Laughter: The Closest Thing to Grace

By interview by Ann Marie Chilton   •   May 22, 2008

Laughter erupts from lighthearted relief, surprise and joy. Karl Barth, one of the most influential Christian theologians of the 20th century, said, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.”

To learn more about the importance of having a good laugh, we spoke with Thor Ramsey, a Christian stand-up comedian. Growing up, Thor struggled to understand God’s acceptance of him, so he tried to be a “good” person to compensate for his feeling of inadequacy. He joked about his pain in order to hide it.

Then God’s grace surprised him. When he opened himself up and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, Thor was able to stop striving for God’s approval and trying to win his salvation himself. Today Thor jokes to bring joy to others; it’s a taste of heaven on earth, a glimpse of God’s free gift of grace.

Thor tells his testimony of faith:

We attended church sporadically. When I was about 10 … they were talking about taking a busload of us to a Billy Graham Crusade. We never ended up doing it. I remember as a kid always wanting to go really bad to the Billy Graham Crusade and always having an openness to Jesus.

But I don’t even know if any of the pastors had a relationship with Christ. I didn’t even know what the crucifixion was until I was a freshman in college. They never talked about what the Gospel was.

They never talked about what the Gospel was.

I became a Christian my freshman year in college. … I was zealous without knowledge. I fell into kind of a works-based faith.

To have a holistic faith, you are saved by grace through faith, but you don’t discard works because then it becomes a heresy that our behavior doesn’t matter–kind of a cheap grace.

I was trying to be accepted by God on the basis of my Christian life, and that really bogs you down because you’re being prideful without knowing it. Once you’re depending completely upon yourself … then you have to be minding your P and Qs. And when you’re minding your Ps and Qs like that, boy, you become really proud.

God is opposed
to the proud.

From a biblical perspective pride kills the Christian life. God is opposed to the proud, so you have no sense of His presence, which makes you want to work harder. It’s this never-ending cycle.

I said, “I need a break; I can’t live like this,” not knowing there was another way to live. I started to drift. That drifting turned into a decade, and it was during that decade that I started stand-up comedy and started working clubs.

There is a spiritual battle going on, no matter how corny that sounds to people, and it shouldn’t. It even sounds corny to Christians. … The enemy of our soul, if he can’t give you some kind of debilitating lifestyle habit or some kind of debilitating sin, he’ll discourage us. And generally when people are discouraged, they’ll give up. That’s what happened to me.

I gave up and I started stand-up comedy. After I drifted, then my lifestyle started to change.

Generally when people are discouraged, they’ll give up

How painful it is the first time you commit certain sins, and you feel the sting of your conscience, but the next time it’s less, and the next time it’s less, until you’re completely desensitized; and that was my state. Oddly enough, this whole time I never abandoned my belief in Christ, but I didn’t claim that I was a Christ-follower.

The psalmist says that God is near the brokenhearted. [Later,] my literal prayer was, “God if you can do something with my life, it’s Yours.”

There’s a famous quote, someone said, “Comedy is pain seen from a distance.”

Stand-up is just taking the inner conversation
to the stage.

I’m a big dialoguer; I love to chat with people. In those discussions, there’s always wit. I think that what stand-up is, really just taking the inner conversation to the stage.

Whether it’s the Christian culture or the general culture, we view comedy as a lesser form of literature. And especially Christians, who are people who want their lives to matter; they feel (like it says in scripture) every word off our tongue, we’ll be held accountable for, which is frightening to me.

I actually did a word study on the word “frivolous” because laughter can also be seen as frivolous. That’s why generally, comedies don’t get nominated for best picture of the year because comedy is seen as less serious. Well, it’s comedy!

Frivolous itself is humor without a point. My feeling is that comedy is not always frivolous. I have a point; I just happen to be using comedy to do that. The best comedy to me is kind of a critique of culture or a certain idea, pointing out a hypocrisy of ours in a humorous way. It’s a rebuke with a smile, really is what it is. Comedy is really basic criticism.

There’s another quote, that “Laughter is the beginning of prayer.” And it really is because laughter is generally based on surprise.

Laughter is generally based on surprise.

The most common element of laughter is when the comedian is doing what we call the “set-up.” He’s taking us one direction, and then all of a sudden, boom! We turn a corner and we laugh because we weren’t expecting that.

When [you say] “laughter is the beginning of prayer,” it’s this sense that a lot of times we come to God not expecting grace, which is getting what we don’t deserve. And that’s always a surprise.

Hear more personal testimonies from people who found lasting change through Jesus Christ:
Watch clips from the June 2008 Billy Graham TV Special! »

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