We Quakers have a reputation for being a rather dour bunch. Frivolous entertainment and games of chance kept our spiritual forebears out of the rowdier spaces of public life. Jokes have been made at our expense, but we’re not well known for our improv comedy chops.
There’s a whole genre of early twentieth-century music with Quaker themes, like the immortal “All the Quakers are shoulder shakers (Down in Quaker town).” There’s the classic line from Woody Allen’s Sleeper: “I’m not the heroic type. I was beaten up by Quakers.” More worrisome, every time some sort of terror attack goes out on Twitter these days, Islamophobic wits will rush to reply that it must be the work of radical Quakers.
How can we use humor to come closer to God and our fellow humans? What role does humor have in our worldly outreach? What kind of humor would Quaker humor be if we were more humorous? Dry? Sarcastic? Awkward? Silly? You can even get mildly serious and write about the theology of Quaker humor past and present or explore why others like to use us as their punchline. As you’ll see from our issue title, we’ve even given ourselves a bit of a wider scope, calling it “Humor in Religion” in case it helps to look at a wider spectrum of spiritual funniness.
Also, and this is perhaps the most important thing we might learn from this issue: are there any legitimately funny Quaker jokes out there? The top Google result for “Quaker Jokes” has a page with a knock-knock joke whose punchline goes “Quaker / Quaker who? / Quaker Oats!” The second result is a Quora page that has a humdinger about a Catholic, a Jew, and a clearness committee. Really?