Thoughts on The Other Guys and a Theology of Humor
By Joel Mayward Posted on August 24 2010
If I've learned anything from having an infant son, it is that laughter doesn't need to be taught. Laughing comes naturally, spontaneously, in fits and spurts, but always with an innate sense of joy. That we can somehow find a moment of respite in our chaotic world through chortles and chuckles is, I believe, clear evidence of God's presence in our lives. Humor is grace.
That being said, not all humor is created equal. The grace of laughter, if distorted by sin, can result in finding joy in ideas or situations that should leave us feeling uneasy at best and disgusted at worst. Which brings me to a dilemma: I laughed a lot while watching The Other Guys. I laughed a lot afterwards while doing what males do best--repeating inappropriate movie quotes to each other over and over until our faces are streaked with tears and our sides are splitting as we laugh like idiots.
Here's my initial question: is laughing at jokes about homeless people having sex in a Toyota Prius helping or hurting my relationship with Jesus? A deeper question: where do I find my joy?
The Other Guys is the latest comedy to come from the dynamic pairing of star Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers). Lampooning the '80s cop flicks that paired two unlikely partners who had to take down scores of bad guys, Other Guys pairs up Ferrell and Mark Walhberg as incompetent detectives trying to solve the case. Walhberg plays up the angry cop with a penchant for the dramatic (i.e. he yells most of his lines), while Ferrell is the timid officer who prefers his desk to a gun. As the case against a large corporate plot worth 32 billion dollars unfolds, these two find themselves in plenty of hilarious situations, mostly as the brunt of the joke. Ferrell gives one of his better comedic performances in years, and Walhberg holds his own against Ferrell's antics. The supporting cast is also great, with Michael Keaton giving an exceptionally silly performance as the police chief who part-times at Bed Bath & Beyond and quotes TLC lyrics in casual conversation.
Much of The Other Guys' humor involves two elements: 1) sexual and sexist jokes, and 2) going completely over the top by extending a joke's timeline well past typical length. (There is also the lampooning element, best expressed with the brief cameos of Samuel L. Jackson and Duane "The Rock" Johnson as hero cops who jump off a building in a chase scene, with some surprising results). It's a very funny film if those features tickle your funny bone. This all leads back to my original (deeper) question: where do we find our joy?
Perhaps we need a brief theology of humor. We understand that God created humor and laughter, but often His laughter is directed at wicked nations who were ignoring or disobeying Him. We see both Jesus and Paul often using sarcasm and wit in their arguments, even using extreme language (eg. Paul using lots of "cutting" language in Galatians 5 about those who support circumcision, culminating in the hope that they would emasculate themselves). We read in Ecclesiastes that there is a time for laughter, but also that sorrow trumps laughter. Proverbs has some harsh words about using "joking around" as an excuse for deceit and hurt. Paul writes in Ephesians that God's holy people should not be in the habit of foolish talk or coarse joking, but rather thanksgiving, but also points out that we have freedom in Christ to live for God's glory regardless of human regulations. We know from Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount that God is more interested in our hearts and motives than our outward actions (while James points out that outward actions reveal our hearts).
I'm sure there are many more relevant passages, but these point out some important truths about humor. We are created for joy in Christ, and laughter is an expression of that joy, but we need to be willing to check our hearts and see if our joy is directed in the right places. We need to use wisdom and discernment when watching films instead of acting on impulse, asking ourselves "why do I find this funny?" Is it witty, creative, smart, well-written, engaging? Is it crass, offensive, stupid, clearly trying too hard to push the boundaries? Because if Scripture is true, then my laughter reveals a part of my heart.
I'll be honest: I laughed at The Other Guys because I just needed a good laugh right now in my life. I also watched it with a group of guys and genuinely experienced a sense of community in those moments. However, if by my watching and laughing at The Other Guys I cause a believer in Christ to stumble in their faith, then I need to seek forgiveness and repent. A two-hour movie simply isn't worth harming someone's faith, or my own.
Watching and reflecting on The Other Guys has me thinking: maybe we all need to take our humor a little more seriously.