The Gift of Sarcasm

By Bill Mefford

I remember in high school I played tri-toms during marching band. The assistant band director worked directly with our percussion section and the man was, frankly, a lunatic. He regularly yelled and cussed at us - and by regularly I mean multiple times every day. It did not take long for us to treat him the exact same way he treated us. The problem for bullies is when they go so quick to anger and belittlement they lose the intimidation factor. They demand respect, but all they they receive is mockery and sarcasm because respect is something that has to be given in order to be received.

I learned early on that the best way to deal with bullies is with laughter and the best way to laugh is through mockery and sarcasm.

Maybe that is why the most effective responses to trump’s absurd authoritarianism and abuse of power is coming from comedians, much more so than journalists. Reporters have been more than necessary in investigating this administration for its total corruption and complete inability to accomplish anything that will help other people. Yes, the media is vital, but they are not effectively undermining trump. Comedians are. Here are a few examples of what I am talking about:

  • Check out John Oliver’s take down of the US’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and the way in which we overlook their human rights atrocities or support them in the case of the Yemeni War, and including their murder of Jamal Khashoggi. In fact, I found out yesterday that Netflix has pulled a show by comedian Hasan Minhaj from Saudi audiences because he questions the murder and cover-up by Saudi Prince, MBS.

  • Or check out Samantha Bee pointing out the Republicans’ false victimization over defending Brett Kavanaugh during his nomination fight. Bee is frankly amazing.

  • Or watch Noah Trevor deconstruct trump’s crackdown on immigrants.

I find myself watching comedians almost as much as I check out actual news. The reason is simple: they are not only making fun of the man in the Oval Office, they are educating us on the issues. This is what sarcasm and mockery can do: point out the utter hypocrisy, duplicity, and ridiculousness of oppressive leaders and the actions or statements they make and then show us, in their ridicule, what life should be like. Sarcasm and mockery can be quite prophetic. They are not automatically prophetic, but they certainly can be.

Look at Jesus’ interactions with the pompous religious leaders in John 9 or Matthew 23 or other places. They, like my band director in high school, are demanding respect not because of their behavior, but solely because of their title. And Jesus ain’t doing it. Particularly in Matthew 23; Jesus torches them. He has tried to reason and find common ground with them, but the Pharisees are bound and determined to do him in because he threatens their social positioning so he refuses to take any more crap from them and instead, he uses their words and their values against them, showing them to be interested not in the truth, but only in their own survival.

The reason why I am bringing this up and find the use of sarcasm so important is really twofold.

Too often we dismiss smart-asses and comics because they seem only able to deconstruct. Even more, we also are so tied to the political, economic, and especially social status quo. We sometimes get our identity from the status quo just as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did. But we should listen to the smart-ass who sits in the back of the class or the clown who repeatedly makes fun of the current state of affairs because of its inherent unfairness. Their ability to deconstruct the b.s. they see is usually matched by their ability, even though it might vague or hazy, to imagine a world where the b.s. is no longer present, where hypocrisy is replaced by vulnerability and where the weak are made strong. Smart-asses often know the way to the world where the meek shall inherit the earth. Smart-asses are oftentimes the modern day prophets and we would do well to listen.

Secondly, and just as important, we need to laugh. Yes, there are LOTS of serious things happening in the world today and most of them, like the War in Yemen, largely go unseen or unknown. But to be serious and angry 24 hours a day is morbid and ineffective. We need to laugh and that means sometimes laughing at those who are responsible for the oppression. There are many nights when I watch the news and I see how bad things are for the man currently occupying the White House and I find myself laughing, almost hysterically. It is not because I think corruption or unrepentant lies or the utter inability to effectively run an administration is funny (ok, the last one can be pretty funny - consider denominational churches). I laugh because I know that a bad week for him means a good week for everyone of us who care about justice.

So, check out Samantha Bee, or Seth Myers, or Dave Chappelle, or, even more, any number of comedians and smart-asses that are sitting right behind you. Perhaps not all of the time, but they are often speaking truth. They certainly have a lot of material to work with now and they are doing the best work of not only educating us, but of making us laugh. Let us take some time to laugh and to dream. That’s not a bad way to spend a day.

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