After reading Madea, I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between humor, discomfort, and change. In the chapter labeled “Regrets”, Perry writes “that’s how life is. You get to a place where you’re comfortable—and suddenly all these things start happening to make you feel uncomfortable…what this discomfort is really designed to do is get you to move into a better place—your destiny, the next place you’re supposed to be” (63 Perry). We have discussed how humor makes us uncomfortable and it can propel us to change (in a non-preachy sort of way), but seeing humor causing discomfort that leads to our destiny is something new.
Last night, I was at a planning meeting for RoadTrip—this retreat for sophomores about vocation and figuring out your life—which I am helping out with. Anyway, we were talking about “what brings you joy” as being one of the key questions that can help when deciding what you want to do in the future, what is your vocation. We watched a video about Fr. Himes, a Catholic priest who teaches at Boston College, and in the video he said that joy is not the same thing as happiness or satisfaction. If anything, being satisfied is the opposite of joy because satisfaction and contentment can allow for complacency. He pulls in St. Augustine who said “a human being is one who is restless until it rests in God.” Therefore, dissatisfaction is vital to leading us to our vocations (like Madea’s discomfort leading to destiny) because it move us forward, it make us want to change. Dissatisfaction and discomfort galvanize a change in us and Fr. Himes argues that this change is what makes us fully human—we can expand our relationships and live more deeply and more richly. As Madea puts it, we are moving to a better place—our destiny.
The reason I’m focusing on humor, discomfort, and change is because it appears so much in Madea. In the chapter “Wake up! Young people, wake up!” Perry writes “what I’ve found about it is that there are some folks you can talk to until you’re blue in the face—they’re never going to get it and they’re never going to change. But every once in a while, you’ll run into someone who is eager to listen, eager to learn, and willing to try new things. If you see somebody with that spark in the eyes who wants to be something more than where he or she comes from, it’s up to us to cultivate that and reach out and help” (94 Perry). Later, he writes “so my thing is, whatever you don’t like, change it, but change it from the inside first” (117 Perry). Finally, he writes “some folks don’t want to be better, but all they want to do is stay at the same spot all their lives” (226 Perry). Because reading this book and my meeting last night with the Fr. Himes video happened in a similar time frame, it is evident that change is associated with bettering oneself, furthering oneself, and perhaps it makes us more human. However, Fr. Himes and Perry both make clear that change is necessary for everyone. Perry does not write that mean people should change or people with unhealthy living habits should be healthier. This urgency for change applies to everyone equally which does make it seem like change and dissatisfaction are fundamentals of the human condition because if we all remained stagnant and never changed, we would be robots or animals.
The whole point of the book is to give advice and to advise readers to be open to change, be yourself, laugh, and live life to the fullest without bitterness. If Perry merely wrote a book about life advice without Madea and without humor, we probably would not read it because it would be uninteresting. Yet again, humor in this book acts as an incentive for change and Perry tells us why we all should change—to reach our destinies, the places where we are supposed to be.
Therefore, humor is an end within itself—the end point is to laugh which we certainly do with this book; however, humor is also a means to an end—the end being to change for the better after reading the book. This book is different than Tales of the Tikongs or “Betel Nuts and Airplanes” and some of our other works which look at social justice and changing society. Perry does not address an injustice or societal issue—he is addressing you, the reader, specifically for you to change. We are being called to not be bitter, to practice abstinence, to stop cursing so much in hip hop songs, etc. In that way, I would argue that humor is a fundamental to the human condition. If change and progress are requisites for being “fully human” as Himes and Perry argue, humor as a vehicle for change and progress is just as essential. If our other authors think that society has to change, that change must start with the individual, in this case. And if we truly want to change, we first have to see how ridiculous and humorous the reality is.