Proverbs 17:22 says, A cheerful heart is good medicine. (NIV)
Let’s take a few moments to explore this wonderful resource called comedy and talk a little of how utilizing comedy affected our services, explore why it’s important to get your audience laughing, think a little about props and routines, and offer a few illustrations you can use.
One summer while attending a conference, I had the privilege of sitting in a class just on comedy. There was no spiritual teaching or lessons to go with these marvelous illustrations, only gut-busting routines that left you begging for more. I believe that on that day God opened my eyes to a wonderful tool which we now incorporate into 99% of our services. It wasn’t long before we tried it out. For years we had the typical special events for Christmas, Easter, etc. Usually we would offer a program featuring the children that would bring in most of the relatives who only visited the church once or twice a year. The next Christmas musical arrived with a whole new format. We had combined the traditional Sunday School presentations with a short children’s musical that also featured our puppet team. The new twist was that we had a Master of Ceremonies present short comedy bits between segments. The response was overwhelming!
Here’s what happened when we started to incorporate comedy openers into our church’s special events!
A Change of Heart – First of all, we saw a much better response to the altar calls. I personally saw the difference with my next-door neighbors. Though they didn’t attend the church, they had come to the previous children’s musical and enjoyed it very much. However, most of the time, they had sat with their arms crossed as if to say, You’re not going to change my mind. But this time was different. With the comedy routines, it allowed the visitors to realize that the church was filled with people just like them. We knew how to have a fun time, too. Besides, have you ever tried to laugh and keep your arms crossed? It opened the doors for them to hear the Gospel with an open mind and a responsive heart.
Secondly, we had a better overall response. The children’s musicals and special events became the main topic of conversations for weeks following each event.
Thirdly, we received more support from parents and the leadership. Parents wanted their children to be a part. There were less excuses for missing rehearsals and more volunteers to help out wherever we needed them. The leadership was much more willing to increase the budget, knowing that it was a main evangelistic event for the year. On that thought, let me say that the largest attended single service events became the children’s musicals.
So, you’re thinking that this sounds good, but you’re wondering how to get them laughing. One thing to consider is involvement. Whether it’s a short bit or a lengthy routine, you need to get your audience involved. Of course, bringing a child or pastoral staff member up to help will always be a winner. Everyone in the audience will vicariously live out the experience through your volunteer.
Another good point to keep in mind is to make sure you have a common point of reference. Several years ago, a friend showed me his favorite pizza. He pulled out a Dominoes pizza box from the shelves in his office. When he opened it up, it was a mock pizza covered with dominoes. It’s a short gag, but it gets wonderful responses from the kids. Let’s use this to illustrate the concept of a common point of reference. Obviously, if you are in a state, province, or country where there are no Dominoes pizza restaurants, this bit won’t be funny. They’ll just sit there and stare at you like you’ve lost your marbles. (In which case, you can accidentally spill a bag of marbles on the floor and exclaim that you’ve lost them.)
Let’s consider props. One of my favorites is to complain of something being in my shoe several times. Finally, I slip off my shoe and pull out a 5 x 7 rock. I look at it and say something like, So there was a rock in my shoe and then toss it behind the puppet stage. It’s a foam rock, of course, that compacts nicely under my heel.
What makes a prop funny? Though this may not be an exhaustive list, consider these three concepts.
Size – I have a friend who does a wonderful routine on several size
unicycles. He starts off with a normal size one, moves to a really tall one, then to a really short one. He caps off the non-verbal routine by gesturing that he is about to ride an itzy bitzy one. When it’s obvious that no one believes him, he produces a two inch tall unicycle. It gets an instant response. Of course, you’ve seen the clown characters with their oversized hammers, scissors, etc. There is something about an object that is way out of proportion in size that makes it funny. I have a 4-foot toothbrush that always gets a good laugh when I pull it out.
Absurd Relationship – Have you been to a magic store lately? If there’s a store nearby that offers small gag props, you’ve most likely seen the Mental Floss bit. (available in Outlet Mall area). It’s a molded piece of plastic tubing that slips behind your ears with a string running through it. It appears that you are flossing through your ears. It’s a great effect. And, it’s absurd!
I saw a friend do a bit that I sometimes use to introduce a week of kid’s crusade meetings for the adult service. I start by saying that there’s just too much to talk about to explain what all will be taking place that week, so I brought some slides to show them. I pull the slides out of my pocket and proceed to hold them out in front of me while telling what each one is. The first one gets a laugh. On the second one, toward the end of the description, I say something like, Oops, sorry about that, it’s upside-down. That’s gets another laugh. Then on the last one, I finally realize that this is not how you present a slide show. I explain that there is always moving music playing in the background. At this point, I pull out a walkman, put on the
headphones, and press the play button. While holding the slide out toward the audience, I say, Oh, that’s much better. What makes that funny? It’s absurd!
Or, how about a gift for Father’s Day of soap on a rope? Make it absurd by getting an inch thick rope and running it through the handle of a giant bottle of laundry detergent.
Spin-off In Wording – Much like a joke where the punch line is based on a word substitution or a homonym, you can do this visually with props. My favorite is probably the Prescription Glasses. Several of my friends do this. I’m not sure where it started. The first time I saw it was in a class with Scott Flom. (By the way, if you ever have the chance to sit in one of Scott’s conference classes, don’t pass it up!) The prescription glasses are simply a pair of glasses with prescription bottles glued to the lenses. There are so many things you can do with this. For example, have one bottle smaller than the other and explain that one eye is weaker.
Preparing a comedy routine can be lots of fun. One of the most talked about rules of thumb is to limit your skit to three examples. This probably works best with jokes than props. I’ve found that I can do six to ten props in a routine and they still want more. The best approach is to develop a theme. I’ve done themes on telecommunications, groceries, the urban cowboy, gifts, etc.
For example, let’s say you’re doing a theme centered around groceries. Your list consists of the following.
1. Glad trash bags – Ask, How can you be glad if you’re a trash bag? Then pull out a bag with a huge smiley face drawn on it and say, Now there’s a glad trash bag.
2. Softsoap – Show a bar of what is to be the latest product to hit the market. It appears to be a large white bar of soap. Explain that this is no ordinary soap. This is soft soap. (Squeeze it through your fingers. It’s actually a bar of cream cheese.)
3. Arm & Hammer Detergent – Pick up an extra large box of this stuff. Cut a hole in the back. Say, Have you ever wondered why they call it arm and hammer? At which time, a hand comes out of the box and hits you on the head with a big plastic hammer.
4. Soap on a Rope – (Read above in the props section.)
Whatever you decide to do, be sure that it is tasteful, not tacky. Alisa and I like to look for routines from old television shows like Abbott & Costello. Their humor was tasteful and acceptable in any audience situation. Remember that you are representing Christ! Don’t jeopardize your message with a tacky joke, prop, or routine. Even though the prop may be totally innocent, like a toilet seat, it may still be unsuitable for the sanctuary!
In closing, let me suggest some comedy magic bits that I really enjoy. My favorite right now is the Tumblers of Doom routine using the Triple Whammy board and four colored tumblers. Personally, I think that every children’s ministry worker should have this illusion in their trunk of supplies. There are so many things that you can do with the Triple Whammy board. Anything that you can imagine that focuses on forcing a color can be adapted to an illustration with the multi-colored board. And, this board can be used over and over again without giving out the secret to how it works. You can see it in the Outlet Mall.
The Outlet Mall also has some great comedy magic routines like Chico the Chimp, The No Camera, The Vanishing Hat, and The Bashful Bunny. I also like to use the clatterbox and the spotty bag routine, which you can find in magic stores. A great book of comedy skits is Randy Christensen’s, Comic Ministry Routines Vol. 1 or Vol. 2.
I hope this article has given you some ideas and thoughts for something new to add to your ministry!
© by Rev. Gary R. Linn
Children’s Ministry Today