Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We All Could Use a Good Laugh

I think my lizard is gay.

That's one of my favourite opening lines of the columns that I've written. I try to use a lot of humour in my columns, and in my writings, as you can probably tell from the titles of my books (To Love, Honor and Vacuum; Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight).

We all love to laugh. And today I am sitting in on a seminar on how to write about humour. How it's all about surprises, and giving people what they aren't quite expecting.

And it's about sharing just what happens in our everyday life. Like when Faith Today and Women Alive editor Karen Stiller used the recipe on the front of the Canadian Living magazine one Thanksgiving and it turned her turkey purple. That's funny, and that's fodder for family humour for decades to come.

Unfortunately, it's hard to write funny on command. But I think this idea of surprise is what does it, and you often have to do it in threes: you tell people a list of two things they're expecting, and then you throw in something they're not. So you may mention a woman, sitting on a couch, knitting, and talking to her dead grandmother. The third seems out of place, and it's what makes stuff interesting. And funny.

For the record, my lizard did not turn out to be gay. He just turned out to be extremely stupid. But from a Christian point of view, humour is a bridge with the rest of the world. When I am writing something funny, even in the secular market, I can push the envelope a bit on how far I share my faith because with humour things are more permissible. Here, for instance, is a bit of a column I wrote last Christmas on "Seeking a Wise Man", that won an Honorable Mention at this year's Canadian Christian Writer's Awards.

Right now, many men are obsessed with that age old question: “how can I earn major brownie points this Christmas?” Well, if you want to find the road to Christmas success, it’s always advisable to follow those who have blazed the trail before you. And who better than those we now call “The Three Wise Men”, all because they mightily impressed an important woman that long ago Christmas.
What did they do that was so wise? First, they brought gifts. No matter what your wife says, a package under the tree is non-negotiable. But not just any package. I heard the woeful tale of one husband who bought his wife a scale. As my husband said, that level of stupidity doesn’t come naturally. You have to practice.

The gift, then, must be good. The Wise Men came bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I’m sure Mary greatly appreciated those things. I’m equally sure she and Joseph promptly sold them to pay for their flight to Egypt, thus ushering in that other sacred Christmas tradition of returning gifts for the cash.

The Wise Men’s gifts, though, did show great forethought. They brought gifts to honour a king, just as you must buy gifts to honour your queen. But the wise men remembered that first rule of Christmas gift-giving: under no circumstances should you buy her something you think she needs. First, you’re probably wrong; and second, even if she needs it you’re bound to buy the wrong one. If she needs it, make a date to go buy it together on Boxing Day. Don’t make it a gift. The Wise Men, after all, didn’t bring diapers and Vaseline, though those would have been useful. They brought something symbolic of who Jesus was to them. So think romance, not necessity. Think meaningful, not useful in the laundry room. It’s the wise way.

I went on to encourage people to "take that journey" into a church this Christmas season, and it's wonderful to be able to do that.

I think the difference between Christian humour and non-Christian humour, though, is that, as Christians, our humour isn't meant to make us feel superior. Or at least, it shouldn't be. Humour is just funny, about finding the absurd in everyday life. Too often humour is used to denigrate others, and that's something that we should not do as Christians. It's better to laugh at ourselves.

I really think that if Christians started using humour more, as they wrote, we would start to see some walls coming down. People would be more willing to listen to us if we're funny. And we'd get rid of that stodgy stereotype we too often bear.

Besides, don't you think God created humour? I mean, think about naked mole rats. Or giraffes, who are born by first falling six feet to the ground. Or nose hair. Or the number 17. These things are funny. I don't know why, but they are. And God made them. I'm sure He gets a great laugh at us, too!

I've been working on more comedy when I speak, and I'll leave with this short clip of a recent Girls Night Out talk I gave on the Western Ontario tour. I hope you think it's funny; I had fun with it. Now I just need to figure out how to make it funny when I translate it to paper rather than live!

Sheila is the author of four books, including How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life. She blogs at To Love, Honor and Vacuum, and you can read her columns and articles at

To Love, Honor and Vacuum

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Marci said...

Hilarious, Sheila - good luck putting it on paper! ;)Marcia

Kimberley Payne said...

Hey Sheila,

Although I've read most of your books, I had no idea you were so funny on stage! Great stuff. Keep it coming.

Kimberley Payne

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