Maybe you’re the class clown, storyteller, or the dry humor sort. We all have our own taste in humor. I admit that lately I have favored “punny” jokes.
Guess how many people laugh at my Catholic jokes? …Nun. Whichever flavor of humor you enjoy the most, when you laugh, you’re in good company – the company of saints even!
St. Padre Pio, whose feast day is September 23rd, is often quoted as saying, “Joy, with peace, is the sister of charity. Serve the Lord with laughter. ” Though he suffered much, he never failed to express joy. Knowing his suffering had a purpose for Jesus, Padre Pio was able to serve the Lord with laughter. He was widely known for his practical jokes and the ability to make others laugh.
This joy and laughter is important for many reasons in the Catholic faith. Humor is a tool of evangelization. It’s easy to smile or share a joke with someone in line at the grocery store. When a friend is crying or upset, you might concoct ridiculous antics to cheer them up. When times are tense, try some advice from St. Francis de Sales: “Humor is the foundation of reconciliation.”
But sometimes jokes can have the opposite motivation or effect by making someone’s life less joyful as this video released by Buzzfeed demonstrates. There is a world of difference between wanting to brighten others’ days and being a bully. When you’re typically the one making jokes, it’s easy to assume you’re just funny and not causing any harm. When you’ve made new friends and realize that they don’t like someone else, you may be tempted to crack the first joke that pops into your head at that outsider’s expense.
Why is this wrong? Because the purpose of humor is laughter, not gossip or bullying or detraction. I’m sure that the saints don’t find it humorous when we “throw someone under the bus” for the sake of being funny.
Mean or poor humor includes jokes that are inappropriate, that put down the Church or the faith, are crass or sexual in nature, anything that demeans the dignity of another, and pranks that cause harm in any way. Even if the person being made fun of doesn’t hear it, it’s still not right.
We must hold our friends accountable, too, and let them know — charitably — if their joke was actually not a joke at all but — instead — mockery, malicious, gossip, or rude. They may not realize what they are really saying.
To help us better determine if we’re being funny or just plain mean, we might ask ourselves these three questions before cracking that “joke”:
1. How well do you know this person?
Inside jokes are tricky because you may not realize that you are leaving another person out of the fun if they don’t understand it. Keep that in mind if you need to explain your joke to a new member of your company.
Even if this person is your friend whom you’ve teased for years, you may never know if the person appreciates the humor or not if you aren’t attentive.
If your joke is about something that you and the other person have never talked about, how do you know if they feel strongly against making fun of that object? If you don’t know the person well, you might end up being mean, even when you don’t intend it.
Oftentimes, if a person is at the butt of your joke, it’s probably not a nice joke. It’s one thing to make fun of yourself and another to point out things about another person. If someone starts a joke about themselves, it’s often an invitation to laugh with them (i.e. an embarrassing moment they just experienced). Note: laugh with them, not at them. That’s a key element between being a bully and being funny.
Especially when pranking, be careful: What are they allergic to? What are they sensitive about? What are their fears? Pranks played in good humor avoid touching these sensitive areas in a person’s life.
2. What is your intention in making this joke?
If your intention is anything other than to cause laughter (such as to promote your popularity, ridicule someone you don’t like, put down another because of something they can’t help, etc.), the joke is mean.
If you’re trying to lighten the mood, a joke made in poor humor will just make it worse. If you feel awkward and that you need to have some input in a conversation, a mean joke will only cause more awkwardness. When in doubt, perhaps choose not to say the joke right away; you might end up thanking yourself later.
Jokes can create new friendships or burn bridges. As Saint John Chrysostom noted, “Laughter has been implanted in our soul, that the soul may sometime be refreshed.” Is your joke refreshing for souls, or is it potentially damaging?
3. What’s the occasion?
There are jokes for weddings, for birthdays, for funerals in eulogies about humorous memories, for sports games, and for almost every other occasion. But, you might want to think twice about joking about death at a birthday, or divorce at a wedding, or someone being a wimp at a sports game (or any time for that matter).
In all situations, use prudence.
Know your surroundings, know the company you’re in, and you yourself – what’s appropriate? What’s genuinely funny? Why am I saying this joke?
We hope you’ll give these a try – or at the very least – take a moment to consider the subtleties and the holiness of humor! Padre Pio used his humor as a way to connect with others and build their faith. Learn from his example and live out the joy of the Lord daily.
And, in conclusion, one last joke: How does Moses make his coffee?