Round Table on Mormon Humor, Round Two

After our first round, we let things slide for a little while until after labor day.  When we all reconvened, we were more sober (except for Ed), and more serious.  Kirby had a death in the family, so his continued participation is all the more remarkable and appreciated.

From: Steve Evans
To: Ed, Kirby, Bengt, Eric, Todd
Date: Sept. 7, 2005
Re: Mormon Humor, Round Two

Hi folks, Now that the summer is over and the drudgery of work has once again set in, how about a brief chat about mormon humor?

Let me begin with an anecdote (since so few of you were up to the challenge of telling actual "jokes" last round). I heard this from Alan, a friend who now lives in Seattle but once was in a NYC singles ward. One fast Sunday a particularly weepy guy gets up to the stand, and recounts how the night before he watched the film version of "Les Miserables." He recounts, between the tears, how his heart was touched by the film. He goes on to say, "I saw how people who consider themselves righteous can turn that righteousness into hate and vengeance. That police inspector pursued Jean Valjean out of a sense of justice, but ultimately became the villain. And I realized…I am just like that evil Jafar!"

On to the show. Last round I asked about the untouchable boundaries of humor in the mormon world, and I think by and large we share a sense of where those boundaries may lie. This round I want to talk about the commonplaces, the "loci", if you will, of mormon humor, and ask what we can learn by the recurring themes we see. Polygamy jokes; cheapskate jokes; word of wisdom jokes; these are the bread and butter of mormon humor, and I want to know what that tells us about ourselves.

It’s interesting to look at what mormons think is funny about themselves, and compare that with what non-mormons think is funny about mormons. Do these jokes point towards unresolved doctrinal issues? Historical sore spots? Can we learn what we need to heal and change about ourselves by looking to humor?

For example, take the classic joke, "what’s the difference between a mormon and a canoe? A canoe may tip!" It’s funny, of course, and could be applied to a spectrum of different groups, but why should mormons find it funny when applied to them? Does that tell us something (other than that mormons are notoriously cheap)?


From: Ed Snow
To: Steve, Kirby, Bengt, Eric, Todd
Date: Sept. 8, 2005
Re: Mormon Humor, Round Two

Hmm. What’s the sociological meaning of Mormon humor as evidenced by its typical themes (is that translated correctly)?

Hell if I know, but why let that stop me now. Here’s a stab at answering the question followed by a meandering travelogue testimony containing a possibly on-target anecdote.

Answer: Mormon humor (jokes, folklore and anecdotes specifically):

(a) reflects communal values, otherwise how do you account for their widespread distribution and acceptance throughout the Mormon community (or how do you account for Robert Kirby’s appeal–we know it’s not Kirby’s [______________] [fill in blank for your own joke])?;

(b) relieves tensions (ie, we feel weird about polygamy, it taints our past, so if we make fun of it we demonstrate that we’ve overcome it);

(c) reinforces the community (even the wildest missionary anecdotes told in jest or as folklore tend to reinforce good missionary behavior–the elder who went off on an out-of-area two week vacation gets caught because his landlady sends the weekly reports to the Mission Pres. out of chronological order); and

(d) makes subtle communal critiques (take any joke about Mormon action figures, jello, relief society grapes, etc). I no doubt missed something here that others will add.

Meanderings: I frequently crack wise about the Mormon commonplace, but I count my blessings whenever I have the opportunity to skewer the Mormon liberal and intellectual communities involving less commonplace themes by Mormon standards.

Take relief society grapes–what’s up with those? [insert Jerry Seinfeld-like commonplace jokes]. Just as relief society grape jokes were getting really stale, some BYU prof. wrote an essay taking them seriously as religious artifacts in the mid-90s. Hmm … here’s an easy opportunity to make fun of an intellectual I thought. He asked: what do relief society grapes tell us about Mormons and their religious sensibilities? He reproduced some vibrantly colored paintings and pictures of varieties of relief society grapes, in all their multitudinous splendor. "Relief society grapes may be ridiculed, but the Mormon values reflected in the grapes are valuable, and, in any event, the study of relief society grapes is very important," was the gist of the article, as I recall. No doubt federal funding and/or tithing money financed his research, which, no doubt, was very important. Proof of its importance? BYU Studies published it.

This BYU Studies article got me seriously thinking about relief society grapes . . . as a potential weapon. Kind of like "Colonel Mustard killed him in the library with the relief society grapes." So I wrote a little story I read at Sunstone one year featuring said grapes, feminists, intellectuals and gays, pretty much covering all of the Sunstone symposium attendees in one swipe. My story recounted how a relief society sister, who was a closet feminist, went to the bishop’s storehouse to fill an order and low and behold, she saw on the shelf some condoms in packaging that displayed the brand name "Deseret Industries" on the front, and on the back it said "Authorized Pattern." She checked her order list, didn’t see anything like that product listed on it, and moved on. (Incidentally, no one ever wanted to print this story, probably because it wasn’t any good, but I secretly harbored the grudge that they were squeamish about a condom showing up in a bishop’s storehouse, even though it was a prank by some unknown assailant. Heck, it was a mere object–it’s not like someone used it in the story.)

Anyway, I tossed into the plot an ostensibly gay elder’s quorum president and a back-pew intellectual and mixed the short story around. The closet feminist relief society sister was eventually tempted to hit her husband over the head with some relief society grapes toward the end of the story–or maybe she did hit him–I can’t remember. I didn’t’ really make fun of the gay elder in the story because I’m too squeamish to do so, but I didn’t want anyone to feel left out since I was taking a swing at feminists and intellectuals too. Okay, I admit it: he was a token gay guy in the story, but not stereotyped in any fashion I was aware of.

The story took place in the Fargo Ward in the Lake Wobegon Stake. At the end, the narrator said "and that’s the news from the Fargo Ward, where all the feminists are strong, the gay men good looking and all the intellectuals are above average." All 17 of the people stuck in my Sunstone session were members of one or more of these Mormon special interest groups. They laughed at the story, whether out of nervousness, sympathy or amusement I don’t know. I guess these themes spoke to the Sunstone attendees in some way, eased some of their tensions, maybe reinforced some Sunstone communal values. Or maybe not. But it was not commonplace, except by Sunstone standards, which I guess is the point, if there was one, which is unlikely.

Ed Snow

From: Bengt Washburn
To: Ed, Kirby, Steve, Eric, Todd
Date: Sept. 12, 2005
Re: Mormon Humor, Round Two

Something I’ve noticed in comedy clubs in Utah.

Very often a comic coming to Utah for the first time will make an attempt at mormon humor. If the crowd is mostly Mormon, the response will be lukewarm. When I talk to the comic afterward he/she will always assume that the crowd was offended, then I ask them to tell me the joke and almost always I end up telling them that the crowd didn’t laugh because the joke isn’t funny to a Mormon. I explain that the joke turns on an old worn out stereotype so it isn’t revealing anything surprisingly true to a Mormon, in fact it might be making an outright false assertion about Mormons and their faith. I have also noticed that the few Mormons that ARE offended aren’t offended by the content of the joke told, they are offended by the ill will of the joke teller.

WHAT MORMONS JOKES SHOW US ABOUT AMERICAN CULTURE: I have found in my travels around the country that outside of Mormon crowds in-the-know, prevalent mormon humor indicates that in P.C. America, (especially in P.C. America) Mormons are still an acceptable target, along with Jehovah Witnesses, rednecks and Nazis. To the left, Mormons are an acceptable target because of their extreme "red state-ness" and because of their doctrines concerning homosexuals. Mormons are an acceptable target to many on the Christian right because of religious doctrines.

I think how far off the mark most outsider Mormon humor is indicates how misunderstood Mormons and Mormonism are. When I first met my wife she told me that before coming to Utah she thought Mormons were similar to the Amish, when she was told that Mormons have "wards" she equated "wards" with flock, gaggle or herd. She isn’t dumb. She’s been to college got the degree. But they don’t teach Mormon history anywhere outside of Utah and our current films (the gateway to pop culture) aren’t universally appealing.

More than once I have been shocked at how much people think they know about my religion. Here’s an anecdote, when I first started talking about my Mormon culture from the stage, I had a woman from the crowd tell me that I can’t watch T.V. and that I CAN marry more than one wife. I gently corrected her, she responded by claiming that I was full of expletive…She actually thought she knew more about my culture and religion than I did. Stereotypes are so difficult to combat because they run on stupidity and we all know how rampant THAT is.

WHAT MORMON HUMOR SHOWS US ABOUT OURSELVES: I think the subjects of the jokes DO reveal sore or tender spots in our doctrine, history, and culture. The humor is used to relieve the tension. I think when we DON’T laugh, or get too upset by the stupid bigotry-fueled jokes, it reveals our paranoid set, which is expected in a minority that was booted out of the country and driven half way across the continent. Perhaps getting too upset by the jokes of outsiders is the product of insecurity, weak faith?…


From: Kirby
To: Steve, Eric, Bengt, Ed, Todd
Date: Sept. 12, 2005
Re: Mormon Humor, Round Two

Sorry this is late. Just got home from Canada where we finally put my mother-in-law in the ground. She’s been dying for years, the last six months or so in a very demanding way. It got so bad the last two months that I was ready to hop a flight and do the job with a pillow. I’d feel worse about my attitude if my wife didn’t feel the same. Send me all the mother-in-law jokes you want. Won’t bother me a bit.

I like what Ed and Bengt have to say in round two. In fact, when I jab Mormons in my columns I get a lot of the same feedback Bengt gets. Even non-Mormons in Utah don’t always know us as well as they think. Typically, they think we don’t have much of a sense of humor about ourselves because we don’t readily laugh at their jokes about us.

After lampooning us all these years, I’ve found we actually have a pretty good sense of humor. It comes down to knowing what it is about us that makes us laugh or yawn or get mad.

Ed is right in what he says about using humor to get over some of the more nonsensical or troubling aspects of our past. Jokes about polygamy are a prime example. I also think that joking about the stress caused by simply being a Mormon makes it easier to cope. For example, there were times on my mission when joking about being a missionary was the only thing that kept me not just from going home early, but from sneaking off and buying a rifle. I had some horrible companions. And if I was going home early because of them, I was going home early shackled between two U.S. marshals.

If you listen to some of our humor there are elements of “black humor” in it, humor that is designed to help us cope with the stress of our situation. Jokes about chastity, tithing, Word of Wisdom, etc. probably have their roots there. I saw a lot of stress-coping humor in police work and the military. The main difference there is that it didn’t have to be quite so subtle in order to pass muster. Cops for example may joke about death by laughing over a really bizarre way of dying. Mormons will approach the same subject with a joke about the Spirit Prison or the Three Degrees of Glory. It’s harder to see stress-coping humor in Mormon humor, but it’s there.

Toward a similar end humor is also an effective way of dealing with doubt, a serious issue among us. The people I know who’ve entered that dark wood and handled it well (regardless of the outcome), did so because they were able find things to laugh about that made the pain easier to bear.

It’s late. I’m tired. I could be full of crap.


From: Steve
To: Eric, Kirby, Bengt, Ed, Todd
Date: Sept. 13, 2005
Re: Mormon Humor, Round Two

Kirby, feel better soon! Sorry about your mother-in-law’s passing.

I’ve decided what we need: a mormon Ali G, that can go around and interview hapless Saints and poke fun at our ignorance. Those of you who are unfamiliar with Ali G need to rent the HBO 1st season DVDs post-haste (but I must warn you that it contains material beyond a PG rating). Can you imagine Ali G touring the under-the-mountain microfiche archives, or visiting a bishop’s storehouse?

In other words, we need more incongruity shoved in our faces, just to wake us up. Being a nice, subtle humorist (like Ed) all the time may not be doing enough to help us look at ourselves.


p.s. Ed, just kidding. You’re not subtle.

From: Eric
To: Steve, Kirby, Bengt, Ed, Todd
Date: Sept. 14, 2005
Re: Mormon Humor, Round Two

I’ve put off replying this time around because I found myself with very little to say on this subject. This led to some introspection, trying to determine WHY I had so little to say on the subject. And I came up with nothing. Clearly, I suck.

I boiled down the question to this: What are the common subjects in Mormon humor, and what does the fact that they are common tell us about ourselves?

Steve mentioned polygamy, cheapness and the Word of Wisdom as being common. I actually don’t find cheapness to be a common theme in Mormon humor, though. It should be more common, because Mormons are absurdly, infuriatingly cheap, and often randomly so, spending $200 on leather-bound scriptures but waiting until Tuesday to go to Movies 8 because that’s when shows are only 50 cents in instead of the usual $1.50, the logic apparently being that anything even tangentially related to their spirituality is worth paying any price whatsoever, while everything else can be nickeled and dimed and haggled over, and don’t even get me STARTED on what lousy tippers they are. Sorry, I’ve gone off the rails.

My point was that while Mormons are cheap, I don’t find that their cheapness figures into jokes about them very often. Maybe I just haven’t heard the jokes. Am I alone here? If in fact Mormons’ cheapness doesn’t come up that often in Mormon humor, maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe it’s because to joke about something, we must first accept it, and Mormons don’t accept their cheapness. They see how extravagant they are on their $150 framed Jesus paintings for their living rooms and ignore how cheap they are in other aspects of their lives. If Mormons came to terms with their thriftiness, maybe there would be more jokes about it.

Or maybe there already are lots of jokes about it and I just haven’t heard them.

Polygamy and Word of Wisdom, sure, those come up a lot. I wonder if it’s because those are things that make us peculiar, setting us apart from the rest of the world. Jokes about our missionary work could easily be applied to Jehovah’s Witnesses, and our large families, that could be Catholics, too. The fact that we’re almost all white? Meh, so are the Lutherans. But polygamy and Word of Wisdom, that’s us alone.

When I was missionary, the following joke was typical of the ones we elders and sisters shared with each other: Two Mormon missionaries are walking down the street when they pass a Catholic priest. The priest says, "Hello, Sons of Perdition," and the missionaries say, "Hello, Father."

That joke was popular among missionaries because it reflected our desire to win every debate, our black-and-white attitude (the LDS Church is RIGHT and the Catholic church is WRONG), and our semi-smug belief that we have all the answers. I’ve never heard that joke outside of being a missionary, probably because regular church members don’t have those attitudes, at least not as strongly as missionaries do.

Is this e-mail coherent?

Love, Eric

From: Steve
To: Eric, Kirby, Bengt, Ed, Todd
Date: Sept. 14, 2005
Re: Mormon Humor, Round Two

Eric: no, it’s not coherent. But it’s fun! And, unlike Todd, you’ve at least responded.

Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t heard more jokes about mormons being cheap — we are REALLY cheap, stingy bastards, no bones about it. We pay $100 to frame our copy of the Proclamation on the Family, but then only eat at Chuck-A-Rama at double coupon night.

But you say: "Maybe it’s because to joke about something, we must first accept it." That’s an interesting proposition, because in my mind, to joke about something means the opposite — we haven’t accepted it, we don’t know how to deal with it and it bothers us. Maybe instead of "accept" the concept should be more of a cultural awareness? Some kind of acknowledgement of the issue? If so, it’s got to be a weak kind of acknowledgement, because we can find humor in the secret, unspoken parts of our faith, even if we don’t discuss them — the way that one-piece garments are creepy, or the shock at seeing someone take the sacrament with their LEFT hand!


From: Todd Petersen
To: Ed, Kirby, Bengt, Eric, Steve
Date: Sept. 14, 2005
Re: Mormon Humor, Round Two

Sorry, I’ve been busy scrubbing red ink out of the dryer.

I, too, haven’t heard much jabbing or joshing or teasing about Mormons being cheap. Usually I hear the opposite. Those observing the fiscal irresponsibility of the average college student in Utah remark, "Where the hell is all this money coming from?" Answer: credit cards. We’re still in the top five states for bankruptcy filing and also high in foreclosures.

Culturally for Mormons, I think the most common of commonplace is the notion that the man basically and essentially inept and the woman is proof of evolution. The only thing is that this isn’t particularly Mormon, this has been presented in the situation comedy from Dick Van Dyke to Bill Cosby to Home Improvement. You see this most starkly in the treatment of talks connected to Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. In the latter, you hear about how amazing mothers are and in the former you hear how fathers need to get their acts together. You’ll never, never, never her a LDS church talk on how mothers need to quit scrapbooking and clean the kitchen. Similarly you’ll never hear a talk describing the perfect father, who could even manage to take it down a notch, and still cover his duties.

This division of the sexes carries over to joke about how the whole church would be instantly translated if the Relief Society was in charge. All of this seems like a way of discussing some truth, perhaps related to the fact that the priesthood doesn’t actually make a person more likely to be charitable.

Mormon people joke a lot about drinking, which seems like a way of dealing with their basic social discomfort in standing out. Drinking jokes seem like a safe way to challenge a difficult moral code. You don’t see the same kinds of jokes about pornography, which is still much too hot a subject.

A few weeks ago I was talking with some folks, and I got on this roll about Mormon people forgetting about Jesus saying "Blessed are the peacemakers." I was telling folks that if you went by the bumper stickers in Southern Utah, you wouldn’t be able to find but a couple people who didn’t seem like they wanted to shoot you in the face. They were with me, agreeing. Laughing, admitting that is was a little curious. Then I said that I’d like to keep a little plastic figurine of Jesus in my car with a sawed-off shot gun. On the base it would say, WWJS — What Would Jesus Shoot? Or even better Who Would Jesus Shoot? At that point, everyone in that little group looked like I’d revealed temple secrets to a Baptist.

So, maybe the common thread to Mormons and their humor is a matter of degree.

Steve wrote:

But you say: "Maybe it’s because to joke about something, we must first accept it." That’s an interesting proposition, because in my > mind, to joke about something means the opposite — we haven’t accepted it, we don’t know how to deal with it and it bothers us.

I do think the best joke works according to a principle set forth by George Carlin: "Anything that’s true but people don’t talk about is funny, man."

Maybe instead of "accept" the concept should be more of a cultural awareness? Some kind of acknowledgement of the issue? If so, it’s got to be a weak kind of acknowledgement, because we can find humor in the secret, unspoken parts of our faith, even if we don’t discuss them > — the way that one-piece garments are creepy, or the shock at seeing someone take the sacrament with their LEFT hand!

I’d extend this to say, that humor depends on our discussion of the silly parts of our culture and faith and the parts of faith that have little or nothing to do with the gospel. For example, I often take the sacrament with my left hand because I am (a) left handed, (b) holding a baby with my right hand, or (c) it’s coming from the left side of the chapel.

But we really should be talking about the locks on temple lockers. That usually causes me to reflect on the security of my ordinances. As Seinfeld would say, "What’s up with that?"

— Todd

From: Eric Snider
To: Ed, Kirby, Bengt, Steve, Todd
Date: Sept. 14, 2005
Re: Mormon Humor, Round Two

I don’t know… It seems to me that if we don’t accept something, we’re not going to be amused by jokes on the subject. The jokes would instead bother us or unnerve us.

I look at it this way. You know how friends and family will often kid each other, making good-natured jabs at each other’s foibles and flaws? Well for myself, the jokes at my expense that I have no problem laughing at are the ones based on things that I acknowledge and accept about myself. The ones that sting, that raise my ire, that irritate me, are the ones based on things about myself that I DON’T accept, that I don’t like to think about, that I was hoping no one else had noticed because I don’t even like to admit it to myself.

Assuming my response is normal (a major leap, I know), and assuming it can be extrapolated to apply to an entire population, it would seem that Mormons would be more comfortable joking about things they accept than things they do not. We joke about polygamy and the Word of Wisdom because we’re at peace with those things. Polygamy is comfortably in our distant past — whew! — and the Word of Wisdom is something we’re all used to and generally pretty good at.

But you don’t hear so many jokes about the fact that blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood until 1978. Maybe that’s because there’s still so much uncertainty about it. (Why couldn’t they hold it in the first place? Was it a mistake? Was it due to social pressure that the church’s position finally changed? Did God ever make the no-blacks rule in the first place, or was it Brigham Young’s doing? Etc., etc.) We haven’t yet come to terms with that part of our history; we get embarrassed when investigators bring it up, and we try to brush it aside; we try to focus on the time SINCE 1978, not the 150 years prior to it. And so maybe that’s why we don’t joke about it much: We haven’t quite accepted the whole thing yet.



  1. This great, thanks!

    And I agree that Mormons are CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP.
    No more is this cheapness glaringly obvious than in the standard Mormon wedding reception hosted in the Ward “cultural hall”. Basketball hoops? Costco mints and kool aid?

    By the way, if your reception was held in the cultural hall, I’m sure you made it beautiful. But Mormons don’t, on the whole, seem to save their money and spend it on a big bash to celebrate their wedding. Not sure if this says anything about how Mormons view weddings in particular, and it could very well be that sans alcohol, no one really wants to stick around for very long at the reception anyway. But dinner and dancing at Mormon weddings are rare.

    Awesome series, guys!

  2. Steve Evans says:

    Elisabeth, I couldn’t agree more. We are sooo cheap when it comes to weddings. Is that because we have so many of them? The worst gifts, the worst food, everything.

    I recall a wedding where the food consisted of a chicken breast, a sacrament cup of coleslaw and three pringles. Each plate had three! I kid you not.

  3. Not to derail the thread further, but I think Mormons don’t spend a lot on weddings because they are such somber, solemn occasions in our culture. My wife works for a photo studio and the weddings where a lot of money is spent, is done for the location to make everything as nice looking as possible. It’s sorta like the temple – we make it look really nice and blow plenty of dough on it, but what happens in it is pretty serious and not an occasion for celebration.

    Mormon party-weddings are rare, unlike outside of the culture. My cousin’s recent wedding in Portland – man, you’ve never seen such a good time.

  4. John Mansfield says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but this round seems pretty dire. The concept seems to be that humor is primarily a coping mechanism for enduring the terrible, awful burden that is life and all its lesser subparts.

  5. Steve Evans says:

    John M., I think you could be right, both as a summary of the round and a concept. That’s largely how I view the role of humor generally – it is there to both highlight and smooth over the incongruities of life and society. It’s more than a coping mechanism, though, IMHO — it also serves as a tool for change.

    As for the round being dire, well, blame Todd.

  6. Hey Steve,
    I love the Ali G idea. How about we call him Golly-Gee?

  7. “But Mormons don’t, on the whole, seem to save their money and spend it on a big bash to celebrate their wedding.”

    I agree, but have a counter-example. I have some LDS relatives who took out a second mortgage on their house to pay for a daughter’s almost-six-figures wedding reception.

    I think that’s insane, myself.

    My wife and I got married for under $4000, did not hold the reception in the chapel, and it was beautiful.

  8. I think it is humorous when we suspect we feel more comfortable with something than others would. It feels edgy, and there is something about humor that is very “I’m in the know…so it’s funny.” An example of this is Kirby’s “crow” joke from the last part.

    Another source of “in the know” humor comes from identifying some bit of unique mormon-ness. We think it’s funny because we get the joke and others don’t. An example:

    A Mormon bishop dies and goes to see St. Peter at the pearly gates. Peter informs him “I’m sorry, you Mormons had it wrong all these years, you need to wait here for the devil to take you down to hell.”

    The devil comes and takes him to the first level of hell, and it’s hot and miserable. The devil tells him “you can’t stay here, you have to go farther…” They go to the second level of hell and it is searing and horribly awfully hot. The devil smiles and says “you have to go down further.” They get down to the third level and it’s absolutely unbearable. The devil grins, and says “this is where you’re staying” while he opens the door…

    onto a beautiful lush meadow with streams and flowers and birds singing. The devil stamps his foot and cusses “damn Mormons have been irrigating again!”

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Bengt — GREAT idea. Can you imagine Borat Among the Nephites? Holy Moley.

  10. Todd: You’ll never, never, never hear an LDS church talk on how mothers need to quit scrapbooking and clean the kitchen. Similarly you’ll never hear a talk describing the perfect father, who could even manage to take it down a notch, and still cover his duties.

    Ha! [Homer] It’s soooo true! [/Homer]

    I liked this round maybe even better than the first round, Steve and all.

  11. Thanks for the great discussion. I hadn’t ever thought about it, but it seems that if we can’t joke about something (except in those cases where such joking would be sacreligious, e.g., the Temple ordinances) it is a pretty good indication that we need have some major closet cleaning.

  12. a random John says:


    You need to do a Mormon Ali G show and put it up for download here. Use BT to keep the bandwidth low.

  13. Steve Evans says:

    rJ, it would have to be in Utah for it to work. Too bad, it would be a great idea. I can see a direct-to-video feature. Bengt, you listening?

  14. Brother Joseph says:

    This Mormon Ali G show… Would this involve someone sly interviewing GA’s or someone very “orthodox” visiting topless bars etc?

  15. Mephibosheth says:

    Ali G outside the SLC temple with the Temple Square Missionaries:

    Ali G: So can we go in now?
    TSM: Actually, no the–
    Ali G: –What about just me?
    TSM: No, our temples are–
    Ali G: Is it cuz I’s black?

  16. Steve Evans says:

    LOL — Mephibo, we’ve got to script this thing out.

  17. What’s to stop us from getting the real Ali G? In his latest shows he seemed to be losing some steam; I think being in Utah could rejuvenate him. Surely he can get an interview with a Seventy at least. I would love to hear them saying the rap part.

    Also, I may have been inactive for a while but what the hell are “Relief Society grapes”?

  18. I am really enjoying this round table series. Thanks all for a good laugh at the end of the day :)

  19. Bengt:
    “…and our current films (the gateway to pop culture) aren’t universally appealing.”

    Maybe a good crossover movie would be following a comedy about a recent convert’s integration into Mormon culture, as told from an outsider’s point of view. The storyline could poke some fun and bring home our positives, but not be overbearing with doctrine nor be sappy.

    Anyone out there a screen writer? I hereby relinquish any rights to this story idea.

  20. a random John says:


    Until a few years ago I had never hear of RS grapes. I am sure that someone else could explain it better, but they seem to be a popular homemaking night project. They involve very heavy plastic beads wired together to form a bunch of translucent grapes. Maybe they were used in centerpeices? My mother-in-law had me wrap a set that she found in her basement to give as a sort of gag gift to Chieko Okazaki. I had never heard of them before that but I guess they were the big thing. I can cetainly see how you could kill a person with a set. Especially if you dropped them into some nylons. Wouldn’t that be poetic justice…

  21. I find mormons tend to have very little sense of humor about what goes on in temples. What about ourselves are we trying to deny by not lauging at such japes?

  22. Oh, I don’t think it’s anything more than not wanting to mistreat the sacredness of the temple. There may also be an underlying fear that if we make jokes that involve the temple, we’ll stop taking the temple seriously when we attend and thus lose out on those spiritual blessings. But I think it’s mostly the former: We don’t want to treat sacred things lightly, and since it’s often hard to know where the line is, we tend to just stay away from it altogether.

  23. Does anyone really know what “loud laughter” means? I’m sure if it only meant “jokes/laughing about the temple” the covenant would be specific enough to indicate such. Yet we’re supposed to eschew it, for some reason.

    And how does it relate to this conversation?

  24. I think Elisabeth’s post is on the money … but I think there are reasons for the cultural hall, basketball hoops, Costco mints, Kool-Aid, etc.

    One of my guest posts at T&S was about the scriptural wedding feast metaphor and how we can’t appreciate it because we don’t do wedding feasts. Rather, we have wedding receptions. In the process of writing that guest post I had to bend over backwards to avoid saying something snarky about nut cups. The reason I avoided it was because I am sure that many of us here in the ‘Nacle had wedding receptions with nut cups and I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

    My in-laws are not LDS and they are from a Chinese culture that really knows how to throw huge wedding celebrations. They also have lived for many years in Orem, UT and have attended many Mormon wedding receptions. Quite frankly, they are appalled by the way Mormons celebrate their marriages. I haven’t ever heard them say a word, but my wife has had a few things to say about the “nut cups” and so I know what the sentiment there is. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have really thought about it.

    Anyway, in writing my post, I think I decided there is a good reason that Mormons do not throw lavish wedding celebrations. Mormons pay tithing. Mormons often have LOTS of children. Mormons send LOTS of their children on missions. Mormons send LOTS of their children to universities. Asking Mormons to have huge wedding banquets would only add to the bankruptcies we complain about.

    In addition to the factors already mentioned, how many wedding receptions have you ever attended, if you live in Utah? In some neighborhoods, a person could spend every single weekend going to the receptions of relatives, ward members, etc. I’ve heard LDS people complain about how many wedding receptions they have to go to and how many gifts they have to purchase for them. If Mormon weddings were more lavish, the gifts would of a necessity have to be more expensive. Trust me, the level of expense would have to be spread out even further. Yes, Chinese family weddings are often very lavish … but the guests bring substantial checks as gifts. The expense of a wedding gets spread around and it isn’t only the families of the bride and groom that bear that expense.

    Anyway … I’m just trying to say that unless a LDS family is unusually wealthy, it doesn’t make sense to expect them to dish out tons of bucks for weddings. I also suspect that many of these factors play into Mormon cheapness in other areas.

    Anyway, to bring this around to the topic of humor, maybe there could be more jokes about nut cups … but I think they would fall flat because it would tell us the kind of truth we don’t want to hear about ourselves.

  25. Danithew…I’ll laugh about nut cups any day of the week–you go right ahead make those jokes. But while I’m laughing, inside I’m secretly craving chalky mints with salty peanut residue on them. I know it’s wrong, but I grew up in Utah and I’ve been conditioned like Pavlov’s dog.

  26. The aforementioned definitive study of plastic grapes (and hair wreaths) can be found here.

  27. Steve Evans says:

    Justin, YOU DA MAN. Great stuff.

  28. Buttgold’s wedding is tomorrow. Should I be working on it? Yes. I’m going to go get a valium in a minute, and mix some white wine in the orange juice. But while I’m sober, I’m networking with my friends here.

    Buttgold’s wedding is costing more than my first house. I am so not cheap. It’s like the wedding is a living entity which gobbles every penny I have. I hate weddings. I am telling everybody I know, including the prophet if we meet, “get married in the temple, it’s cheaper and easier to decorate. Forget about chastity. Save your parents some money and grief. Weddings cost more than your sexual enjoyment is worth.”

    Hell, I am paying $200 for a cake no one will eat. Because it’s square and you can’t get square styrofoam to decorate for cakes.

    This is so not funny. But you guys, thank you so much for this post on humor. Thank you. Humor has saved my life, and Kirby, (I don’t know from you other guys, sorry, my horizons are limited) thank you for being you. Especially thank you for realizing that hell is in Delta, Utah. Also my ex-husband’s grave, which I intend to pee on someday.

  29. And you know, nut cups, serious stuff. You have to find them, you have to decide what size you want (they come in sizes, you guys), you have to decide where they’re cheaper. THEN you have to decide what kind of nuts you’re going to put in, where to get them and how much to get.

    You have no idea how much work I’ve put in. If my husband says one word, I’m sending him a bill for my services. From my little apartment in New York City.

  30. I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints…The sinners are much more fun.

    The best LDS wedding reception I’ve attended (and I really haven’t gone to many) was my friend who had it in her parents living room. They decorated with white Christmas lights, and her brother dj’ed. Played old disco songs. Everyone danced and had a blast.

  31. Ummm. What are nut cups?

    And David, I like that movie idea, if only it could be well executed.

    From baptism for the dead, to ‘special underwear,’ the learning curve for a convert never before exposed to anything Mormon is pretty high.

  32. Re: humor and the temple — Seems to me we lost a lot of fairly “safe” references when most temples went from live actors to Hollywood sameness. I remember people making a lot of comments in the days of variable Satans.

  33. When I first met my wife she told me that before coming to Utah she thought Mormons were similar to the Amish, when she was told that Mormons have “wards” she equated “wards” with flock, gaggle or herd. She isn’t dumb. She’s been to college got the degree. But they don’t teach Mormon history anywhere outside of Utah and our current films (the gateway to pop culture) aren’t universally appealing.

    I’m at a large public university in the northeast, and when I asked my students one day who some of the native peoples of what is now Pennsylvania were, the first student to finally (and hesitantly) raise his hand suggested, “Mormons?”

    Less perplexing (though still depressingly indicative of our PR dept.) was my wife’s coworker–smart grad student– catching her at the end of one lunch hour to earnestly inquire whether I were planning on taking another wife. When my wife replied in the negative, her friend said, “Oh good. You don’t seem like the kind of woman who would put up with that!”

    Scarily, my local Blockbuster has all the Halestorm films. /shudder/.

  34. Crystal, I hope with all my heart that you never have to find out what nut cups are.

    But you guys, last night we decorated, or set up chairs, the decorater decorated. It is the most lovely lovely scene. I’m going to try to post some pictures. I mean this is going to be the most beautiful train wreck in history.

    The flower girls (five) will be all in white with a little pink, the bridesmaids in pink and white. It’s going to be pretty.

    If only I live through the day. I put this as my fourth worst thing in my life, after my divorce. But good will come of it. I’ve grown as a person from this terrible ordeal.

  35. a random John says:

    It isn’t the Mormon Ali G show, but it looks like KSL is going to do something similar to Jay Leno’s Jaywalking segment coming up during conference, going around the USA and asking people simple questions about Mormons and then getting silly responses. I wonder how this will go over. It would be really easy for such a thing to be in poor taste, “Hey look at how ignorant all the non-Mormons are!”

  36. annegb:

    Good luck with the wedding. I would love to see pictures (if you survive).

  37. I wonder if that KSL thing was inspired by the new DVD “American Mormon,” which does the same thing? And by “inspired by,” I mean “ripped off from.”

  38. Eric, I think you’re right.

    And random John, I thought the same might be the case about American Mormon, but Tufts is remarkably non-condescending. I mean, we laugh when he holds up a picture of Joseph Smith and a girl says that the picture is not Joseph Smith, but his tone is one of genuine curiosity, if somewhat light-hearted. I think that if they’re pulling off American Mormon, they might take the same approach. At least we can hope.

  39. As light-hearted as it was, American Mormon was still pretty terrible.

    Good concept, mediocre execution.

  40. OK, a bit of temple humour here (and a test of the boundaries):

    My parents are converts. After a year or so in the Church they received a package from the mother of the missionary who had converted them. In the package were a number of things, including a small, green apron. Not having a clue what it was (and there was no explanation), my mum took to wearing it around the house, but could never understand why it was so small.

    Now that’s funny. It may make you cringe a little, but it’s funny.

    I also have a recurring dream where I wander around outside in nothing but my garments. It’s excruciating.

    OK, now you Freuds out there, what am I afraid of?

  41. Re; #35 “…similar to Jay Leno’s Jaywalking segment coming up during conference, going around the USA and asking people simple questions about Mormons and then getting silly responses.”

    A couple of days ago, a colleague was offering a piece of gum to another. Out of the blue, one said to the other, “Mormons can’t chew gum.” I piped in, “Uh, yes they can!” “No, they can’t, because some gum might contain caffeine!” I thought this was hilarious. I also set them straight! :-)

  42. Weddings over. Two funny things happened. My darling four year old Rowan was all business, looking down throwing flowers when somebody said, “hi, Rowie” halfway down the aisle. She glanced up, saw all those faces, stopped dead. So did everybody else. I knew what she was thinking, so it was funnier to me, but there was about ten seconds of just her thinking it over, then she bolted.

    I ran after her and we walked down the aisle after the maid of honor and before the bride, who was so far back she didn’t know what was going on. The other little flower girls were so mad at her they just fumed through the ceremony. She kicked her legs and asked, “when do we get cake?” Loudly.

    Also, I had my mother dressed to the nines and she talked loudly during the ceremony, “why are we here? Can I have a cigarette now?” Anyway, I was planning a birthday celebration for her with all her family there, though her birthday was the 18th. I figured she was so senile she wouldn’t know and her family would enjoy it.

    So this tiny gray haired little lady in the wheelchair sat at her cake and balloons, surrounded by family and all our friends, and they sang happy birthday. It doesn’t sound as funny as it was, but she in all her senility, knew it wasn’t her birthday. She had no clue who all those people singing to her were, but she knew it was not her birthday. And the look on her face was just priceless. I’ll try to post it on Donna’s. She had to be thinking, “These idiots think it’s my birthday.” She never even cracked a smile.

    I guess you had to be there.

  43. annegb, glad you survived. Now go take a nap!

  44. a random John says:

    Actually it turned out to be some behind the scenes look at American Mormon. Lame.