Last night my wife and I saw humorist David Sedaris at Salem's oh-so-cool historic Elsinore Theatre. There's a lot to like about Sedaris. He's gay, liberal, funny, ironic, cynical, profane, and a really good writer.
Also, thoughtful. Many of his jokes make you think. They've got layers of meaning. Here's my favorite joke, which I tweeted after the show, minus Sedaris' entertaining set-up to it.
What's the last thing you want to hear while blowing Willie Nelson? "I'm not Willie Nelson."
(Note to those who aren't conversant in American slang: "blowing" is synonomous with "giving a blow job," which is synonymous with oral sex performed on a male, a.k.a. fellatio. That Wikipedia link has some charming illustrative artwork, plus fascinating facts. Who knew that female bats perform fellatio to increase copulation time? "Blowing," of course, is sort of a strange term for this sex act, since it involves more sucking than blowing. Wikipedia: "The English noun fellatio comes from fellātus, which in Latin is the past participle of the verb fellāre, meaning to suck.")
I really liked this joke as soon as I heard it. So did my wife.
From the laughter in the packed audiorium, so did the rest of Sedaris' appreciative audience. But why? Well, why? isn't a question that usually should be asked after a joke is told.
Funny is funny. Period.
Sedaris himself, though, made some follow-up comments about the joke. He'd told it to a female employee at an airline check-in counter. When her reaction was more bemused than smiling, Sedaris said he pressed onward.
"Um, see, you'd be disappointed if you thought you were giving a blow job to Willie Nelson, and then the guy just turns out to be someone old with a bandana."
(Nelson is 79; I'm a comparatively youthful 63; so I decided not to get seriously offended at this ageist joke, especially since I never wear a bandana, though I do share Nelson's short gray beard.)
Unlike the woman at the airline counter, I didn't need to have the joke explained to me.
I got it right away, in part because the joke has some universal qualities to it. Meaning, our attitude toward someone isn't based just on what we're directly experiencing about them at the moment, but also on the story that our mind is telling us about the person.
Willie Nelson is a cool dude. If you gave him a blowjob, it'd be something to talk about. "Do you want to hear about the time I blew Willie Nelson?" would elicit a much more positive reaction than "Do you want to hear about the time I blew an old gray-haired geezer wearing a bandana?"
Likewise, "I'm devoted to the Pope, the emissary of Jesus, who is the Son of God and died for our sins so that we may enjoy eternal joy with our heavenly Father" is a lot more appealing than "I'm devoted to a well-off German guy who wears funny clothes and lords it over lots of people from his lavish palace in Italy."
Not long after I started this blog, I wrote Did I see God in first class?
That post told the tale of how the mood in an airplane's coach section, where I and a bunch of other members of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (an Indian spiritual organization) were sitting, changed markedly upon the arrival in first class of the group's guru -- who is considered to be God in Human Form.
Except, at first I didn't recognize the Indian man who was wearing a white turban and blue jeans. He sat down in the row just ahead of my coach seat. I nodded politely, then went back to perusing the Alaska Airlines shopping magazine, or whatever else I was reading.
For me, the man was the equivalent of Sedaris' old gray-haired geezer wearing a bandana, aside from the fact that he was a dark-haired middle-aged man wearing a turban. He wasn't anybody special. I had no interest in, so to speak, getting down on my knees and giving him a devotional blow job.
But when the murmuring of lovestruck disciples around me caused me to realize who was sitting in first class, suddenly my attitude changed. Oh, my God! It's God! Well, back then I wasn't quite that enthusiastic and emotional toward the guru. I did view him as a spiritual celebrity though.
So the blowing Willie Nelson joke points toward some important questions.
Since there's no convincing proof of any human's divine status, whether the person be alive or dead, wouldn't it be funny if religious believers are "servicing" supposed saints, prophets, gurus, masters, and sages who are really just ordinary people who'd say, if they were honest, "I'm not who you think I am."
Indeed, that'd be funny. Not ha-ha funny to most religious people, but I'd laugh. That's the nightmare of a devotee who believes their supposedly divine beloved is worthy of the slavish attention they've been giving to him or her.
What's the last thing you want to hear while surrendering your life to someone you believe is God? "I'm not God."