!
I personally get so caught up in choosing what to laugh at and when to hold back that I so easily forget that God wants me to embrace humour. God's humour is not cruel—it's pure and satisfying—and I shouldn't let the rubbish of the world taint that.
James Keating is reclaiming comedy by embracing his passion for humour even though he says "I think it's pretty unexpected for a Christian to be in that scene". James says he is in the comedy industry to redeem it: "I think God owns humour and laughter," he says. "Ultimately I think God has put me in this scene to be a bit of a shining light."
As I make the most of the comedy festival this month I'm going to reclaim the fact that my creator was the original instigator and master of humour and laughter (just to clarify, 'Yo Mama' one-liners are not jokes, they are insults). Comedians will continue to press buttons and get us worked up, but I think it's time that we, like James, reclaimed humour for the glory of God. For that reason, Christians should be joyful in knowing that it was our God who designed humour and wants us to enjoy it.
Elesha Edmonds is sad to announce the death of her thirteen-year-old pet fish who passed away whilst she was in Europe training to be a foreign correspondent journalist. In lieu of flowers, please feel free to follow @eleshaedmonds on Twitter.
Elesha Edmonds' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/elesha-edmonds.html