Laughing Matters: Topics and things that are not to be taken seriously.

Laughing Matters: Laughter is important.

In these tumultuous times, the daily news has become a source of stress, disbelief, indignation, and anger.  The saying “the world is going to hell in a hand-basket” seems tailor-made for many of the current events we are dealing with.  And in addition to outrage, there is a profound sadness still present within many as we fear for the oppressed, worry about the marginalized, and wonder what kind of world we are leaving behind for our children and the children to come.  Laughter is a powerful remedy when facing this sort of turbulence.

There were four different songs played before the two services today, all from the world of musical theatre.  Some controversy envelopes the first two numbers, as Singin’ in the Rain’s “Make ’em Laugh” is so closely based upon Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown” (from The Pirate) that  Singin’ in the Rain director Stanley Donen referred to the former as “100% plagiarism”.  Fortunately, Cole Porter never took legal action, but the songs are so similar in structure, content, melody, rhythm, and harmonic progressions that while playing “Be a Clown”, I heard a few members of the fellowship singing the lyric to “Make ’em Laugh”, and vice versa when I played the actual “Make ’em Laugh”!

The two other songs both seemed appropriate for today’s service; “Let Me Entertain You”, from Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy (which speaks for itself), and a song with the same title as today’s sermon, “Laughing Matters”, from the musical When Pigs Fly.  This final musical is lesser known to audiences, and hails from two decades ago but the words seem incredibly relevant to the here and now:

Live at five and CNN
Keep us all abreast
Of breaking stories that can tend
To make us anxious and depressed
Problems with no answers
Hang on like some chronic cough
And every day some brand new issue
Rears its head to piss you off

Bad guys win
Optimism’s wearing thin
Things are spinning out of control
Cynicism’s all the fad
World evens could make us mad
As hatters
Almost every day
Some underpinning slips away
These aren’t laughing matters

Time bombs tick
People keep on getting sick
And a nickel’s not worth a cent
Wickedness and greed abound
Just as peace is gaining ground
It shatters
Hate is here to stay
And justice goes to those who pay
Friend, these aren’t laughing matters

The truth is scarier by far
Than anything that Stephen King could write
The stories in the paper are
The daily small decline and fall
Spelled out in black and white

Oh, what to do, what to do?
How to take a brighter view
When your noodle’s totally fried
Human spirits need to be
Leavened by a little levity
So take those blues
And bounce them off the wall
Keep your humor please
‘Cause don’t you know it’s times like these that
Laughing matters most of all

Today’s “Knock Knock Song” was modeled after “Knock Knock” from an episode of A Prairie Home Companion, and was a lot of fun to put together.  Here is the original “Knock Knock” that we used for inspiration!  (Fun fact: our daughter Natalie figured out how to honk the little bicycle horn that we used for some of today’s sound effects and was delighted!)

Stephen Sondheim has given interviews in which he’s revealed that his song really refers to fools rather than circus clowns, but “but ‘Send in the Fools’ doesn’t have the same ring to it”.  Send in the clowns?  Don’t bother, they’re here.

“Smile” was originally a theme from Charlie Chaplin’s 1935 film “Modern Times, and eventually had lyrics added to the music.  “Smile was played twice today during the offertory; the first time was in the style of the original instrumental piece, and the second time was in the style of Nat King Cole, who first performed the work after it was converted to a song.