A couple of months ago a friend of mine alerted me to the Christian comedian, Tim Hawkins, who opened up new horizons in comedy for me. He’s hilarious both in content and presentation – his hair, facial expressions, beard, singing voice, wild lyrics, and outfits all add to the hilarity. He is intelligent humor at its finest.
But I have to admit that I was skeptical at first. Somehow “Christian” and “comedian” are two words that didn’t seem to mesh in my mind because, I mean, what is there to laugh about in this uber-serious project we call Christianity?
Well, it turns out, a lot!
The Art of Repackaging
Humor is all about the way you look at life and repackage it for others. And here’s where the “intelligent” part comes in.
Some comedians get laughs by lowering the ethical bar and appealing to the lowest common denominators of human experience: vicious ridicule, crude subject matter (easy for second rate comedians), or picking on people’s mistakes or vulnerabilities. Sometimes these subjects can be superficially funny, but even if they get a quick laugh, the humor wears off quickly because it doesn’t inspire or uplift.
Hawkins doesn’t indulge these tendencies. He seems innately to know that a Christian who wants to make people laugh can’t gain anything from being vicious or indecent. Christian values (should) impose certain ethical limits on subject matter, and as far as I can tell, Hawkins sticks well within the range of the subjects that Jesus probably wouldn’t mind listening to.
He also has a unique way of connecting a human common experience with a kind of Christian twist, although he is rarely overtly “religious” in his presentations. He just takes values that Christians endorse (such as “pleasing your mother” in the video below) or institutions that decent people frequent (such as Chick-fil-A!) and finds the paradoxical humor in the gritty details.
That art of repackaging takes real brain power. Indecent humor doesn’t.
The Art of Parody
There is a certain type of “making fun” of people and things that is authentically funny but doesn’t descend into viciousness or mockery. It’s more like poking fun, and it’s called parody. Hawkins is a master of it.
Since he’s also a musician, his signature shtick is taking a familiar pop or country song, reinventing the lyrics and turning it into a hilarious parody of the original. Many times he creates new meaning in a song to make light of Christian themes or practices (homeschooling, sermons, biblical stories, church behaviors, etc.) Family, kids, and marriage are also high on his list of universal themes that everyone can enjoy making light of. He seems to nail the insight every time with his out-of-left-field way of viewing things. In the middle of my chuckles and sometimes belly laughs, I find myself saying, “That’s so true!”
That’s also what you call great comedic art.
Relevancy and Timing
The relevancy of humor is often culturally-bound. You have to be tuned in to certain jokes, common experiences, and local references to appreciate some routines. This includes generational differences that might highlight certain experiences and elements that one generation is tuned into and another is not. So, not every comedian connects with every audience.
The relevancy of humor can also be particular to one’s personality; that is, we instantly like certain comedians’ styles and not others simply because of personal preference. Perhaps this is why there is no shortage of comedians in any culture.
There is also the question of good timing and flawless delivery. The best of the “old timers” in the comedy world (Henny Youngman, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Rodney Dangerfield, etc.) never missed a beat when it came to a punch line.
Hawkins, too, always nails his punchlines. I also marvel at the way he can perfectly recite an alternative (and extended) version of a song without the slightest glitch in his delivery. It’s pretty amazing.
The greatest part: he laughs at his own jokes at times which especially endears me to his style of humor and lets me know he’s not just a robot reciting lines!
People of average IQ usually can’t pull off this kind of routine. Certainly, some sharp-witted people can tell off-color jokes, but it takes a really smart person to be a good comedian because it’s harder to stay within one’s ethical limits and find the humor in humble subjects that don’t normally tantalize our basest nature.
Humor as Sacred Window
In short, good, intelligent humor is a sacred window to the truth, I believe. Truth is not just about religious doctrines. It’s the very fabric of reality that we can come to know with the mind God has given us. There is no harm in laughing at human foibles to remind ourselves that we need to be humble to enter into the Kingdom of God. The great humorists help us to get there.
I’ve posted other examples of decent, intelligent humor on this site to make the point that the best humor is intelligent and principled. You can check them out if the subject interests you beyond this post. Abbot & Costello, Mike Marino, my own story.
Meanwhile, here are four short routines of Tim Hawkins, Christian comedian, which I think you’ll really enjoy!