Of Curious Workmanship
by Edgar G. Snow, Jr.
“… Has Been Called as Ward Humorist. All in Favor, Laugh. Any Opposed, by the Same Sign.”
[p.94] If bishops are allowed to call someone to serve as Ward Greeter, then I think it’s high time for bishops to feel free to start extending the calling of Ward Humorist. Just like any other calling, some people would be called because of talents, others because of deficiencies. “God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents” (Twelfth Night, I/V). You could even have a Ward Jester called to attend PEC meetings to sit right next to the bishop. Now I’m not saying we should make light of sacred things, but a few non-blasphemous wisecracks every once in a while might make our meetings move more quickly.
[p.95] Sound preposterous? Hey, ancient Nephites did it! Well, there’s evidence they might have done it. Actually, you could extrapolate from an episode in a Frederick Buechner novel in which a Cherokee Indian acts out the part of “Joking Cousin” at a funeral. Leo Bebb, a charismatic Protestant preacher, describes the Joking Cousin’s role:
A Joking Cousin’s main job is to make jokes, but he doesn’t make your run-of-the-mill jokes, and he doesn’t make them at run-of-the-mill times either. Say there’s a marriage being arranged and the heads of both families are there all dressed up to make terms. Or say a man’s dying or just died and the women have come over to pay their last respects. Maybe a girl gets in trouble, and there’s a pow-wow what to do about finding her a husband. They’re the times when the Joking Cousin does his stuff.
Later Bebb delivers the eulogy at a funeral which John Turtle, the deceased family’s Jolting Cousin, attends:
“I am the resurrection and the life,” Bebb said from the pulpit pale as death, and John Turtle stood behind him holding two fingers up over Bebb’s head like rabbit ears. When Bebb was winding up his eulogy of Herman Redpath … John Turtle picked his nose on the chancel steps. At several points in the service, he even tried to get [p.96] Bebb to enter tnto dialogue with him. … And, during one of the hymns, he ate a slice of watermelon. When he finished it, he made the motions of turning a crank in his neck and made his head tilt slowly backward like an anti-aircraft gun. When he reached maximum elevation, he turned another crank to make his head swivel around to face the congregation. With his lips puckered out to a point and his cheeks puffed he waited until the Amen came and then pulled one ear to fire. Watermelon seeds flew out toward the front pews like shrapnel (The Book of Bebb, pp. 150-51).
Okay, on second thought, don’t try this, especially in your home ward. Hmmm … who knows but what there may have been Nephite Ward Humorists or if Old Testament prophets wouldn’t pass for jesters, considering some of their antics.
If we had official Ward Humorists, and depending on how well they magnified their calling, you might reach one of the three degrees of humor glory or end up in humor darkness. The three degrees of humor, from lowest to highest, are: (1) amusing, (2) funny, and (3) hilarious. Of course, as you’d expect, there are degrees within each degree. Take amusing, for example: there’s (a) nearly, (b) adequately, (c) tolerably, and (d) considerably.
Rather than be a slothful servant, I’ve decided to take some initiative and … I know you’re not supposed to do this, but … aspire to this calling, although I’m try-[p.97]ing to keep a low profile. You know, a few random acts of humor here and there, take some time out to visualize ward laughter, and laugh graciously like a talk-show sidekick when other ward members offer their witticisms. That kind of thing.
I must be prudent, though. For instance, a brother in my ward almost caught on to my plan. A couple of weeks ago he grabbed me by the lapels in the foyer and said, “What are you trying to do, be Ward Humorist or something?” I took this as a chance to magnify my aspired calling. I knew I had to say something funny without appearing to TRY to be funny. Indirection is the key. You know, throw people off guard. Never analyze your own humor either, especially in writing, because dissection kills its subjects. And, of course, everyone knows you’ll fail if you laugh at your own jokes.
I responded: “How could that be when YOU haven’t been released yet?” He let go of my lapels. I figured I’d made it to the nearly amusing degree of the amusing kingdom. I continued, “I’m just, well, a gospel doctrine teacher that no one takes seriously.” He thought for a moment and said, “Oh, yes … of course. Anyone can see that. I don’t know what I was thinking about.” And he went on his way.
Finally, you just have to keep reminding yourself that humor is an art, not a science, and to keep on practicing.