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.



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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?

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