The Comedy of Christ

Comedy is usually thought of as beneficial but not necessarily significant or essential. However, there is actually a structure and significance to humor as seen in comedic pieces. For instance, during comedic movies, many times the events are going decently well but in time they begin to devolve and become somewhat tragic, that is until the arrival of the comedic turn. The comedic turn is what serves as the axis which turns tragedy on its head and the once sorrowful story suddenly becomes joyful and hopeful. In light of the structure behind comedy, it may play a larger role than initially believed.

The important role that comedy plays is to inject hope through a greater understanding of truth. In Harry Potter, students encounter a Boggart, a creature that attacks them in the form of their worst fear. One would think students would be taught a deadly, powerful spell to defeat the Boggart but instead they are taught to use the spell, “Riddikulus” which turns the Boggart into something humorous. Through their laughter, the students learn that the opponent they face is not indestructible but ultimately conquerable. The transformation of approach from terror to humor stems from understanding this truth and allows them to then laugh from an assurance of victory.

For Christians, we are able to similarly fight our enemy with laughter from the same hope of victory. Our hope stems from the unique comedic turn of Christ, the axis that turns tragedy into joy. Raskin, a distinguished professor of linguistics at Purdue, explains the link between the comedic turn and humor stating it comes from, “the idea is that every joke is based on a juxtaposition of two scripts. The punch line triggers the switch from one script to the other. It is a universal theory.” In the biblical story, there exists the two scripts: the present fallen world and the future perfect world. When Christ came, died, and rose again, he was the punch line that triggered the switch from the fallen world and bridged the gap to the perfect world.

Christ’s life and death was a miraculous act that suddenly and irreversibly altered the fight against sin. The fight against a once seemingly formidable enemy becomes a fight filled with the joy and laughter that accompanies ultimate victory. The consolation of a happy ending is labeled by Tolkien as the Eucatastrophe,  “the consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn.”  As a result of Christ’s life and death, we are able to fight against our enemy without total anxiety or fear. If Satan is our Boggart, Jesus is the “Riddikulus” which allows us to claim our assurance of victory. Because of Christ, we are able to recognize the ridiculousness attempt of Satan to rule and can wage war against us. This joy found in the fight against Satan does not trivialize or underestimate the battle but rather esteems the miraculous turn created by Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.

We will face obstacles and struggles in the present world since Christ’s Eucatastrophe has not come to its full effect, but this does not mean His actions lack present effect. The underlying quality of the Eucatastrophe is,“It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, ‘Is it true?’” While the Gospel’s Eucatastrophe creates a perfect hope for the future, it has the ability to deeply affect our present spiritual struggles by removing fear or anxiety in the midst of battle.


Talking Pineapples and Obvious Answers

Recently, a discussion about a relatively absurd question on a standardized test came up. You can find the story here. I found it quite fascinating, and thought it to be most ridiculous. So, I thought to myself, what are the correct answers? Since I didn’t think any of the choices were obviously correct, I decided to write out an argument myself. What follows is my take on the question, if it had happened to be a text with a rich academic and literal history. I hope you all find it amusing; I certainly enjoyed writing it. Continue reading Talking Pineapples and Obvious Answers

The Funny, the Serious and the Social: A Reflection from the Leno/Conan Controversy

It’s been an odd couple of weeks in the news recently, with a number of articles and video segments frantically reporting on the Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno fiasco. “I’m with Coco” fans’ dreams for the future of The Tonight Show were laid to rest when NBC executives officially announced a little over a week ago that they planned to send him and his crew packing. In short: there has been much hype surrounding the Late Night controversy. And not only in the media. The public itself tuned its attention to entertainment’s greatest foible with much fervor.

During his last week on The Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien repeatedly reminded his audience that more important things were going on in the world. But his comments didn’t quell any of the attention directed at The Tonight Show tempest. Despite the fact that, ultimately, Late Night timeslots don’t matter: if the Late Night fiasco isn’t important, how is it that so many people are upset about NBC’s decision? Why on earth does it matter?

To answer these questions, I turned to the endless supply of opinion articles to see what others were saying about Late Night television as a whole. Few have anything to say on The Tonight Show situation in light of its “comedic” or “social” significance. But some have implied that comedy, as a genre, has social persuasion, while also arguing that the fight over Late Night isn’t worth the hubbub due to its current state of mediocrity.

Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe, for instance, writes that Late Night television in its prime had been about social gatherings, community and really stylish entertainment:

There was a time when the whole post-prime-time TV world, ruled by Johnny Carson . . . seemed to have a tinge of glamour. It seemed like a time for adults who had a martini or two in them, with an almost rat-pack feel underneath the network TV restraint of the era.

In accordance with the fact that Late Night television in the golden days had been full of experimentation, originality and creativity, Late Night fashioned a culture that united friends and family beneath the banner of comedy. Late Night television, beginning with Johnny Carson, inspired a whole generation of young people and revolutionized what people talked about around the watercooler.

Yet, for decades prior to Johnny Carson, (and sadly, after him) comedy has largely been a mediocre thing. This problem isn’t new. In 1887 a writer for the New York Times claimed that in his day, contemporary theatrical comedy was “a poor thing.”

This unknown writer adds that “American comedies have generally been feeble and often witless. The truth of life eluded [them].” What is important about his comment is the implication that good comedy reveals something true about humanity and about life on a general scale: “the abundant humor of the play is founded on whims and eccentricities of humanity that are known and understood by everybody.” Recognition and shared experience belongs to comedy.

Why on earth would anyone care about NBC shifting Conan? We care, because, like Shakespeare’s Feste or Touchstone, Conan the court jester reveals truths about our culture and about ourselves. That Tonight Show hour gives us space to laugh about life, and gain perspective over situations and drama we often take too seriously.

Not only do they give us relief from our day-to-day lives, Conan and Johnny Carson inspires us.  Time notes that “Carson was just the right mix of ingenuous Midwesterner and urban sophisticate.” Likewise, O’Brien’s humor is both professional and familiar. He was somehow able to mix the fine things of life with the everyday. Conan, “the smartest guy in the room,” who always lets us in on the joke, reminds us that if we work hard and are kind “amazing things will happen.”

Ultimately, we humans have a natural bent towards comedy. We don’t always have the most sophisticated humor at times, but our basic desire and need to laugh is part of enjoying—and dealing with—life. Why we laugh, furthermore, springs out of our thought, the shape of our culture, our personal experience and perspective, especially as it pertains to our relationships with one another. Comedy personally impacts us because—even if only for a few moments—we gain a slightly new perspective, or familiar insight, on ourselves. ‘