The Theology of Comedy
Aristotle once wrote that tragedy is a depiction of man at his most noble, and comedy, man at his most base. Therefore tragedy represented the highest form of drama, as it showed how truly noble man could be. This attitude continues to find support in modern times. When was the last time a screwball comedy won the Oscar for best picture? Not to quibble with one of the most renowned philosophers in history, but I think that Aristotle's analysis can be looked at another way. The truth is, tragedy depicts man the way he thinks he is. Comedy depicts man as he actually is.
We all love watching movies that depict great men and women. We look to Superman and William Wallace in Braveheart as heroes, and we believe we can be just like them. But let's consider for a moment the average man. Granted, there are some whose accomplishments lift them above the throng, but as a general rule, who does that goofball co-worker, that difficult boss, or that irritating relative remind you of: William Wallace, or Harry and Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber?
Comedy is God's way of giving us a reality check. It's a non-confrontational, easy-to-swallow, yet always humbling reminder of who we really are: fallen people in a fallen world. It doesn't matter if you're a CEO or a janitor, the president or a ditchdigger, everyone has gas, belches, and, on occasion, trips and falls on their faces. (Note to those who do not find gas or belching funny: ask any pure-hearted three-year-old, it's funny.)
Comedic films and plays are always about humbling the proud. The heroes in such stories are rarely (if ever) the rich and powerful, corrupt in their hearts. It's the little tramp and the manic pet detective who come out on top. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:27, "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise." Comedy also reminds us that true beauty is on the inside, and true riches are not kept in bank vaults. As scripture states, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).
But comedy does more than expose the failings and faults within our sinful hearts. By helping us laugh at ourselves, comedy makes it okay to be imperfect. It reminds us that we are not alone in our imperfections. What husband and father can't relate to the ravings of Clark W. Griswold in Christmas Vacation? Everyone messes up. When you can laugh at yourself, the bruises and bumps sustained in the living of life don't hurt so badly.
What's more, when people can learn to relax and laugh at themselves, amazing healing can take place. This healing happens not only for the viewer, but also the writer. It's no accident so many broken people become comedians, building entire routines around their bad childhood stories. If people carried around the intense hurt of abuse and tragedy all their days, they would eventually self-destruct. Laughter is their means of coping, a release, and a true gift of God.
One more point: as Peter Cook once said, "I don't think there is any subject which cannot be funny." I've yet to find a single theme or topic that cannot be addressed in healing. Certainly, one must use good sense and good taste. You wouldn't joke about the tragedy of September 11. Yet you could still write a play that uses humor to lift the spirits of those still suffering from said tragedy, encouraging them to continue on and renew their faith in God.
Perhaps the world does get it. Perhaps the reason comedy never gets any respect with critics or awards is because it exposes us as the frauds we are. All the more reason we as Christians should embrace it, harnessing its powers of truth-saying and healing in the service of God. Nothing, not even laughter, would be without his creating it. As Kevin Smith said, "God has a sense of humor, too. Just look at the platypus." Let us faithfully use comedy as a tool for ministering to a hurting world.