Personal Humor Kit

August 30, 2013

Some days you need a laugh, but nobody will help you with that. Maybe everyone is panicking (again) over the end of the world. Maybe your company won’t hire a stand-up comic or provide a humor/play room and they want you to double down (again) on productivity. Maybe your children haven’t said even one charming phrase to deflect your dismay at the chaos they’ve wrought. So to get a laugh, you’re on your own. But fear not. Yield not to despair! You can overcome such dark moments by developing a personal humor kit! It can work wonders, be subtle or bold, and always be distinctly yours. Here are some ideas to try.

laugh often 1In your pockets or your bag, on your desk, shelves, or bulletin board, and in your car, have things stashed and poking out of corners that make you smile, that remind you of fun and laughter. Or it might be something that reminds you of someone who loves you and makes you smile. These can help create a cheerful personal environment. For example, tucked at the edges of my desk, I keep a cute, 4-inch bear wearing a shirt that reminds, “Laugh Often.” From high on a bookcase corner, “Friar Gonk” stares down at me, making me smile and remember that my dear wife made him for me now more than four decades ago. Other tucked away smile prompts I’ve had include fortune cookie sayings, Hot Wheels cars, pictures, proverbs, cartoons, and (looking up as a I write) an Friar Gonk 1impish Hair Fairy on my sill.

Sometimes it helps to keep things around that you can use to stir up just a moment of nonsense, whether just for you or with others. I have found a lot of uses for a sequiney magic wand, for a smile-on-a-stick to hold to my face, and for a mechanical gorilla who will sing and drum, “I don’t want to work, I just want to play on my drums all day.” And, of course, you can use a red nose in many wonderful ways. (See the Red Nose Training Manual .) I enjoy these devices on my own, but delight in sharing them.

Humorous writer Barbara Johnson first clued me in to keeping a small box full of favorite cartoons and stories that make you laugh every time. Make sure to keep it handy so you can grab it and sneak off for a five or ten minute laugh break. Over the years I have collected a notebook full of pictures, mostly on greeting cards, that make me laugh every time. And recently I’ve been collecting pictures, cartoons, and memes in a folder on my computer desktop. My “misc fun images” folder is quick to help. (For example, from Gary Larson, “The Bluebird of Happiness long absent from his life, Ned is visited by the Chicken of Depression,” with suitable illustration.)

magic wandSometimes life turns grim because we take ourselves too seriously, perhaps suffering from the curse of perfectionism or from the delusion that we are, in fact, the Center of the Universe. A quick jolt to being delusional is to take a piece of printer paper, write “CENTER” smack dab in the middle of it and write “me” in one of the corners. Stare at it. Or stare at the Milky Way and imagine yourself as a dot on one of the little dots at the edge of the constellation. A fun solution to both problems is to look at a funny image of yourself. For many of us, just looking at our driver’s license photo will work. But you can draw mustaches, sideburns, funny eyes, tattoos, or whatever you like on a picture of yourself. You may have to use the copier to get a picture of your face, or nowadays you can use a computer with an on-board camera and imaging software. Maybe you want to keep handy a strip of funny photo-booth pix with your friends. Go ahead; deface yourself. Have fun.

These are just starter ideas. I have more, but you will think of ideas that work especially well for you. In any case, we can be prepared to let humor bring perspective, to break the cycle of the grim moment. Probably it’s not the end of the world, but even if it is, maybe we should go out laughing.


“Man Thinks, God Laughs”

August 20, 2013

I recently welcomed my copy of Steven C. Walker’s new book, Illuminating Humor of the Bible. There are some fine books on humor in the Bible, of course, but far too few, so adding another well-done book to the list helps us all. Walker makes the case for his book right away: “When it gets noticed, biblical humor reveals rich irony and sharp satire and intense sarcasm and penetrating wit and outright joke in the farthest reaches of the Good Book. We’ve only to see it to realize how meaningful that Bible humor can be.” (x) Walker, a long-time professor of English, is an astute reader, well versed in the devices of humor, and he offers a wonderful array of biblical examples.

In a chapter on Jonah, for example, Walker shows how the story of Jonah, funny at so many levels, serves “to persuade the self-righteous to laugh at themselves,” often a good exercise. In another chapter he explores comic reversal in Esther, full of satire, caricature of the pompous and powerful, and topsy-turvy story lines. Frankly, missing the humor in Jonah or Esther almost guarantees that we’ll also miss their message.

One chapter features the roles of notable women in biblical stories and shows how, with humor, these serve themes of social justice. Another describes humorous stories in Acts as “slapstick,” including the folks at a prayer meeting who left Peter standing outside the door even while they prayed for his deliverance. In a chapter I particularly enjoyed, Walker explores the stories that portray David as a trickster, a common theme in funny storytelling.

Using the Hebrew proverb, “Man thinks, God laughs,” Walker discusses humor as morality. He argues that humor in the Bible is not merely for entertainment, useful in itself, but it also serves to deepen readers’ and hearers’ faithfulness, it reveals and discourages misconduct while it prods us toward the good.

In addition to the fine text itself, an impressive bibliography offers resources for further study, and subject and scripture indices will help readers who want to pursue a particular text or topic.

This new book will reward readers by showing where humor is in the Bible, how it works, and how it can surprise us with new insights about living.

Walker, Stephen C. Illuminating Humor of the Bible. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013. (Thanks to the good folks at Wipf and Stock Publishers for making this available.)


Seeing Funny: Playing with Formulas

August 6, 2013

Though it may ruin my reputation as an astute music and film critic, I must confess that Weird Al Yankovic’s cult classic film UHF continues to shape me. It’s not only the film’s unfettered hope, but also its unbridled imagination. The scene advertising “Spatula World,” for example, has often stirred my curiosity about what other worlds there might be. Not just extraterrestrial, but commercial. You can see or expect places like RV World, Camping World, Donut World, or even Jello World. But it’s fun to ponder unexpected big box stores like Banjo World or World of Beans.

Creating new worlds just samples the fun you can have using common words or phrases in unexpected ways. Over time I’ve compiled a list of formulas that invite play. For example, what could you do with (blank) Hut, Center, Pit, Plaza, or Place? I beamed with pride over my students who named their off-campus house “All-Truth Center” (though I cringed a bit in West Virginia when I a saw a church sign with nearly the same title). How about Heresy Hut, or SPAM® Hut, where you could get SPAM® -on-a-Stick and other manufactured-meat delicacies? Or Hut Hut, suppliers of football gear? Try dining at Sushi Pit, or shopping at Out-Of Place (“I’m sorry, we’re all out of that.”)

You could try variations on (blank) Heaven, (blank) Galore, or (blank) Festival. For example, a senior center could add a little flash and pizzazz as Geezers Galore. Instead of our local “Old-Fashioned Festival” you could have a New-Fangled Festival. You can also stir up nonsense by playing with words like International, Federation, League, and Association. Or World’s Best (blank), Greatest (blank) on Earth, and (blank) Anonymous. How about International Snake-handlers Federation, or Butt Dialers Anonymous?

I also like to fiddle with phrases like “When (blank) go bad,” or “When (blank) run amok.” A t-shirt picture that flashed by me this week made me grin, “When Quakers go bad.” Or consider, “When actuaries go bad,” or “When whiners go bad.” Or “When bassoonists run amok.”

Obviously I’ve hardly tapped my reservoir of nonsense, but in service to learning to see funny, I offer these formula words and phrases as starter tools for play. Scatter them as seed among your habits of humor. Use them freely on the go and when you squander playtime on yourself. And, of course, please send suggestions to add to my collection.


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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