It’s one of a gadjillion jokes, hilarious jokes, to be found in Mel Brook’s cinematic spoof, Young Frankenstein. Dr. Frahnkensteeen and Eye-gore are digging up a corpse. After the final long and drawn-out heave to get the heavy coffin onto ground level, Dr. Frahnkensteeen spews, "What a dirty, filthy job!" Eye-gore responds, rather matter-of-factly, “It could be worse.” “How?” says the doc. Eye-gore promptly responds, “It could be raining.” And...guess what?!? Immediately lightening strikes and a downpour besieges them. A slow comic “take” between the two concludes the bit.
Oh, why just describe it?? Here it is for you to enjoy in all its wacky wonderfulness!!
This scene is a perfect example of the importance of timing when it comes to creating humor. Life in the comic world is either a little slower than normal or faster than normal. That’s one of the big reasons we laugh. This artificial pacing also reminds us that what we’re seeing isn’t realism; rather, we're receiving clever, lively reassurance about a universe that is massively powerful and unpredictable...and, whether we deserve it or not, surprisingly benign and delightful.
The concept of “comic timing” really struck me (and immediately!) as I read aloud this week’s gospel lectionary reading, Mark 1:29-39. In the NRSV it says, “As soon as they (Jesus & disciples) left the synagogue” they enter Simon Peter and Andrew’s house, where the former’s mother-in-law is ill. Jesus is “at once” informed about her illness and, seemingly, without missing a beat, lifts her up and heals her so she can, presumably, immediately begin serving them. (Hmmm, perhaps Jesus had an ulterior motive here: he was hungry! :) ).
Then, that evening, we’re told a multitude of folks come to him for healing of all sorts (which seems to have been quick and complete for all those requesting it), and, by morning, it’s time for Jesus to take a break, which only lasts a short time as the disciples promptly pull him out of solitude for more imminent Good News sharing and new life bringing.
Next on Jesus’ docket is the immediate healing of a leper. (1:42)
On one hand, it would seem obvious that Mark wants to make clear the urgency of Jesus’ mission. The Kingdom of God has arrived and there’s not a moment to lose in getting the word out. The end of the world is coming soon, and there is much work to be done and great need for everyone to get involved in doing it.
It is perhaps tempting to hear the immediacy of Mark’s tone throughout his gospel as one of sternness and dread. Better shape up and do it now!
Or, another hand, it can be simply an observation…with God things can happen really really fast! Time to be in awe.
From the Comic Lens, however, we can let this artificial rhythm bring a smile to our faces and joy to our hearts. Even if whatever we're reading about in Mark’s gospel isn’t necessarily funny (although, imho, so much of this gospel is pretty hilarious), his pacing remains comic. He tells us there is a universe far beyond us in power and agenda that is surprisingly and benignly delightful, even if we can’t now see it.
After all, after all the astounding and successful immediate action and response, and over and over again, the only people in Mark’s gospel to witness Jesus' resurrection and receive the command to tell others about it run away in fear telling no one. And immediately.
How in the world did that amazingly good news then get out? (Wink wink nudge nudge as lightening suddenly strikes and an “inner downpour” ensues, inviting we and our sly gospel writer to do a slow slow take to one another….)