Last Thursday night my lovely wife took me to a comedy festival. It was a fund raising event in support of The Food Bank, where she works. I’ve never seen stand-up comics live. It was a fascinating experience, with three different comics.
The first comic was from an ethnic minority, and used that as the launching pad for most of his jokes, which were amusing, but not exactly of the belly-laugh variety for this crowd. The second comic was a local boy, who has since moved to Toronto, and he used the odd experiences of his new found city as the basis for his yuks, which were funny for those of us who have lived in Toronto, or some similarly large city. The final comic, who is on the rise in the comedy circuits, came on stage in a suit and tie. He could have been a salesman, or accountant. His demeanor was disarming, and his style conversational. His jokes largely revolved around the phenomenon of home improvement. He pretty much brought the house down.
As I listened, I couldn’t help but compare his spiel to a well delivered sermon. He came across as the kind of guy you would happily meet in a coffee shop. He engaged the audience, but always respectfully, as he spelled out the laughable optimism of the do it yourself industry and its clients. In so doing, he read the crowd as carefully as a detective at a crime scene: laughter came in waves, and the head nods that followed the belly laughs confirmed that people like to hear their story told. They love to have their experiences named for what they are: silly, human, and everyday in nature. He met us where we were at, but took us beyond ourselves by linking us to one another.
Of course, a stand up comic is not a preacher. Yet it is one of the few public acts that compares to the strange, but compelling act of preaching. A poorly delivered sermon is as painful as a stand up comic that falls flat, and a well delivered sermon that sings its subject matter draws you in to the point where time stands still and you feel transported – albeit to different places!
This comic was mesmerizing, clearly having a rich repertoire ready at hand, pulling out the right joke at the right time. His timing was exquisite: speeding up and slowing down as appropriate; now and then bowing his head into his hand, shaking off the embarrassment that we all have known, that we all know. Of course, it wasn’t only his head in his hand. He had us in his hand as well, and seemingly all of us went home refreshed in the knowledge that our foibles are shared and our condition human, and thus fascinating in its ordinariness. It was a rich evening, and for some reason so much richer than encountering the same on television. Laughter may be a medicine, but laughing together seems to be a cure.