LOL

“I know the crap out of women!”  Michael Scott, boss of The Office, defends himself against misogynist statements.  Of course those who watch the show know Michael knows absolutely nothing about women!  I revel in humor from The Office. Actor Steve Carell inverts the normal making his every utterance as Michael a laugh line in waiting.

Jay Leno’s nightly skewering of people dislodges belly laughs from his audience.  Stand up comics find humor observing humanity—the origin of Seinfeld laughs.  “The funny papers” point out our foibles spreading smiles as we sip our morning coffee.  Political cartoons lampoon politicians, taking them to task on their recent public gaffes.  Comedy points and laughs at us.

The most laughter I received while recently speaking on film at Moody Bible Institute’s chapel was from my comments about The Devil Wears Prada. I celebrated the truthfulness of Meryl Streep’s and Anne Hathaway’s performance while taking a shot at the phrase “chick flicks.”  “Everyone wants to be loved,” I intoned, “so why is it that romantic comedies are gender specific?!”  The women in the audience laughed out loud.  My point is simple: comedy teaches lessons another medium cannot.

Thursday nights have become comedy central for me.  Each week I engage a group of older students teaching Old Testament Survey.  Invariably, the classroom will explode in laughter over some side comment.  One night I made a “crack” about women.  Oh, you would have thought the world had ended!  Mine almost did!  The ladies in my class became playfully indignant responding with their own barbs poking fun at my gender.  Laughter sometimes comes out of situations where we take ourselves too seriously.

Watch people do dumb things.  Read the punch line from a comic strip.  Listen to a joke poking fun at our idiosyncrasies.  Every single instance of humor is dependent upon one important idea: order.  We humans rely on normal, day-to-day experiences.  We expect that people will act in a usual, accepted fashion.  We believe that there is a customary way life should be lived.  We accept certain standards which become habits.  When what has become “typical,” “routine,” “regular,” or “come-to-be-expected” is turned on its head, we laugh.[1] The inversion of order makes comedy possible.

The words “cosmic” and “comedic” have similar roots.  “Comedy” comes from the Greek meaning “village” while “cosmos” in the same language focuses on order.[2] Humor is “cosmopolitan” (an ordered city).  Revelry or comedy is born of universal order in the cosmos.  Cosmic comedy: in order to be funny there must be order.  There is an

Intrinsic playfulness of the cosmos. . . . While this, indeed, is a rule bound universe, within the rules, as within any game, the play ensues.  If the rules and order become too restrictive trickster chaos stirs things up, disrupting the status quo . . . Play requires both boundaries (order) and the impulse to cross them (chaos).[3]

And Robert Fagen has said, ““The most irritating feature of play is not the perceptual incoherence, as such, but rather, that play taunts us with its inaccessibility. We feel that something is behind it all, but we do not know, or have forgotten how to see it.”[4]

So “a link to religious impulses” is necessary to understand laughter says F. H. Buckley in The Morality of Laughter.[5] “Our laughter contains the hope of redemption.”[6] A comic society cannot lose its moral sense.[7] A standard, a rightness, an ought, forms the foundation for laughter.  Without order, without a standard, laughter dies.

Genesis 1:1 establishes order.  “In the beginning” tells that matter, space, and time began together.  “God created” tells of One, Independent Supernatural Agent who brings natural agencies into existence.  “The heavens and the earth” tell of the whole of creation—top to bottom, side to side—which now depends on The Independent One.  Order is the precursor to any society.  Comics and cartoonists owe their ability to order, turned upside down.  The origins of anything dictate the ethics—the should, the ought, the standard—of everything.

For years in my office or classroom wall E. B. White’s statement has had its place: “Humor plays close to the white, hot fire of truth.”  Laughter is impossible apart from a Christian worldview.  In order for humor to exist, order must be assumed.  Order has only one origin.  Order is dependent upon a world that works in a certain way.  Steve Carell, Jay Leno, and my Thursday night class all owe their laugh lines to The One Who drew the order line.

Even the “cringe comedy” of The Office depends entirely upon the cosmic order of Genesis: Mark is glad for both.  His students at Crossroads Bible College try not to laugh at him, just near him.


[1] Or cry.  “Gallows humor”—what the Germans refer to as galgenhumor—is a topic for another article!

[2] Joseph T. Shipley. 1945. Dictionary of Word Origins. (Philosophical Library): 140, 276.

[3] Gwen Gordon. “What is Play? In Search of a Universal Definition” acquired on 7 October 2009 at http://www.gwengordonplay.com/pdf/what_is_play.pdf

[4] Robert Fagen, as quoted by Brian Sutton-Smith in The Ambiguity of Play (Harvard University Press, 1997): 2.

[5] F. H. Buckley. 2003. The Morality of Laughter. (University of Michigan Press): 198.

[6] Ibid. 14.

[7] Ibid. 197.

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