The Church will be introduced to a new Apostle in the upcoming General Conference. While this, with the obligatory bouts of speculation over likely candidates, is an exciting thing, it is also bittersweet for me, because Joseph B. Wirthlin, who died last December, was one of my all-time favorites. He was genuine, kind, and good. He gave a powerful testimony of the Savior, and served nearly his entire life in Priesthood leadership. But that’s not all; He was also really really funny. If you go back and listen to his talks (many are available on LDS.org; others can be found at BYU Speeches), you’ll find that Elder Wirthlin attained a skill and master of self-deprecating humor that even David B. Haight was similar in his later years. These Apostles rarely made it more than a few minutes into a talk before making a crack about going bald, hearing loss, declining athletic prowess, being from Idaho, or having a bad sense of direction. Incidentally, I suffer from the exact same afflictions myself; however, I have not yet learned to laugh about them.
This is not to suggest that General Authorities are limited to a single form of humor. Neal A. Maxwell employed a more sophisticated form of wit during his talks. Often, his anecdotes were so subtle that the rumble of laughter from the audience didn’t start until he was nearly finished with his speech (“In my Primary days, we sang ‘Give, Said the Little Stream’—certainly sweet and motivating but not exactly theologically drenched.”). President Hinckley had his old age jokes. President Monson uses pronounced pauses and facial expressions (and apparently wiggles his ears). Matthew Cowley’s Miracles speech could pass for a standup comedy routine. Elder McConkie always had the audience rolling with…hrmm…uh…
Anyway, my purpose here is not to wax all nostalgic about great moments in General Authority joke telling; I am not a historian, and don’t really like researching topics well enough to do the topic justice anyway. What I do want to address is the possibility of a General Authority humor scandal, and perhaps employ some BCC readers in the detective work to quash (or confirm) it. To begin, consider the following story:
The CEO of a large firm, who also happens to hold a position of leadership in the LDS Church, agrees to take time out of his busy schedule to return with his wife to her rural home town in Idaho for a 30-year high school reunion. After arriving, this man enjoys getting to know several of his wife’s old friends, and is particularly keen on meeting her old high school flame, about which he had heard many stories from her other classmates. Upon meeting the old boyfriend, the husband discovers that his wife’s former boyfriend works in a small store in the same town they went to high school in, where he makes a very modest living.
Later, having left the party and boarded a flight home, this husband turns to his wife and asks, “Aren’t you glad you married me instead of him?” She replies, “Why would you ask that?” “Well, he doesn’t seem to have made much of himself. He still lives in that small town, and just works at a local store. You, on the other hand, are married to the CEO of a large firm.” His wife kisses him on the cheek and says, “After all these years of marriage you still don’t understand: If I had married that man, he would be the CEO of a large firm, and you would be working in a small town store.”
Get it? See, his wife was the real key to his suc…alright, you got it.
The story above is not unique in some respects–it represents many of the basic elements of Mormon humor: Pride being demolished, long marriage, Idaho, etc… However, what is unique about this story is that in the past three weeks, I have heard it told over the pulpit two different times (one fireside, one Stake Conference). In two different cities. By two different General Authorities (ene Emeritus, one Active). Who both said it was a true story, and that the husband in the story was a “close friend” of theirs.
Now, I called BS about the “true” nature of the story the when I heard it the first time for the obvious reason that no man on Earth is stupid enough to say to his wife “Aren’t you lucky you married me?” However, when I heard the exact same story the following weekend (“…mouths of two or three witnesses…” and all that), I realized that there was more to this. Questions began forming in my mind, and I’m hoping that you can help me answer some of them.
1. Is this a true story? Or is there a new volume of the CHI that contains a selection of jokes, stories, and anecdotes which the Correlation Committee has approved for General Authority use without citation? Or is this the new face of the pernicious problem of plagiarism? Have other people heard this story, too?
2. If the story is true, then who is this hapless husband? Is he a General Authority himself? Or just a local leader? Is he a prominent Mormon otherwise (he is a “close friend” with at least two others…)? His wife said he’d really only competent to be running a small town store…so should I be worried about any retirement funds invested in his company?