This weekend is the annual (or is it semi-annual, I can never keep them straight) General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where Mormons will spend about 10 hours in televised church talks.
And, if history is any guide, most of those talks will involve some joyful noises.
Recently the bloggernacle staple Times and Seasonsposted a “Mirth Index” of how many times jokes interrupted General Conference last April. The study was penned by David Evans.
Evans listened to each conference talk and recorded the number of instances where he heard laughter: 57 percent of talks had at least one laugh and there were an average of about six good laughs per hour.
“I love general conference, and I love what humor does in the course of General Conference,” Evans told Utah Policy. “For those of us with little personal interaction with the General Authorities, humor makes them more relatable. I remember laughing with President Monson, President Eyring, and President Uchtdorf over the course of many conferences, as I might with old friends, and I like to believe that familiarity helps to opens my heart to quicker responses to their counsel.”
Evans also divided the laughs by session. The all-male Priesthood session saw the most laughs while the all-female session saw the fewest.
While drawing this conclusion, Evans was quick to dissociate himself from any Christopher Hitchens-esque accusation that “women aren’t funny.”
“We know that both the sisters and the brethren can be funny when they want to be,” Evans said. “My experience with the Women’s meeting is more limited, but the culture seems to be different, more earnest, whereas Priesthood meeting has a jocular familiarity.”
He posited that perhaps the right question is, “If the sisters are telling fewer jokes, what are they doing more of?” He said, “The answer to that question may reveal how the sisters and the brethren seek to reach out and touch their audiences in different ways.”
Despite the tendency to think that earnest worship and light-heartedness don’t go hand in hand, Evans disagrees.
“Humor can teach by example and make counsel more memorable,” he continued. “Almost twenty years ago, when Elder Nelson spent his conference talk praising President Hinckley, and President Hinckley then proposed a duel, it demonstrated his humility in a way I’ll never forget.”
He said the funniest talks really can be the most effective. The talk he found most instructive from last Conference, Elder Wilford Anderson’s “The Music of the Gospel,” was also the funniest (according to Evans’ measurements).
The full findings of the Mirth Index are available here.