Joking About Yourself

May 31, 2012

Poking fun at yourself is a great way to get a laugh. For speakers, it can help connect with an audience. With co-workers and friends, it can give them a spasm of superiority or deepen their sense that we all bumble through life together. Creating laughter at your own expense can relax folks and open conversation.

Creating jokes about yourself is pretty easy. You can reveal something odd about yourself that people might not know. You can comment on something that’s obvious to everyone. Or you can talk humorously about something silly or hard that you’ve done. All of us have lots of raw material.

An often-viewed video of performances by stand-up comics with conditions like being blind, skinny, or hard of hearing or having cerebral palsy still cracks me up. They use the obvious skillfully to win the audience. Though most of us don’t do stand-up, we can use our own odd, obvious, or silly to get a laugh. For example, I am obviously a large person (note the wimpy euphemism here). I’m not really proud of that, but you need to know I had to work at it. It took time to sit around eating all those cookies, double-helpings, and spoonfuls of peanut butter out of the jar. It may be less obvious that I’m pretty good at getting weight off, so good, in fact, that I sometimes have to pack on some pounds just to stay in practice shedding them.

Joking about yourself is easy and effective, but I think it carries risks. For example, I’ve seen joking become self-bludgeoning. People can be mean to themselves, clearly not embracing who they are. Self-deprecating humor becomes self-defecating humor. Not only do folks dump on themselves, they actually believe the awful things they are saying. Here humor betrays brokenness, and it wounds rather than heals.

Similarly, some folks joke about themselves constantly to get sympathy or to seek affirmation. The fun of shared humor gets tainted by personal need. Certainly, laughter can help move us toward wholeness, but self-serving humor undercuts that process and blocks connecting with others.

Finally, where people know you, I think it’s hard to poke fun at yourself if you’re arrogant. Self-deprecating humor requires some humility and authenticity. So, for a person who’s too full of himself, a line like, “I know I’m a pompous fool and I’m proud of it,” probably won’t work. You can try it, if you want, and share what you learn. My guess is that instead of a hearty laugh you would see eye-rolling and sly smiles and hear shared whispers, “Yeah, we know.”

Warnings aside, however, the benefits of joking about ourselves outweigh the risks. Using such humor, we can connect more easily, share warm laughter, and enjoy our lives together.


Non-Target Practice

May 23, 2012

Some day I’d like to be funny. So I read books like Laughing for Dummies, How To Be Funny, Quick Killer Laugh-Lines, and St. Balaam’s Spiritual Exercises for Smart-Asses. I’ve been reading one recently by a guy who writes for big-name stand-up comics and for politicians and CEOs who need humor help. He’s taught me a lot even though I haven’t finished the sections on how to get laughs at a bar mitzvah, when you break wind, or when you have to explain your plastic surgery.

But I have a beef (or should that be a vegan “quibble”?). Early on he teaches that to be funny you have to choose a target, to know who you want to make fun of, to decide which “victim” you’ll use to “kill.” Another famous humor writer insists that all humor depends on anger. To be funny you have to tap into people’s anger. A lot of humor works like that, but frankly, I don’t think we need targets or anger to be fun and funny.

Others see humor as rising out of the struggles and absurdities of being human, out of the life we share. In his autobiography, Caesar’s Hours, legendary comic Sid Caesar talks about comedy as truth exaggerated, as real life dilemmas and absurdities tweaked just a enough to make their reality, pain, and awkwardness visible and funny. The comic premise is that this is what we share. We’re in it together. Comedy shows the lives we share.

Using humor as target practice puts us over against each other rather than together with each other. Typical targets include individuals and groups – ethnic and gender humor, jokes about the other guys (whoever they are), and demeaning humor, often about people who are the most vulnerable, the easiest to pick on. You can fill out the list.

What I propose is that we all practice using humor that doesn’t need targets and doesn’t make anyone feel like a target. I suspect that for many of us this will require some practice. We can experiment with being playful together, sharing experiences about our struggles, near misses, and awkward victories. We can enjoy word play and funny stories or say (intentionally) something unexpectedly weird. We can commiserate and exaggerate over the absurdities of life. We can let our silly mistakes show or share the funny thing we just saw or just ran across in a book or on the internet. We can offer one another outlandish praise or kindness that makes us laugh and shows our love. In lots of ways we can create fun that draws us together. It’s a practical way to laugh with others as we would have them laugh with us.

So I invite you to non-target practice and hope that if you make a great discovery in the process, you might share it with us here.


Embrace Your Idiot

May 9, 2012

Embrace your idiot. No, not that one. I mean the one you talk to yourself about yourself when you yell, “You idiot!” And even add adjectives like “blithering.” Maybe you’ve lost your keys or dunked your phone. Maybe your mouth worked faster than your mind or you committed grand social fox paws that made you blush. Maybe you ate that thing anyway even after your brain and body warned you. Or maybe it’s a day when you just feel stupid.

Amidst the blushing and beating ourselves up, humor can help. It can rescue us from full-out self-battery and settle us more happily into being human, into being at home with both our powers and our limitations. We’re rarely as bad as we think we are or as good as we hope to be. As creatures made in the image of God, we live constantly in the tension between grandeur and klutziness.

Aware of our great powers, we dream boldly and stretch to our limits, often with amazing results – Hubble telescopes, symphonies, epic poems, 4.0 GPAs, breath-taking jazz riffs, baseball no-hitters, perfect apple pies. Admiring their own great work, some folks turn proud and pretentious, unwittingly making themselves prime targets for take-down humor. More of us, I suspect, are tempted by perfectionism. No matter how well we’ve done, we can never accomplish all we want or be as good as we hope. We reach for the stars and blame ourselves when we discover that, even with a ladder, we can’t capture the heavens. Some of us, when we see the nonsense in this, complicate it further by trying to overcome perfectionism flawlessly. We corner ourselves.

Gentle laughter can get us unstuck. It’s nice when a friend helps rescue us with warm smiles and a hug, teasing and cajoling us about our hopes gone wild. But even alone we can choose to stir up laughter by turning to our stash of things that always make us laugh – jokes, stories, funny songs, cartoons, comedies, whatever. Or, in a more focused way, we can laugh at ourselves for the silly ways we’ve backed ourselves into a tight spot. Just be nice. Hug, don’t hit, the idiot in you.

Laughing at ourselves, self-deprecatory humor, can also help when we’ve been idiots in public. Sometimes it’s good just to claim it, to say, “I’m an idiot,” and beat other folks to the punch. It might soften the blow or, with some strategic exaggeration, create a smoke screen that fuzzes the facts. Often you can laugh and get a laugh. Of course, don’t brag about being an idiot, making it a point of distinction. We all have our days. But claiming that with humor helps us not be dismayed or defeated.

A cautionary note: if your idiot hurt someone, don’t laugh it off. Apologize. Some folks use humor to avoid responsibility and to take lightly the harm they’ve caused. Rather than heal, that deepens the hurt. Laughter may come later, but the first motion here must be love.

When klutziness prevails, embrace your idiot. Not pummel, bash, or kill. Hug and laugh. Hug.


Living in Fun

"Walking Cheerfully" is place to think out loud about how to use and enjoy humor in positive, life-giving ways. We’ll explore how following Christ in all of life can shape, not scuttle, laughter and creative play. What might it mean to laugh with others as you would have them laugh with you?

Probably the other most common posts will be "Finds in Fun." I first learned the phrase “being in fun” from Tom Mullen’s Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences. He points to the playfulness of children, who are readier to laugh and to see the silly than most adults. Living each day “in fun” often makes us laugh as we slog through a nearly endless supply of things odd, silly, klutzy, and preposterous. The stories here are mostly from my own ordinary, “in fun” days.

Fun Nooks and Crannies

There’s “Humor in the Bible,” and these posts explore where it is, how to find it, and what to do with it. It’s one way of thinking about how to read the Bible well.

Since a lot of us spend big chunks of time at work, the “Humor at Work” posts will suggest ways to stay sane and happy, to get along with cow-orkers, and to use humor to do good work.

I’m a book-pusher at heart, and some of my best friends push books, too. I even know some folks who read. So “Fun Books” posts will tell about books that are funny and help us think about humor.

Sometimes I’ll brag on some of the friends I’ve been given or share some photos I’ve enjoyed taking. Maybe you’ll laugh, maybe not, but they’ve brought joy in my journey.

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