Comedians and Prophets
When I was in junior high, I had aspirations to be a stand-up comedian. I began to write my own jokes (they were terrible), practice my impersonations (I had two, Yoda and Gollum), and read comedy theory (which didn’t make me funnier). My dreams persisted about into high school, partially buoyed by my participation in drama and musical theater. But eventually, reality got the best of me. There wasn’t a specific point when I realized I wouldn’t make it as a comedian; I guess a side effect of maturity was greater self-awareness.
Nevertheless, I still consider myself an amateur student of comedy. So when this video featuring Lewis C.K. on Conan began making its rounds on various social media outlets, I not only loved it, but noticed numerous connections between the stand-up comic and the prophetic office.
Good stand-up comedy is not just funny story-telling (though Bill Cosby was a master at this); a good comedian helps his or her audience to see their world with new eyes, to recognize the absurdity or irony of daily life. They look at life and speak of it with the voice of an outsider, although their intimate acquantaince with common inner dialogues, feelings, emotions, reactions, and personalities reveals their true insider status. They point out the things we all know, see, or have experienced, giving us a new way of perceiving. Good comedy can make us laugh, but can also convict us.
Brian Regan, in his bit on the “Me Monster” in group conversations points out the tendency we have to one-up each other. He gives us new ears to hear our conversations and (hopefully) convicts us of our common guiltiness.
Jim Gaffigan, in his bit on “McDonalds” uses the famous fast-food restaurant to reveal how we are often blind consumers, settling for transitory pleasures. He gives us a new paradigm through which we can understand our “guilty pleasures.”
The prophetic role is similar, though not exactly the same. The prophet speaks from the vantage point of an insider with the authoritative voice of One from the outside. The prophet reveals, not just the future, but the present, giving their audience a fresh set of eyes to truly understand their context. The prophet speaks to convict, to lead human hearts to acknowledge their complicity in acts of sin.
But, alas, the analogy eventually breaks down, as all do. Whereas the stand-up comic only makes such astute observations for the sake of getting a laugh, the prophet insightfully speaks for the sake of repentance, with the hope that conviction would lead to a changed heart and life. The comedian speaks for self-validation; the prophet speaks as one already validated by God. The comedian is loved and embraced; the prophet is scorned.
Though there are days when I continue to entertain my dreams of stand-up stardom, it is not my calling. But I do think that as Christians, we are to play a prophetic role in the lives of those around us, helping others develop new eyes to see the world at large, with the hope that there may be a conviction that leads to repentance.
As Christians, I think we can learn a bit from Louis C.K. He speaks words that are simultaneously hopeful and tragic. There is hope in that he artfully, and I imagine, unintentionally lays out a perfect launching pad for the power of the Gospel to reach and transform the inner recesses of the human heart. And there is tragedy, that though he is so close to the Gospel, he nevertheless concludes that there is no hope for the ache of our hearts.