I thought it would be fun to get some insight into the heads of some of my favorite funny people. When operating on their brains was ruled out as a viable option (what can i say? tough economy.), I decided to subject them to a series of questions about humor, faith, and swordfights. The result is The Ramblings and Such Humor Survey.
Jason Boyett is one of my favorite bloggers of all time for one simple reason: he has embraced my Cannarf Rating System. That’s all it takes to get listed in my will people. I’m easy like that.
In all honesty, I was a huge fan of Jason even before he went Cannarf. He’s consistently funny and insightful, whether it’s at his blog, on his twitter feed, or in the handful of books he’s written. When I came up with the idea of doing the Humor Survey, he was one of the first people I thought of, and I’m happy he obliged.
1. What were a few of the things you remember laughing at the most as a kid?
JB: I watched a lot of TV as a kid, so I remember plenty of sitcoms that made me laugh, including “The Jeffersons,” “Diff’rent Strokes,” and reruns of “Gilligan’s Island.” One of my favorite books ever was Skinnybones, by Barbara Park, which literally had me rolling on the floor on several occasions. I had a lot of those 1970s joke books for kids. (Q: How do you catch a unique rabbit? A: Unique up on it!) And in high school, I discovered Monty Python. Their Search for the Holy Grail movie was, for me, the holy grail of comedy.
2. What about now as an adult?
JB: Steven Wright, Jim Gaffigan, and the late, great Mitch Hedburg never fail to make me laugh. Old episodes of “Friends” still crack me up, even though I know which jokes are coming from half a block away. The Onion is consistently funny. So is David Sedaris and the show “How I Met Your Mother.” And the last Broadway show I really, really enjoyed was “Spamalot” — again, Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Also funny? Auto-Tune the News.
3. Conversely, is there something that lots of other people find humorous that never really makes you laugh?
JB: I don’t know…does Jay Leno count? Dane Cook? Home videos of men getting hit in the naughty bits? I’m not one of those culturally uptight Christians, but other than Chris Rock, I’ve never really gotten into the really abrasive, foul-mouthed comedians. Angry, hateful comedy leaves me cold. Probably because it reminds me of my grandmother. (Rimshot! Kidding!)
4. Do you think Christians are afraid of humor?
JB: Yes, on some levels I think are afraid of humor, especially when it moves beyond the Seinfeld-style observational comedy and becomes attack comedy — making fun of people or people groups or religious ideas. This is because we never know if it fits within the framework of grace and love. It’s a line I personally have to tiptoe around (and up to) in my books, because I very clearly make fun of religious stuff in my Pocket Guide books. I’m careful, though, to make fun of the really foreign or extreme stuff, which (hopefully) keeps me from too much sarcasm and cynicism.
5. How do you think humor can be useful to Christianity?
JB: I’m a firm believer in the adage that anything worth taking seriously is worth making fun of. Comedy allows us to look at something familiar, but from an outsider’s perspective, and as Christians I think that’s highly valuable. We need to look at ourselves and our beliefs from outside the bubble. This makes us stronger in the important stuff and helps us see the goofy stuff for what it is. That’s what I try to do in my Pocket Guide books — approach the topic as an insider helping outsiders understand and helping insiders view it in a new way. Humor becomes a useful tool. It’s the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. (I just now came up with that metaphor completely on my own. It arrived attached to a jaunty melody, though, which is weird.)
6. In your opinion, how is humor different from sarcasm/cynicism?
JB: Well, you can be funny without being sarcastic. And you can be sarcastic without being funny. But sometimes you can combine sarcasm and humor and it’s really powerful. I’ll admit that I tend toward sarcasm in a lot of my humor, but often it’s the self-deprecating kind of sarcasm, or the kind of sarcasm that’s meant to expose something silly (like Christians’ fascination with the apocalypse). I think it’s easy for sarcasm to become mean-spirited or bitter — and I try to stop before I get to that point — but I wouldn’t say that there’s something unchristian about sarcasm. Jesus wasn’t above using sarcasm. Nor was God (see the last few chapters of Job). And Elijah laid an epic smackdown of sarcasm on the prophets of Baal, so there’s definitely a place for it.
I don’t think I answered your question, though. But I don’t care. Let’s just move on to the next one, which is about me.
7. At what point in life did you really start to embrace the idea: “wow, i think I might be funny.”?
JB: It was when you, Bryan, sent me this humor survey. I immediately announced to my wife that I had finally arrived. Actually, I became aware that I was sorta funny in high school. I could be funny as a writer, but also developed it in a verbal, class-jokester sense. Which probably surprised some people, because up to that point I was fairly quiet. I’m sure there were times I became obnoxious and turned into one of those look-at-me, attention-seeking dorks. That’s the danger in being funny: it’s easy to become really annoying. In the business, we call this “Carrot Top Syndrome.”
8. Why do you want to be funny?
JB: What is this, a therapy session? I’ve honestly never asked myself that question before. I guess one reason I want to be funny is because I CAN be. Not everyone has that ability, and I’m a firm believer that you should pursue the things you’re good at. (That’s one of the reasons I’m a writer…it’s because I’m naturally good at writing.) But I also enjoy making people laugh. I enjoy entertaining people. And somewhere deep inside, I know I enjoy the attention. Comedy is one way I meet that ravenous need for approval. The other way is stripping.
9. Have you ever tried to do stand-up?
JB: I’ve never done “official” stand-up, in the sense of “here’s Jason and he’s gonna tell some jokes.” But I’ve hosted local awards shows and talent shows and things like that, which have been a mix of personal stand-up and improv stuff. And I always try to incorporate humor when I speak in front of crowds. I could possibly do stand-up, with a lot of preparation, but it would be hard for me not to steal material. I’d be calculating backstage…Have these people heard of Mitch Hedburg? They’re Baptists, so I’m guessing no. And then I’d talk about Pringles.
10. Do you have a favorite quote (or joke or story) about comedy, humor, and making people laugh?
JB: Yes. It’s this “deep thought” by Jack Handey from Saturday Night Live: “Dad always thought laughter was the best medicine, which I guess is why several of us died of tuberculosis.” Actually, my favorite comedy quote is one I’ve already used it in this survey: Anything worth taking seriously is worth making fun of. I take faith pretty seriously. Which is why I have a lot of fun at its expense.
Thanks for playing along, Jason!