Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Some years back, my kids discovered the work of the great genius Weird Al Yankovic. Weird Al, for them what don't know, is a musician who has graced the pop music world with something it richly deserves and badly needs: parody. Weird Al takes the self-absorbed world of yer garden variety rock/pop artiste and knocks it down with gusts of laughter. Sent by heaven to shatter the mirror of Narcissus, Weird Al transforms tunes like Queen's elephantine opus "Bohemian Rhapsody" into a polka tune replete with accordion and banjo, Michael Jackson's "Beat It" into the truly memorable "Eat It" (a protracted lecture to a kid who won't touch dinner), or Sting's pretentious "King of Pain" into "King of Suede" (a paeon to everyone's favorite fabric). Other steps toward the betterment of the human condition include a polka arrangement of Iron Butterfly's "Inna Gadda da Vida", a demolition of "MacArthur Park" and the erection in its place of the magnificent lyrical achievement "Jurassic Park."
So after hearing this, I naturally got on the phone with my friend Mike Aquilina, who was editing a magazine I wrote for at the time. I was eager to share the fruits of this transformative experience and talk about possibly mentioning Weird Al in a column. My Fearless Ed (no relation to Mr. Ed) didn't horse around or bridle at my idea. Instead he was spurred to relate a startling tidbit of information which, gentle reader, may surprise and even shock you, but which is nonetheless absolutely true. It turned out Mike had just discovered there was another completely unrelated Mike Aquilina out there--and (cue "Twilight Zone" theme) he ran a Weird Al Yankovic web site!
Here was the whole paradoxical point of my column, served up by Divine Providence Himself! Namely, that some stuff is funny only because other stuff is serious; some stuff is a parody only because other stuff is not a parody. If you haven't met Mike Aquilina, Good Friend and All Around Swell Guy, then meeting Mike Aquilina, Weird Al Groupie is rather unremarkable. If you haven't heard the original "Bohemian Rhapsody" Weird Al's "Bohemian Polka" is not all that funny.
This is why Chesterton said that the opposite of "funny" is not "serious"; the opposite of "funny" is "not funny". There is no such thing as humor that is not serious. To be funny at all, a thing has to touch on some vital nerve in us, however deep it may be. This is why "King of Suede" is funny, but an hour's contemplation of a suede shoe will probably not elicit even a single chuckle. It is not suede that is serious, but the artist's mission to speak of human suffering in a human way. When he fails to do so by becoming self-absorbed and pretentious, healthy parody pricks the balloon of ego with the pin of satire, and God and man see that it is very funny. For healthy parody knows instinctively, not that everything is absurd (which is mere cynicism), but that some things are emphatically normal and good. Thus, cynicism can only sneer at the universe, while true humor knows what to laugh at and what not to laugh at.
The Devil, being a foolish cynic, has lost the capacity to make this distinction. As a medieval proverb tells us, "The Devil is the Ape of God." That is, he parodies, not distortions of the Good (as Weird Al or Spike Jones do), but the Good itself, who is God. But the Devil, in his ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration upon self, does not see that he himself is the joke. Convinced he is the True Artiste, like all third-rate hacks are, he writes the songs that make the whole world sick and is dismissed with a laugh by the healthy (that is, by anyone to whom Christ has given health and humor).
That is why St. Thomas More, who was also a funny guy, said, "The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked." Christ has the last laugh.