On Humor, Part 2
Here’s another piece I wrote for The Catholic Weekly:
Because humour is about incongruity, it has long been a tool for addressing the hypocrisy of the powerful. In Scripture, humour, on the rare occasions it shows up, is typically the laughter of the underdog at the oppressor.
For instance, Judges contains a fine scene of black comedy often overlooked because most people think we must adopt a certain tone when reading, you know, Sacred Scripture. We must be reverent!
Sure. But reverence means offering respect to what the sacred writer is trying to tell us. And the story of Ehud (Judges 3:12-30) is about a cunning defender of his oppressed people outwitting a powerful bad guy. It stands in a tradition stretching all the way to Bugs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd, Colonel Hogan vs. Colonel Klink, and the Marx Brothers vs. every popinjay they ever met.
In the tale, Israel has again fallen under the jackboot of a conqueror and Ehud is chosen by God to save them. He asks an audience with Eglon, the extremely fat king of their Moabite oppressors. A lefty, Ehud wears his sword on his right hip, leaving the left one bare. The king’s guard take his bare left hip as a token that he comes unarmed. Ehud gets his private audience and announces, “I have a message from God for you”, whereupon he runs Eglon through till the fat closes over the hilt of his sword, then flees out the window. Meanwhile, the courtiers wait around outside, hesitant to enter because they think Eglon is using the toilet, giving Ehud time to escape.
Not a drawing room comedy to be sure, but I have no doubt that ancient Israelites found that tale at least as funny as we find Kind Hearts and Coronets or any other comedy where some deserving villain bites it in a hilarious way.
Humour as a weapon against oppression is as healthy and normal as it gets. But weaponised humour is not just the province of the underdog. It can also become an instrument of oppression.