I learned two things about humor in Bible College.
Make them laugh and your message will go deeper and last longer. But don't try it unless you have funny bones.
Recently I found myself a guest of honor at our local University.
“We are having a culture night,” my good friend explained. Jim Sneddon lectured in Anthropology and twice a year his international students held a talent night.
“This should be interesting,” he muttered as a young, Philippine woman took centre stage. Her sweet voice filled the auditorium with Ava Maria as another student, dressed like a priest, blessed the crowd.
Suddenly the priest turned into an Elvis impersonator bellowing “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog.” As his robe sailed over our heads the transformation was complete. All around us students cheered, some even wiped tears of laughter from their eyes.
“Jim,” I asked later over a cup of tea. “What makes something funny?”
My friend blinked twice before answering the question.
“Tragedy,” he said simply.
“Hmm.” I took a moment to consider the information. “So a Catholic priest turning into Elvis is a tragedy?”
“It is in the Philippines.”
My host laughed at my apparent ignorance.
“Let’s do an experiment,” he suggested while motioning for his students to draw closer. “My friend, John, is going to share a funny story,” he explained. “Now listen carefully because I will be asking questions on it,” he winked.
“Um…” My mind raced through its limited repertoire. “One day the Emergency service receives an urgent phone call.”
Timing was not my strong point.
“A strange voice screams, ‘I just shot my best friend. We were climbing through a fence and my gun went off by accident.’”
A couple of the students covered their mouths in horror.
“’Now don’t panic, sir,’ the operator says. ‘First you have to make sure he’s dead.’”
I paused for dramatic effect.
“Suddenly there is the sound of three gunshots – bang, bang, bang.”
Several students shifted uncomfortably.
“Then the voice came back on the phone. ‘OK. I’m sure he’s dead now.’”
“Sir, that is a terrible story.” The young girl who had sung Ava Maria shook her head and left obviously offended. The other students just stared with something that bordered on disbelief.
“And there you have it,” Jim Sneddon smiled.
“I don’t understand,” I replied irritated.
“Funny equals the sacred plus tragedy plus safety,” he explained.
“So the priest is important,” I mused. “Then he turns into an Elvis impersonator.”
“And that couldn’t really happen.”
“Ahhh,” I saw the light. “Well my story won Readers Digest joke of the year.”
“Not in the Philippines,” my friend opined. “When friends fall out things get very heated.”
For a moment I considered this new information. Humor eluded me. After several failed attempts I had accepted the fact I just did not have funny bones. But maybe it was worth another try.
The following Sunday I stood before the congregation where I was the Associate Pastor. Perhaps I should give it one more try, I mused.
“Last Friday I had a wonderful time with Jim at his famous talent night.”
My friend looked up, his interest piqued.
“Not many people know this but Jim once tried to teach me how to speak in tongues.”
Several members frowned as I went off message.
“We bowed our heads and gave it a go.”
Suddenly my confidence drained away.
“When I opened my eyes I discovered my pet dog had run away.”
The eruption of laughter was a welcome relief. From the corner of my eye Jim Sneddon held up a card with a 7 scrawled on it.
So that’s how it’s done, I smiled with satisfaction.
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