I wish I were funny.
Seriously. Being able to make people laugh is such an awesome superpower. Think about how humor can cheer people up, lighten a heavy mood, diffuse tension, help people relax. Laughter is healing. It helps people take things (and themselves) less seriously. It provides release.
Having a little humor at the beginning of a sermon (as long as it actually relates to the sermon) helps the congregation settle in and trust the preacher. It opens people up and makes them more receptive to the deeper message that's coming.
But I'm not funny.
I try to be funny. Jan cringes on the rare occasions when I get to make the Sunday morning announcements at Bruton parish because my brain thinks I'm supposed to be funny. And inside my own head, I'm hilarious. Only, the words don't come out right and I end up rushing through the rest of what I have to say because people are looking at me with a blend of confusion and compassion with a dash of irritation and I know I'm taking too long and I just want it to be over with so we can start singing a hymn and I can go back to reading the words of the Prayer Book which definitely don't require me to be funny. Sometimes Jan reminds me on my way to make announcements, "Remember, you don't have to be funny."
I want to be funny.
But I'm not. I'm earnest. Earnest isn't funny. At least not intentionally. I did bring down the house one Sunday morning last fall. It was the Sunday prior to our pet blessing. It was also the Sunday before the parish oyster roast. As I was advertising both events, I was struck with the irony that we were saying special blessings for pets in the morning and then eating oysters and shrimp in the afternoon. What came out of my mouth was something like, "Next week we will have our annual pet blessing at the 9:15 service. Those who have pets may bring them for a blessing, and if you're allergic to some of God's creatures, you might want to choose a different service. In the afternoon we'll have our oyster roast where you can eat some of God's creatures like oysters and shrimp." It just popped out! Judging from the roar of laughter, most people seemed to be amused, but I was afraid I might be fired for being too ridiculous during announcements. And there were a few looks of horror at the thought of eating our beloved pets.
Another problem with earnest is that I often don't know when other people are being funny. I don't hear the sarcasm in the question, and I start explaining. Or I don't realize someone is joking and I'm giving an honest answer. It's not funny when people have to tell you they're being funny. Then I have to sort of fake laugh and try to make a joke about my own inability to understand a joke. And I'm still not funny. Sigh...
I know that being earnest has its moments. Although I want to use humor to lighten the mood when I'm making a hospital visit, and sometimes I do, I've found that a little bit of earnest care and concern goes a long way toward helping someone in a vulnerable and frightening position feel more comfortable. Laughter can be healing, but it can also be a way to deflect what's really going on. In my attempt to be funny I may miss someone's cry to be heard and seen.
My high school drama teacher frequently used the quote, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard," when she was talking about acting. In life, it doesn't seem like dying is easy for most people, and yet I understand the sentiment. Earnest is easy for me. Sincere comes with little effort. But comedy? Man, I wish I could be funny.