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Monday, October 13, 2014

If Jesus were Alive Today, He'd Be a Stand-Up Comic

Thanks everybody.  You've been a wonderful multitude.
Good night!
This occurred to me the other night while Nancy and I were watching Sarah Silverman.  The best of our stand-up comics - Louis C K and Sarah Silverman - have something very profound at the bottom of their stories, and there is also something of the stand-up routine in Jesus' teaching.

Louis C K reminds me of the story of the woman taken in adultery.  If you recall, the crowd was about to stone her until Jesus said let he who is without sin cast the first stone.  CK, instead of looking around for a target that the audience will all enjoy laughing at, makes fun of his his own weakness and hypocrisy.  In effect, he's saying, "Hey, everybody, I'm a sinner myself," and he's so charming and engaging, we're compelled to drop the stone we were just warming up to throw.  You can't remove a mote from your neighbor's eye until you attend to the beam in your own; and Louis CK says, "Oh, my God, look at this beam I got in my eye!"  And we laugh and realize we have beams in our own.

Silverman's humor is much more difficult, and she walks a narrower tightrope.  She comes this close (I'm pressing my thumb and forefinger together) to being just another vulgar unfunny stand-up cracking jokes about minorities and sex, anything to shock the audience.  And she does shock the audience, but what's shocking is not the knowing leer of the jaded comedian, but the topspin of innocence she gives everything.  Over and over again, Jesus was castigated for violating social norms - working on the Sabbath, eating unclean foods, hanging out with lepers.  Jesus says it's not what goes into the mouth that defiles us, but what comes out.  Silverman takes it one step further, and shows us that even what comes out cannot defile her, and whatever the nature of goodness is, it's something more substantial than being appropriate and careful not to offend anybody.

I don't know if Jesus could've held his own on the nightclub circuit, but he was very good with hecklers.  Wherever Jesus went, he'd be on a roll, doing his bit, and some Pharisee would call out from the crowd, "Who do you think you are anyways?" or the equivalent thereof, and Jesus would come right back with, "Who do you think I am?"  Maybe that's not exactly a knee-slapper of a comeback, but it had the effect of shutting him up, which is really the point.

Or you take the parables; a lot of them, like the Good Samaritan, have the classic three-part structure of a good joke.  "First guy comes by, a priest, he doesn't do nothing.  Second guy, a Levite, he doesn't do nothing either.  Third guy, a Samaritan, he takes care of the guy like a neighbor.  Whoa!  Crazy, huh?"  Or the Prodigal Son.  The bit where he ends up sleeping with the pigs is clearly Jesus riffing off his own material, coming up with the most comically gross outcome possible.  We can just imagine Jesus in front of the multitude, "... and he ends up... poor... sleeping with the pigs."  (Pause for laughter.  Maybe Jesus does a few oinks and snores, mimes sharing a blanket with a porker.)  

The Beatitudes are really just a bunch of one liners; Jesus has a sort of sort of format, like a template, and then just fills in the blanks.  If Jeff Foxworthy had delivered the Beatitudes, they'd have come out like, "If you're meek... you might be blessed.  If you mourn... you might be blessed.  If you hunger and thirst for righteousness' sake... you might be blessed."  

And Jesus wraps up his routine with the classic one-liner, "Take my life... please!"

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