I recently heard Ben Huh the CEO of the popular Internet meme site icanhas.cheeseburger.com say, “The greatest tool for engaging the 35 year old and under crowd is humor.” You have to look no further than the Christian comedy group The Playmakers to see this truth in action. Brothers Kevin and Jason Fredericks along with friend Anthony Davis give us a reason to laugh at the Black Christian culture. Their comedic hijinks and commentary on black church life have made them an Internet sensation with skits such as Stuff Black Church Girls Say and 10 Types of Black Preachers (see below). They have smashed many sacred cows in their attempt to bring humor to the masses but some may think they have gone too far.
Historically, the church hasn’t been a bastion of joviality and humor. Many believe that the church is about being gloomy and somber. That the church seems to take itself too seriously is probably one of the reasons it often gets made fun of. With such a weighty topic as the salvation of millions from hell, our sacred establishments can often be seen as killjoys to all the fun that life has to offer. After all, most of the time the church is seen as criticizing sinners for going to parties, instead of hosting parties itself. Pictures of long-faced Puritans and old grumpy ladies fill our minds when it comes to our image of church. This makes church and humor appear as far apart as the east is from the west. But what if this is actually not in alignment with the character and content of the Bible?
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is full of humor. The subtlety and intellectual wit of the Bible is often not seen because of the lens with which we come to it with, but it is there nonetheless. Elton Trueblood, the author of The Humor of Christ, states “Any alleged Christianity which fails to express itself in gaiety, at some point, is clearly spurious.” To put it simply, from the pages of Genesis all the way to Revelation God’s “got jokes.” The story of Jacob waking up married to the wrong sister sounds like a plot from a silly Hollywood rom-com flick (Genesis 29:16–30). The pictures in Proverbs of a sluggard turning on his bed like a door on hinges (Proverbs 26:14) or of a man sitting on the rooftop to get away from his nagging wife (Proverbs 21:9) had to jar the first readers in a way that Internet memes now jar us. The one-liners of Elijah making fun of the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:27) or of Paul making fun of the Judaizers (Galatians 5:12) are as sharp as anything from the hottest comedians on the comedy channel. And what does all this humor show us? God has a sense of humor, and He must have one to make such silly and foolish creatures as human beings.
If the Bible is full of this humor, then how much more so should the church be full of humor? The Playmakers have caught on to this truth. Their videos expose the foolishness of the many sacred cows in Black religious subculture and, whether intentionally or not, we are brought to a place where we can go back to the Bible and obey what it really says. Jesus cut to the truth in His sermons by focusing on humorous exaggerated realities in order to highlight convicting principles from God’s word. His hyperbole and caricatures of the Pharisees probably jarred his audience not only because they were so severe, but also because to the 1st century Palestinian mind, they were hilarious. Whitewashed tombs, camels going through the eye of needles, and blind men following other blind men into a ditch had to provoke chuckles from his audience. The Playmakers comedy can be used in the same way. The 10 Types of Black Preachers and the Stuff Black Church Girls Say are definitely hilarious, and at the same time they remind us of our hypocrisy and disobedience and point to a different way to be the church in the world.
So how far is too far? It all depends on what we are making fun of. If we are making fun of religious people like Jesus often did, then humor is fair game. If we are making fun of God himself, then we are on dangerous ground. The Playmakers remind us that we have sacred cows that need to be smashed and some traditions are just that—traditions—and they have nothing to do with living the life that Jesus called us to live. In the words of Elton Trueblood “Our problem is that we take ourselves too seriously. That is why we have difficulty seeing the humor of Christ.” On that note let’s applaud The Playmakers for allowing us to not take ourselves too seriously while taking Christ as seriously as possible.