I love laughter. I love laughing, and even more, I love helping people laugh. Ever since I can remember I was drawn to laughter. It first started with a live album by a Christian singer named Sandi Patty; yes, this is as dorky as it sounds. I was about six years old and my sister, who was eleven, had a singer loved by old people (I blame my sister for making me dorky). The tape was played at a safe and reasonable level (okay, my whole family was dorky, so it wasn’t completely my sister’s fault), and it was playing in our car’s tape deck; a feature my family was very proud to have because it was the 80s, and the tape deck was a big deal along with the VHS player my dad was allowed to borrow from work over the summers (we thought we were cool). I don’t remember anything lyric wise from the singer’s music, and I wouldn’t even recognise any of her songs if I heard them today, but she said this one line between songs that has stuck with me for over thirty years: “My dentist’s name growing up… ready?… Dr. Molar.” As a six year I had no idea what a molar was, but the audience roared, you know, the way old people do at jokes that aren’t so funny but when you’ve grown up in a sheltered, uptight. church mindset, this joke is gold. This was the first time I heard an audience laugh and it was amazing. I re-listened to that moment a bunch of times, and even went to the church library and asked to borrow the tape where Sandi Patty made the molar joke. The church librarian just stared blankly at me and I left confused: “How doesn’t she know? It’s like the best thing ever!” Fortunately, I started branching out to actual comedians. Of course, I was still a Christian kid in the 80s who was only allowed to watch Disney movies and anything family oriented before the 60s, so I got into the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers, and Abbott and Costello. Actually, I didn’t get into them as much as the biographies talking about them because I didn’t get most of the jokes, but the highlights were decent and I loved hearing the audiences laughing. Later, I tried to get into Monty Python… I still don’t get them. In the 90s, Mr Bean and Rowan Atkinson’s live material blew me away, and eventually in my 20s I finally got into real stand up comedians like John Mulaney, Mike Birbiglia, T.J. Miller, Kyle Kinnane, Daniel Tosh, John Heffron, and Dan Cummins. Watching these pros has helped teach me timing, performance, and how to write and say a joke, which I now use to help make people laugh whenever I can. Laughing to me, is one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given. Unfortunately, like any God given gift (e.g. taste, sex, emotions, etc.), it can be a blessing or it can get us into trouble.
One of my favourite moments growing up follows this idea. Being a “good Christian” my dad was very “proper” with his kids, but he was apparently very funny teaching adults in Sunday school (think Sandi Patty humor) and with certain friends. I almost never saw this side, but when I was 15, I was on a family trip to the science center in Sudbury (once a dork always a dork), and while we waited to be let into the Omnimax theater, two very bulbous women walked… or, to be more accurate, waddled in both carrying a large pop in one hand and a large popcorn in the other. At that moment my dad whispered to us, “You can tell those women like popcorn because they’re popping out all over.” My mom was a mom and scolded him: “Rae!!!” While my brother and I laughed hysterically. It’s one of my favourite moments growing up, and yet it’s a joke that might be offensive to some people; it certainly would’ve been mean if my dad said it so those ladies could hear. So what do you do with comedy when it can be offensive? Joking can be put in 4 main camps:
- Aggressive: to hurt someone or impress one person at someone else’s expense
- Passive Aggressive: to give a hidden message or cut someone down
- Passive: to hide pain
- Assertive: to heal and bond (my dad’s joke was assertive since it was between us and about being fun and not hurtful)
I typically find guys very good at joking to be assertive, at least with friends, because we learn at an early age it’s safer to joke than to be vulnerable with our feelings. My dad joking with us was one such moment, and it felt like in that instance that he trusted us enough to joke; he was essentially treating me like a friend, which was huge for me. Women, on the other hand, tend to be better at being vulnerable and tend to be weaker at joking assertively. This, of course, can easily get guys into trouble as they try to bond with a woman through joking, but the woman takes it as an insult. Regardless of our strength at joking, it’s important for everyone to realize the different ways we joke to better understand where we or the other person might be coming from. We need to be careful not to assume the other person is trying to hurt us because that might not be the case at all. At the same time, we should only joke as a way to heal and bond in order to help those around us to better assume our intention is positive. If we ever joke passive aggressively or aggressively, it will break the trust people need to assume our positive intentions. Joking is something we need to respect and use as a way to connect with people, and not tear apart. If you’re not sure if someone is being nice in their joking simply ask: To clarify, are you to trying to hurt me or be funny? The odds are they’re just trying to connect, but if they are being mean this will force them to check their behavior. Joking needs to be respected, and it’s up to us to help it be used to heal and bond.
This week may you find some great joking moments.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people