Are we not funny?

September 16, 2008 | 35 comments
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I freely admit that I’m not the funniest person in the world, but I do think I have a sense of humor. I like a good laugh as much as anyone. Or perhaps I should say, “I like a good laugh as much as anyone who is LDS.”

When I first read Gean Clark’s contention that she found “but one strictly humorous tale” in her study of Mormon fiction written from 1832 to 1900, I was willing to give our people the benefit of the doubt. So starting a religion, being persecuted, migrating across the country, and settling in the harsh environment of the frontier west wasn’t conducive to hilarity. Totally understandable.

Then we changed, right? We had J. Golden Kimball, with his swearing and quips. We had President Hinckley, with his twinkling eyes and witty remarks. I’m sure there is a plethora of other funny LDS people. My friend, Kacy, for instance, is one funny LDS lady, and I sometimes laugh out loud when I read her blog (I highly recommend her hamster post from May 13).

Just bouncing around blogs the other day sent me to this one. The female author thinks Kacy is funny, too—only it surprised her immensely because “funny” and “Mormon” do not go together as far as she is concerned. She admits that she has held “some vague preconceptions about Mormons being so focused on their religion that they might tend to take themselves a little too seriously.” Her husband suggested that Kacy must be a “jack mormon” if she actually has a sense of humor.

This is mostly anecdotal evidence, but it made me wonder if we Mormons are lacking in good humor. Are we so serious about salvation, a truly serious endeavor, that we fail to see the absurdities around us? Or are we merely perceived that way? Are we different than other religious groups in the relative importance we place on humor?

If you don’t want to answer those questions, you could just tell me a good joke.

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35 Responses to Are we not funny?

  1. dug on September 16, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    We are no more or less funny than average. My circle of friends includes active Mormons, jack Mormons, ex-Mormons, and never Mormons. Their religious affiliation is no indicator of how well they bring the funny.

    Although, I’m thinking of becoming Jewish for the jokes.

  2. Steve Evans on September 16, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    There are some very funny mormons. Eric Snider, Bengt Washburn, Steve Martin, George Lucas… the list goes on. The point is that we are funny, but talking about funny is not funny. This is funny.

  3. Velikiye Kniaz on September 16, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    Not me, there’s nothing funny to me about the essential Jewish membership ordinance. That’s too painful a price to pay, even for humor! ;-)

  4. Jane @ What About Mom on September 16, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    Hey, did I have too many links in my comment? (none of them were to me, promise!).

    I wanted to point out the Seriously, so Blessed blog phenomenon, and other funny Mormon blogs.

    Maybe the blogging medium is just more conducive to humor (and painful honesty)?

  5. Jonovitch on September 16, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    I know a good knock-knock joke — you start.

    Jon

  6. Kylie Turley on September 16, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    Knock, Knock.

  7. manaen on September 16, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    The original “Keepapitchinin” paper is a good example of Mormon humor in early Deseret.
    .
    B H Roberts unloaded a boatload of snarky humor in his address to the June, 1907 MIA conference. The Church had just released an “Address to the World” to dounter false stories about us. The Ministerial Assoc of SLC then pu forth it’s review of the Address, followed by Elder Roberts’ response. He calls the “pink tea” specialists instead of having real jobs and experiences and contrasts their belief we have a Father but no Mother but that Christ had a mother and but no father.
    .
    He even found a way to use his acidic humor regarding our persecutions,
    .
    “These gentlemen reviewers express two fears. One is that they will be charged, because of issuing this review, with misrepresentation. Well, I don’t wonder at that, and I think we have proven that you have misrepresented. But they also fear that we will charge them with persecution. Gentlemen, we acquit you of the intention of persecution. When the Revs. Phineas Ewing, Dixon, Cavanaugh, Hunter, Bogart, Isaac McCoy, Riley, Pixley, Woods and others carried on an agitation in Missouri against “Mormonism” and the “Mormons” that resulted in burning hundreds of our homes and driving our people—including women and children, remember—to bivouac out in the wilderness at an inclement season of the year; when the mob incited by these reverends, your prototypes, gentlemen, laid waste our fields and gardens, stripped our people of their earthly possessions, keeping up that agitation until twelve thousand or fifteen thousand people were driven from the state of Missouri, dispossessed of several hundred thousand acres of land—two hundred and fifty thousand acres, to be exact—which they had entered, and rendered them homeless—we might call, we do call, that persecution. When the Rev. Mr. Levi Williams led the mob that shot to death Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith in Carthage prison, and when the Rev. Mr. Thomas S. Brockman led the forces against Nauvoo, after the great body of the people had withdrawn from that city, and expelled the aged, the widow and the fatherless, and laid waste the property of the people—we think we are justified in calling that persecution, of which right reverend gentlemen were the chief instigators. And when in this territory some years ago one wave of agitation followed another, of which your class, and some of you, were chief movers, until a reign of terror was produced, and a regime was established under which men guilty at most of a misdemeanor, could nevertheless be imprisoned for a term of years covering a lifetime, and fined to the exhaustion of all they possessed, under the beautiful scheme of segregating the offense into numerous counts in each indictment; and when in that reign of terror women were compelled to clasp their little ones to their breasts and go out among strangers, exiled from their homes—we might be inclined to call that persecution. But our experience has been such that we scorn to call such attacks as this review of yours persecution. It does not rise, gentlemen, I assure you, to that bad eminence. So we acquit you of any intent in your review to persecute us. You need not fear that such a charge will be made, we are not so thin-skinned as all that. Besides, gentlemen, your power is no longer equal to your malice, and so we do not believe you will ever be able to persecute us again.

  8. Motherboard on September 16, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Mormons are plenty funny. Take this lady for example: http://borrowedlight.blogspot.com/2008/09/farewell-sweet-maiden.html

    She\’s so funny people are stealing her stuff and trying to pass it off as their own. That\’s pretty funny.

  9. Motherboard on September 16, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Mormons are plenty funny. Take this lady for example: http://borrowedlight.blogspot.com/2008/09/farewell-sweet-maiden.html

    She’s so funny people are stealing her stuff and trying to pass it off as their own. That’s pretty funny.

  10. Motherboard on September 16, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Oops.

  11. Adam Greenwood on September 16, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Be careful what you wish for. See, e.g, this–
    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3780
    or the entire oeuvre of Steve E.

  12. Kylie Turley on September 16, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    Thanks, Motherboard. I’ve bookmarked that one.

    #7–good work with the BH Roberts. I was forgetting about “acidic humor.” Sarcasm is biting but funny at times, too.

  13. Mark B. on September 16, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    My 3rd great grandfather wrote in his journal about a talk by Heber C. Kimball in conference in the 1850s.

    To the young men he said that they should go to it and get married. He then said he should change that to get married and then go to it.

    My guess is that brought a laugh from the congregation.

  14. Ray on September 17, 2008 at 12:09 am

    Ardis has a series of “Funny Bones” posts over on Keepapitchinin that are hilarious – and sometimes biting – examples of Mormon humor from the past. There are some hilarious Mormon blogs. Then there’s always Steve Martin . . .

  15. Bookslinger on September 17, 2008 at 12:46 am

    Since not everyone knows it off the top of their head, Ardis’ blog with a lot of Mormon humor is at; http://www.keepapitchinin.org
    It shows that early Utah Mormons did indeed have a sense of humor.

    I’m glad I got to hear Legrand Richards live before he kicked the bucket. He used humor in his conference talks. I have a cassette tape from Convenant Recordings of him too

    Yeah, most Mormon talks are about as interesting as stewed tomatoes. But both Pres Hinckley and Pres Monson used humor. And I think a few others have over the past few years that I’ve been paying attention, such as Elder Wirthlin. And one of the 70′s from England had a good talk that kept me awake a few years ago.

    Apostle Matthew Cowley could righteously use humor too. I think I have a tape of him too.

  16. Brett on September 17, 2008 at 1:10 am

    No loud laughing or I’ll sush you like a temple matron.

  17. Blain on September 17, 2008 at 2:47 am

    Why do you always take two Mormons with you when you go fishing?

    Because if you just take one, he’ll drink all your beer.

    LDS actor James Arrington, who has portrayed Brigham Young in a one-man show for the past 23 years, shared his favorite story of the prophet in the Thursday, April 22, 1999 Provo Daily Herald:

    It seems that a man came bursting into Brigham Young’s office, crutches flying. He only had one leg, and he shouted, “Now, Mr. Prophet, I want you to give me another leg this instant. Otherwise, I will publish it abroad that you are not a prophet at all.”

    President Young apparently told him that would be easy enough, but that consequences would result. Young explained that if he gave him another leg, it would rise with him in the resurrection – as would the other two legs. That meant the man would have to deal with three legs for all eternity.

    Q: What do you get when you cross a Kleptomaniac and a Mormon?
    A: A basement full of stolen food.

    During a Primary lesson on the bishopric, the teacher asked the children what a bishop does. Without hesitation, a bright six-year-old answered, “moves diagonally.”

  18. J.R. Knight on September 17, 2008 at 8:01 am

    I believe it might have been Elder LeGrand Richards in our stake conference long ago who mentioned the primary child who asked his teacher why we believe in being chased by an elephant.

    And I forget who it was that told me about another primary child who asked the Lord to bless the bishop and his bricks.

    Come to think of it, primary was about the most fun I ever had at church, until my friend Alan and I were escorted out.

  19. Stay on September 17, 2008 at 8:04 am

    I tried to be funny for a few years, but it was too much work. My broken chain of blog posts is the only evidence.

  20. Mormon Paleo on September 17, 2008 at 9:25 am

    The following article may be disappointingly orthodox. So be it:

    http://mormontimes.com/WC_education.php?id=1847

    I think there is something about the scriptural admonitions to not be light-minded. Ten-year-old Mormon is chosen to take care of the records for being sober. Alma praises his son, Shiblon, for being sober. This could refer not only to inebriation, but to avoiding lightmindedness.

    For me personally, I am concerned that in this world full of banal trivialities and constant silliness, there’s a risk of drifting into worldly lightmindedness, which of course we are counseled to avoid, and so I find myself erring on the side of seriousness too often.

    As I have gone along, however, I learned to better integrate my sense of humor into my normal living. I remember hearing Elder Oaks visit our mission while in Taiwan. His sense of humor was amazing from my perspective. I realized that his was a type of spiritual gift, and part of the calling to lighten burdens. I have also found Elder Hafen amusing when I have heard him in person, as well as other General Authorities, in their own way. I also enjoyed President Packer’s chapter in Teach Ye Dilligently on humor.

    When used properly, a sense of humor can even be holy, I think.

    Figuring out how to properly integrate a sense of humor into one’s life without going overboard into constant silliness or underboard (is that a word?) into constant, unhealthy stress can be a challenge of discipleship.

  21. Ryan Bell on September 17, 2008 at 11:32 am

    President Monson opened his remarks at Sunday’s regional conference with a funny story. Paraphrasing, it went something like this:

    I’m glad to be sitting to the right of Elder Hinckley today. It reminds me of the many times I sat to the right of his father President Hinckley. I remember one time before an afternoon session of conference, President Hinckley said “Tom, nudge me if I start to doze.” I was a little surprised by the request. Then President Faust came to me and said “Tom, whisper to me if I nod off.” Now I felt the pressure. No way I was going to doze off because I was conducting.

    In the middle of that meeting, I looked up, and sure enough, President Hinckley had nodded off. Even more surprising, I looked past him and saw that President Faust was sleeping too. I sat there wondering ‘how on earth do you wake up the prophet in general conference and tell him he’s been sleeping?’ Then I had an idea. I elbowed President Hinckley and whispered to him “hey, looks like Jim’s asleep, you’d better wake him.”

  22. John Mansfield on September 17, 2008 at 11:34 am

    My Cage, August 27:

    Maureen: Too bad Brian doesn’t make enough for me to date him. Look at him! All tall and muscular and just MANLY!
    Norm: Hmph.
    Maureen: Sorry, Norm. Women just like that kind of stuff.
    Norm: Bet you he’s not funny.
    Maureen: Bet you he never has to be.

  23. Brigham Daniels on September 17, 2008 at 11:35 am

    As a general rule, I agree that Mormons are not so funny. I think the problem relates to a few things. First, many Mormons do not like poking fun at themselves so much and get defensive pretty easily. This means that we often neglect the subject matter we know best–ourselves–off the table. Second, Mormons feel that many things are inappropriate. This means the body humor–which is easy pickings for laughs–is out of bounds. While Mormons feel that J. Golden Kimball is really funny, many would shy away from saying the things he said. Lastly, Mormons are pretty cheery, and often being funny requires a darker outlook on life.

    That is just my take. That is not to say Mormons are without humor. Many Mormons can and do laugh.

  24. Steve Evans on September 17, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Obviously Kylie is unfamiliar with the Police Beat Roundtable. If only our feature had more vests, alas.

  25. Kylie Turley on September 17, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Obviously I need to get out more. But I think a lot of the comments make my point: we do have a somewhat uneasy relationship with humor. The concern about light mindedness and loud laughter puts many jokes and types of humor out of bounds, as far as lots of LDS people are concerned. Finding the right type of appropriate humor is a difficult endeavor that perhaps stifles humor.

  26. Kate on September 17, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I grew up going to Catholic schools and I never knew any Mormons until I became familiar with some Mormon bloggers. As you can see from my original post – Kacy is one of my favorites (and she even honored me with a guest post last week). In general I’ve found it incredibly interesting to learn more about a group of people that were at one time a complete mystery to me. So maybe you’re not “all about the jokes…” Maybe you’re 50% about thought provoking discussion. All good stuff – I’ve enjoyed reading it.

  27. Alison Moore Smith on September 17, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    Now we’re bashing perceived lack of humor among members. I’m offended. I’m leaving.

  28. Lupita on September 18, 2008 at 12:07 am

    The funniest human being that I know is not Mormon. The second funniest human, not Mormon either. However, I do know a lot of seriously funny Mormons. Well, at least two.
    Life it too short to be around people who don’t either a) make you laugh or b) laugh at your jokes.
    The comment that Mormons don’t like poking fun at themselves is spot on. We take ourselves way too seriously.

  29. John David Payne on September 18, 2008 at 12:38 am

    Humor is about the unexpected. And often, the quickest way to surprise someone enough to make them laugh is to transgress some societal norm. (“Ha, ha! Klinger is wearing a dress, even though he’s a man!”) Good Mormons try not to transgress, so that cuts out a lot of the easiest jokes.

  30. meems on September 18, 2008 at 10:01 am

    I find the stuff that makes me laugh comes out of the cynical, sarcastic, or being a little mean or apathetic about others (think Seinfeld, etc).

    As Mormons, we’re groomed to not be mean, apathetic towards the feelings of others, or have a sarcastic or cynical outlook. I have often held my tongue at saying something really funny because it was too “biting”, and I didn’t want to set a bad example!

    It’s difficult to have it both ways.

  31. Kylie Turley on September 18, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Hi Kate (#26)–thanks for stopping by. I hope you don’t feel liked I singled you out; I think there are lots of other people who hold your original opinion of Mormons and humor. I enjoyed your blog and think you raised a good point about Mormons and humor, which is why I brought it up here. I’m wondering if the perceived lack of humor might be because our current reigning high profile LDS people (ie Mitt Romney) are not real slapstick kind of people. Or maybe it’s because we are worried about being sarcastic and mean like #30 suggests.

  32. BruceC on September 18, 2008 at 11:35 am

    We have humor all over the place. I heard a song at BYU (from a guy named Curtis?) that I have not been able to find since. It is sung to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies.

    Let me tell you a story of a man named Smith
    Preachers in the area were teaching up a myth
    Then one day when he was in his youth,
    He went to Bible looking for truth
    …James, that is….Chapter 1, verse 5.

    I thought it was wonderfully funny. But maybe thats because I’m mormon and have a stunted sense of humor.
    btw, Curtis, if you are out there, how does the rest go?

  33. Raymond Takashi Swenson on September 19, 2008 at 5:35 am

    Gosh, I laugh as hard as anyone at Laurel and Hardy and Napolean Dynamite. My former HP group leader did a redneck Mormon farmer standup routine every week with shades of Don Rickles as he joked about our individual and collective foibles in a loving way. And Mormons participate in the absurd process of the presidential elections, that pretends a new crew will solve all the problems that the prior occupants of the White House of both parties found intractable.

  34. christopher johnson on September 20, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    I stay awake at night regularly wondering and even writing journals about what makes something funny. I have four reasons why Mormons aren’t funny.
    1. We (the LDS culture) are potentially uproariously funny to the general person when we stick to topics that are,well, general. The more narrowly we design humor, the more people wonder what is so funny about “that Mormon weirdo.” What do I mean by narrowly designing jokes? I mean you employ language-based or history-based humor that is not shared by your audience; Mormons are so culturally unique that this is easy to do. That’s why some people might think Mormons aren’t funny.
    2. We are taught to be dignified, which to me means physical comedy is out; this would require a “proper” LDS comedian to feel abnormally clever to dedicate resources to humor creation. That cuts people out that don’t feel especially clever.
    3. We are taught to be happy/well-adjusted/non-judgmental, and much of comedy is based on an acknowledgment of pain/maladjustment. “Wickedness never was happiness.” Much of humanity’s deep pain comes through vices/sins/trangression, and audiences are somewhat accustomed to joking about those topics (they are the low-hanging fruit when it comes to shocking/surprising the listener); Mormon comedians are maybe only distantly connected to those painful realities and have been taught that the subjects are taboo. Jack Mormons are more likely to “go there.”
    4. Finally, jokes have targets, and frequently mainstream comedians target authority figures. It should be obvious that “proper” Mormons do not feel it is OK to mock religio-cultural authorities.

    BUT. But, Mormons and heathens alike have lots of shared language and history priors, so we have more than sufficient clean material to polish and present to average American audiences. Do we believe it is wrong to acknowledge dissatisfaction and pain in our lives? Maybe sometimes, but as a principle we don’t believe that. We are all human beings on Earth and thus have a seemingly endless source of material. We just won’t pick the low-hanging forbidden fruit.

  35. Mea Coolpa on October 31, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    The Ancient of Weeks is hilarious. He even does a daily comic, George & Georgie, and though his art isn’t very good, the humor is. Check him out here: http://www.theancientofweeks.blogspot.com

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