I do not remember where I read it, but there was a story about a convent, practically isolated from the rest of the world, where the nuns spent all their time praying. They prayed when they gardened. They prayed when they cooked. They even prayed when they chewed the food from their garden, which they cooked (if the recipe called for it, of course). And this was only ancillary prayer. They also set aside time for prayer prayer. Hours upon hours were spent praying. I bet even when the nuns slept their R.E.M. cycles were prayer-filled.
One day a visitor came to the convent and asked one of the nuns, “Why do you pray so much?”
To which the nun responded: “We pray so much, because there are those out there who cannot pray.”
Now, I am an atheist. If you believe in a god, there is a very good chance I do not share your belief. I do not believe in the power of prayer either and I do not pray.
I am not here to tear apart the nun in the story. I am not here to challenge prayer. I know the nuns in the story are praying for me—both praying for me and taking on the extra prayers I would be saying, if I believed in prayer—and they are doing all of this without my permission! Hey!
But I am not here to take offense either, so I am going to let that slide. Because I sense the love with which the nuns in this story pray. And it is a similar love I have experienced with comedy, both as an audience member and a performer.
If one day a visitor comes by and asks me, “Why do you joke so much?” I will respond just as the nun responded to her guest: “We joke so much, because there are those out there who cannot joke.”
My brothers and sisters of comedy, we have all seen those of whom I speak. And their disposition saddens us—but it also energizes us and fuels our work.
Comedy is noble—perhaps nobler than prayer.
And one of the upsides of comedy is that when a joke lands, you really know Somebody was listening.