Bob Hope Reflects on the Spiritual Significance of a Laugh
By Movieguide® Staff
Note: This story is part of our Faith in Hollywood series. For similar stories, click here.
Bob Hope, famous comedian … and theologian?
In an op-ed for Guideposts magazine, Hope opened up about how the Lord planted sermons in his heart that all began with the seed of a laugh.
Once when I was in Shreveport, Louisiana, a minister offered me his pulpit for a sermon on “God and Hollywood.”
Hastily I explained that in my business, success was measured by “yocks” versus “boffs.” When that just confused him I said, “You know, yocks … little laughs … and boffs … great big ones. And if I got up there in your church I might still, unconsciously, be trying for those boffs.”
We let the matter drop. But afterward, during a nightmare, I found myself in a pulpit and the laughs were rolling down the aisle shaking the dignified old rafters. I told a friend of this dream.
“And what would be so wrong about that?” he wanted to know. “Laughter has a spiritual value. An Englishman named John Donne had that pegged over 400 years ago. He said, ‘Religion is not a melancholy, the spirit of God is not a dampe’.”
He had a point. Certainly I knew that laughter has a constructive power. I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.
Hope kept that lesson in mind as he traveled overseas to encourage U.S. troops and even back in the States as he visited soldiers in the hospital.
“Laughter can sometimes appeal beyond reason, prejudice and cynicism,” Hope said. “In a jungle I heard the jokes of padres lift G.I.’s spirits into wanting the fearlessness and gaiety of the men of God, where no amount of solemn approach would have inspired them.”
Those same words ministered to Hope’s heart when his brother died.
“My young brother Sydney passed on 5 years ago and, for quite a while, he knew he was going. Someone with a very long face and a ‘religion of melancholy’ had urged him to ‘prepare to meet his Maker’ … to ‘petition Providence to provide for his poor little orphans,'” Hope recalled. “It took the whole family and his five kids to convince him that ‘the spirit of God is not a dampe,’ here or hereafter, except for those who choose to have it so.
“Every gay thing, every joyous or humorous or good thing that came to our attention we offered to my brother as proof of the infinite wisdom and kindness of God,” Hope continued. “When he went, he went smiling—and trusting. And, we had done such a good job for him that we had healed ourselves of much of our grief.”
Hope then endeavored to share the spiritual significance of a laugh with everyone he encountered.
“The power of laughter lies in its ability to lift the spirit. For laughter cannot exist with clipped wings. It cannot be dictated to. It must be spontaneous and free as the air you breathe. Thus it is a special property of free men in a free land who are able to laugh at anything … or anyone … especially themselves,” Hope said.