Comedy did more to challenge and evolve my faith than apologetics ever did. Or could.Evolutionary science says that we evolved laughter as a way to discharge anxiety in potentially dangerous situations.
A rustling in the bushes at night.
Friend or foe? Predator or prey?
Fight or flight kicks.
Out hops…a rabbit.
Suddenly the knife you’re brandishing (or the 100 feet you already put between yourself and the noise) feels absolutely ridiculous. A smile bubbles up, followed by a laugh at the absurdity of it all.
But we absolutely need that fight or flight reaction. Had that been a lion, or an enemy tribesman, dulling that response over time could have meant death.
Of course, in the grand irony of the universe, our instincts evolve at a pace light-years slower than the world around us. Or even other parts of our own mind. At the lizard level, our brains haven’t learned to tell a real threat from an imaginary one.
There was about a 5 year period where I could listen to Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, George Carlin, Eddie Izzard and the like outright trash my faith, beliefs, the entirety of religion and completely agree with them, but still go into full battle mode if someone called the Exodus laws “arbitrary”.
Punchlines equaled immunity. That first twinge of anxiety, that fight or flight response that mistook an attack on my belief for a true physical threat could be discharged just as quickly at the end the bit. During those 5 years, even the most sardonic, often acidic tirades of Bill Hicks were better received than the reasoned, thoughtful arguments of the most warm-hearted atheists.
But have you ever read the transcript of a controversial bit?
“Here’s the thing about people who believe in God. They’re idiots.”
“Religious people don’t like hearing facts.”
Those same routines that filled my iPod read like the comments under a Facebook video of some lady who saw the face of Jesus in her toast. (Quotes above courtesy of Jim Jeffries).
A gifted comedian is a true artist in a way that is difficult to appreciate immediately. Challenging a deeply held belief from a unique perspective takes more than arrogant finger pointing. Anyone can do that. Humor and wit are double-edged swords that take precision and experience to wield without leaving behind a massacre.
Only the most daring, strategic and insightful comedians can open Pandora’s box and not commit career suicide. But comedians aren’t the only ones called to grease the gears of change in society. All good art challenges the status quo and puts what’s “normal” under the microscope. Often by striving to defend ideas and perspectives which seem indefensible.
This side of 30, I see that as my greatest artistic challenge. I’ve waxed poetic about unrequited love. I’ve mined every metaphor I could from the dark caverns of heartbreak. Once or twice I even wrote about things besides girls.
Growth, however, is going to mean figuring out how to approach deeper, stranger, more volatile ideas without the safety net of a punchline.