Barry Smith: Irrelativity
December 5, 2011
Making someone laugh is a pretty good feeling. But making someone famous laugh, well … that’s a real boost to the ego.
I met John Cleese once. John Cleese! Funniest man alive. I made him laugh. A little, but still … pretty awesome.
Hung out with Hunter Thompson a bit. Made him laugh a few times. Not bad, not bad…
Blues legend Honeyboy Edwards. Got a chuckle out of him. Pretty cool. Bluegrass genius Sam Bush – laughed at one of my poems. Score. Ken Kesey – met him, made him laugh, right on.
But nothing – and I mean nothing – can ever compare to the thrill I got that day I made Jesus laugh.
Yes, THAT Jesus. Son of God. King of Kings. Blessed Lord and Savior. You know the one. I made him laugh. Out loud. In front of everyone, so I have witnesses. I even remember exactly what I said that did it. How could I not?
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And this isn’t the lead-up to some fanciful, alternate-universe comedy routine, either. It’s true. This really happened.
We were all sitting around the table eating some turkey chili that Jesus had made, and I said …
Wait … I should probably back up a little bit, right?
It’s the early ’90s, I’m in my early 20s, and for various reasons (which is obviously a whole story unto itself) I’m convinced that a man in Montana is the bona fide return of Jesus, come to usher in the Apocalypse. This man ALSO thinks he’s the return of Jesus, which is good. It’s so awkward when you think someone is Jesus and they don’t. Anyway, one thing has led to another and I’m living in his basement – excuse me, His basement. I’ve only been there for about a week, and one evening me and Jesus and a bunch of other believers are having dinner.
There are quite a few of us – possibly 12, but I can’t say for sure – sitting around the table with Jesus sitting at the head. The conversation is light, far lighter than you’d expect, what with the eminent arrival of the Four Horsemen and all.
For some reason the topic of sign language comes up. A few of the people at the table have had some experience with sign language and are sharing it with the group. Even Jesus, I recall, had had some occasion to study sign language in the past. The topic lingered for a while, and then came that micro-lull in the conversation, the perfect spot for someone to interject a witty little comment. I know this moment – I’ve studied this moment my entire life.
That’s no exaggeration. All my life I’ve been attracted to the funny. And when you dedicate your life to saying things that you THINK are funny, some of them are going to, you know, NOT be funny. Probably even a lot more than “some” of them. And, even if you’re feeling pretty certain that your little witticism is going to be a real milk-spitting winner, well … there are no guarantees in the uber subjective world of humor. When it works, ahhhh … it’s good, good, good. And when it fails, and everyone at the table awkwardly stares at their plate, ’tis bad, bad, bad.
I was hyper aware of the chance I was about to take as I steadied myself to make a sign language joke for Jesus. The approval of your peers is one thing, but man, let me tell you … when Jesus is in the front row, the pressure is on.
“I tried learning sign language once,” I said. It was my first contribution to the dinner conversation, so everyone turned to look at me. Including Thou-Knowest-Who.
“But” I continued, “nobody could understand me because of my Southern accent.”
Time stood still. Which will it be? Comedy salvation or comedy damnation.
And he laughed. Jesus laughed at my little not-all-that-funny comment! And it wasn’t just a courtesy laugh, either. Those are easy to spot. He laughed hard, he really did. I think I saw some loaves and fishes shoot out of his nose, but maybe that’s just how I want it to have happened.
Whew. Thank you very much. You guys have been great. I’ll be here all week. Make sure you tip your cheribum.
• • • •
This whole experience of hanging out with Jesus 2.0 – including what led up to it and what happened afterwards – is the subject of my solo, multimedia comedy show, JESUS IN MONTANA: ADVENTURES IN A DOOMSDAY CULT. I’ve been performing the show since 2005, and have decided to bring it back to Aspen for one final performance this Thursday, Dec. 8, at the Wheeler Opera House. I’ll continue to tour the show to theaters and colleges across North America, and hopefully beyond, but this will be the last Aspen performance of “Jesus” ever.
And don’t worry … I won’t be telling the sign language joke in the show, so you won’t have to pretend to laugh at it.
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