Response to "Holiness for a Laugh?"

Jamison Shimmel and Taylor Kelly performing at Laugh Track, photo by Abby Whisler

Jamison Shimmel and Taylor Kelly performing at Laugh Track, photo by Abby Whisler

Three years ago, Professor Deborah Kirby and I began what is now called Laugh Track, Covenant’s first official improv team. It was an exciting time to have so many talented people here at Covenant working together to make people laugh. From that moment on, improv and Laugh Track have been both my passion and my outlet for creative expression.

This year, running the team alone brought a new challenge and adventure to what I love. Before the year began, I sat down for hours and days determining how I wanted to run the team and what the focus would be.

I would like to preface my response to Jackie Robel’s article—critiquing the humor used by Laugh Track–with a thank-you. Jackie, thank you for challenging our level of humor and asking the entire Covenant community to carefully consider the response to comedic grey areas. It is refreshing to have a thoughtful, loving challenge of something many of us love dearly. Having read Robel’s article multiple times, met with Ms. Robel herself, and carefully considered Robel’s arguments, there are several issues I feel need to be addressed.

As captain and cofounder of Laugh Track, I hold the team to high standards. At the first practice of the year, the entire team sat down and decided together what our standards would be. In Ms. Robel’s article, she claims that there were numerous sexual innuendoes as well as jokes that belittled disabilities in our last show. I would like to respond to that accusation simply by explaining our standards of humor, and also explaining a little bit about improvised humor. First, as an improv team our ultimate goal is to glorify God and edify our fellow students with creativity and humor. In order to do that best, there are some areas where our humor does not go. Laugh Track has established guidelines that we follow in every rehearsal and every show. Our basic standards are: we do not engage in humor that is sacrilegious, sexually perverse, or mocking of disabilities.

With that being said, improv comedy is, well, improvised. Everything we do--every joke we make or character we create--is done on the spot. Because of this, there is no way for us to censor and evaluate our shows before we put them on stage. All we can do is have our standards, hold to them at all times, and pray that our humor comes from a sanctified heart. Because we are sinful, we will make mistakes. We will make jokes that push the boundaries. Also, we will never all come to an agreement on what is appropriate and what isn’t. Ultimately, we think these mistakes and disagreements can strengthen our community as we engage in discussions about what is and isn’t appropriate. Also, it can broaden our minds as individuals as we seek to understand different kinds of humor.

At the end of her article Ms. Robel raised the question “What would it mean for an audience to not encourage or laugh at brokenness, but, with love and sincerity, to withhold applause and instead spur each other on to holiness that is still full of laughter and delight?”

While I understand Ms. Robel’s point, it is clear that we disagree about the relationship between humor and brokenness. Having performed on the stage for over twelve years and trained specifically in improv for three years, I’ve been forced to wrestle with the brokenness that theatre and improv is laden with. Any theatre student at Covenant can tell you we are constantly asked to reassess our views on participating in theatre that deals with brokenness. If Christians never portray the brokenness found in the world, then there is really no room for Christians in the entertainment industry. More specifically in improv, I will argue that there is an enormous difference between recognizing humor in situations that are a part of the brokenness of life, and condoning brokenness. If Ms. Robel genuinely believes we should not laugh at brokenness then you cannot laugh at anything in life. To be able to find the humor in life, in ridiculous relationships—from Tinder to friend-zoning—is something we must do if we want to survive! Laughter is one of the healthiest forms of coping. In no way is Laugh Track glorifying brokenness, however the world is broken and there is humor all around us. We will continue to find that humor!

While Robel and I disagree on several aspects of comedy and Improv, we both agree on this: the conversation we had addressing her concerns was the first in three years, since the formation of the team. Any member of Laugh Track welcomes questions, comments, and concerns as well as always being open for discussion. If you are someone who takes offense with our humor or the standards we have in place I ask that you please talk to me. The only way the team can better meet the needs of the community is if we hear from that community. If we are to obey Matthew 18:15, which calls us to address our brothers, then the concerns with our humor should have been voiced much earlier. I speak for the team when I say we love making you all laugh, and we love that you have supported us for so long. I challenge you to take the remaining time before Laugh Track’s final show to discover the freedom we have in Christ--particularly in improv.


This is in response to Jackie Robel's article, "Holiness for a Laugh," which you can read here.