It was an austere weekend. Dignitaries had gathered from around the world to witness the conferring of degrees upon worthy students. In the midst of it all, I was asked to present a humour award to a retiring faculty member known for his laughter amid tough times. I stood to my feet, wondering how the audience would respond.
‘It gives me no small degree of goose bumps to present an award to a man who is no stranger among us,’ I began, ‘although we sometimes wish he were…after some of the jokes he tells. Dr Gerald Wheatley stopped me the other day and said, ‘Did you hear the one about the two cannibals who were eating a clown? One says to the other, "Does this taste funny to you?" Dr Wheatley can tell cannibal jokes at the dinner table until your six-ounce steak doesn’t look so appealing. Jokes like, "What did the cannibal get when he was late for breakfast? The cold shoulder." Or "What is a cannibal’s favourite game? Swallow the leader." His favourite is about the cannibal who loved fast food. He ordered a pizza with everybody on it.’
Although the jokes were a little corny, everyone seemed to be smiling.
‘Dr Wheatley,’ I continued, ‘we are thankful for a man who takes God seriously, but who also believes that life is too serious not to spend a good deal of it laughing. To you I present two awards.’
‘First,’ I said, handing this distinguished professor a box of wheat crackers, ‘the Cracked Wheatley Award, for outstanding service, especially during coffee time in the faculty lounge. G K Chesterton once said that angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly. So, it seems, can you. Thanks for the jokes. Thanks for your example. Thanks for the reminder that those who laugh, last. And that Christians do not need to look like they were baptized in lemon juice.’
Then I took out a healthy bunch of bananas.
‘You once told me that politicians and bananas are alike. They are yellow, crooked and they hang out in bunches. So I would like to present you with the Ripe Banana Award. Dr Wheatley, may you live long enough to be older than your jokes.’
From chapter 7 of Laughing Matters – learning to laugh when life stinks, published by Multnomah 2005