Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A (Not So) Serious Man

Ben Howard, On Pop Theology, banana pudding festival, banana, man in costume

"I'm the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral.
Can't understand what I mean?
Well, you soon will."

by Ben Howard

I am not a serious human being. I can say that with some certainty because in the last two days I've tweeted extensively on my war against the sun and why sharks are jerks. I've also openly besmirched Winnie the Pooh and gone on long rampages against the great nation of Canada.

My not-serious bona fides are beyond questioning.

However, I operate in a world of serious people and serious minds having serious thoughts. They confront issues of poverty and race, they fight against oppression and abuse, they work towards equality and justice, and they are right to be serious about this work.

Meanwhile I recently hosted a podcast with extensive jokes about syphilis and just spent an evening trying to write in the voice of Dr. Seuss.

Don't get me wrong, I care deeply about justice and spend a lot of time thinking about matters of oppression. These thoughts continually cycle within my mind and have slowly, but surely become embodied in my day-to-day practice. Yet despite this intellectual endeavor, I cannot, for the life of me, stay serious.

And you know what, that's okay. That's who I am, it's how I process things.


In this world there is a myth that only serious people are confronting the weighty matters. It's as if a stern demeanor and dour words are prerequisites to join the exclusive club of "People Who Care About Things."
jesus juke, statuses, ridiculous, meme

This club bared its social media claws during the recent hype surrounding the royal birth. Many went out of there way to "Jesus Juke" conversations about the royal baby, pointing out that the really important baby was born 2000 years ago and was named Jesus. Others highlighted the thousands of other babies born into abject poverty on the same day without nearly as much media attention.

Meanwhile, I spent the day making jokes about how Prince William was no Henry VIII. I'm just not a serious person.


Sometimes I feel guilty about not taking more things seriously. Like when a friend tells me that she's pregnant and doesn't know what to do and my first reaction is to make a joke, or when a different friend tells me he has cancer and my first response is to try and make him laugh.

This isn't the preferred response among "People Who Care About Things" and that's why I feel guilty. I feel like I should have something profound or solemn or reassuring to say. I feel like I'm supposed to ask if I should pray for them or if I should hold their hand and sing a hymn.

owls, amusing, cocked head, weird, funny, not amused, strangeBut I don't. I make jokes.

I don't make jokes to deny the gravity of the situation. I make them to lighten the mood, to take the edge off and to make everyone involved a little more comfortable. I make them because if I was them I would want to laugh.

More than that, humor allows me perspective on a situation. It allows for the objective distance to analyze and engage without being consumed by the emotions of the event. In essence, it allows me to encounter something seriously.

This is the way I interact with the world. It is neither more nor less valid than any other way of responding. Serious people need to take things seriously. This is good and this is healthy. Sad people need to be sad. Happy people need to be happy. And not-so-serious people, well, we need to make jokes about bad sci-fi movies and flying sharks.


Ben Howard is an accidental iconoclast and generally curious individual living in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the editor-in-chief of On Pop Theology and an avid fan of waving at strangers for no reason. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87. 
You can follow On Pop Theology on Twitter @OnPopTheology or like us on Facebook at

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