What's funny? What isn't? And why do I never get a laugh when I tell that joke about the moose?

Monday, August 9, 2010

H as in Heaven and Hell

This is the eighth of 26 columns I will be writing in August. It’s a kind of challenge to myself, to see if I can still meet a daily deadline. It’s been a long time since my CSN days!

Heaven for the climate, hell for the conversation.
- Mark Twain

I suppose if I really wanted to, I could get in a great deal of trouble trying to be funny about Heaven and Hell.

It is pretty safe to point out that the standard versions of Heaven as portrayed in the popular media seem pretty dull—I mean, harp playing choruses of chubby babies? I would pay good money to avoid that.

Similarly, the Devil has been turned into a comic opera personality that nobody is really afraid of. And as for Hell itself—any spelunker with a tube of sunscreen is in pretty good shape.

Of course, these have nothing to do with the “real” Heaven and Hell of the various Western religions. I guess any approach to the Afterlife is bound to make people uncomfortable: which is why there are so many jokes about it.
A minister, a social worker and a lawyer die at about the same time, and find themselves in Heaven. They’re greeted by the Admitting Angel, who turns to the minister first.

“We’re very happy to have you with us,” says the Angel. He hands the minister a plain white robe and a silver halo, and shows him to a small, neatly appointed cottage where the minister is to stay.

“And you, too, are welcome,” the Angel says to the social worker. He hands the social worker a plain white robe and a silver halo, and shows her her own cottage where she is to stay.

“And you, too, are most welcome,” says the Angel to the lawyer. The Angel gives the lawyer a glistening white robe of the purest silk and a glowing golden halo. The Angel leads the lawyer to a luxurious 25 room mansion, with swimming pool, tennis court and gloriously tended garden.

“Listen,” says the lawyer, “I’m not complaining, but you gave the minister and social worker such plain accommodations, and you’re treating me like a king. What gives?”

“Well,” says the Angel, “ministers and social workers we got loads of. But you’re the first lawyer we’ve had up here in years!”

In one of his last novels, Robert Heinlein (no fan of organized religion, apparently) brings in Jehovah as a teeth-grating cliché of a little old Jewish man. Jehovah is accused of making it too hard to get into heaven. He responds that as far as HE is concerned, 12.5 percent of mankind getting into heaven is just fine. He never promised it would be easy!

A fellow from Chicago dies and goes to Hell. Knowing how tough Chicagoans are supposed to be, the Devil decides to take a personal interest in breaking the man’s spirit.

“First thing we’ll do is make things a little HOT for you,” chuckles the Devil. He turns the thermostat in Hell up a couple of notches. Before long the temperature has risen to well over 120 degrees.

The Devil pops in to check out his new visitor. The guy has taken off his jacket and loosened his tie. “Boy,” he says. “This is just like a spring afternoon, with the hot air blowin’ off the lake.”

The Devil turns up the thermostat again, and hurries back to his victim. The new guy has rolled up his sleeves. “Now this is real summer weather!” he yells. “All I need is a beach chair!”

At last, the Devil has had enough. He decides to change tactics. Instead of turning up Hell’s thermostat, he turns it all the way down. The fires of Hell go out. Icicles form everywhere. Snow begins to fall. From the next room, a joyous cry is heard from the new guy.

The Devil hurries down the hall, and spies the new guy leaping up and down in ecstasy, bellowing at the top of his lungs: “The Cubs have won the World Series! The Cubs have won the World Series!”

(Yes, another baseball joke. Sue me.)


  1. And there's the "he's God, he just thinks he's XXX" joke, which I've heard told about just about every famous person.

    Word verification: "caten" - that awkward age between kitten and adult cat.

  2. Has your wife objected to that first joke? Not because it's a lawyer joke, she tells plenty of lawyer jokes herself (but see your post on ethnic jokes), I'm pretty sure including that one. But because the minister is a "he" and the social worker is a "she."

    Word verification: "epatefau" -- a performance, piece of "Guerrilla theater" (see yesterday's post), or the like that's intended to be shocking, but isn't because whatever shocking thing they're supposedly doing is so obviously faked.