Bruce Dana wants to keep Mormons laughing. For all its reputation as a no-nonsense religion of family wholesomeness, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is amusing itself anew with publication of “Stories & Jokes of Mormon Folks,” a 148-page collection of Dana’s best comedic shots about followers of his own distinctive faith.
Like the item from a ward newsletter, “This morning, we are happy to announce the birth of David Alan Smith, the sin of Brother and Sister Julius Smith.”
His jokes are G-rated, but they also strive to defi ne the culture and distinctions of the Mormon way of life. Like the proclivity for casseroles at gatherings, with the certainty that masking tape will be on the bottom of the dishes to identify their owners. Or how green Jell-O has no close rival among Mormon brethren.
Some entries are true stories: “Shortly after Elder Paul H. Dunn was released as the president of the New England Mission, he spoke in a stake conference I attended. He said, ‘Someone asked me what it was like being a mission president. It was like taking two hundred priests on an overnight hike for three years.’ ”
He does a take on comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might Be a Redneck” with his own “You Might Be a Mormon”: If... “your mom was expecting a child at your sister’s wedding reception” or “if you go to a party and someone spikes the punch with Pepsi or Coke” or “if you were frustrated when your son ‘only’ got accepted to Harvard, instead of BYU (Brigham Young University).”
Arguing that humor makes a well-balanced person, Dana said he only seeks to “add a little humor and sparkle to the life of the reader.
“I think people realize there is humor in every situation, and we can be serious,” said Dana, who lives in Hyde Park, just outside of Logan, Utah. “The gospel is a happy and pleasant gospel, and we look at the lighter side of things as well.” It’s his eighth book. His previous works have explored his church’s doctrine and history. “I wrote this book not to belittle or poke fun or be irreverent, but just to see the lighter side of it, and it has had a great response.”
“They call us a ‘peculiar people,’ and, at times, we are,” said the 58-year-old father of eight.
“We have our own vernacular and we talk about ‘CTR,’ which means ‘choose the right,’ ” and a lot of other acronyms. All in all, that provides a lot of grist for humor — real stories and joke writing. For years, Dana had filed away jokes and stories for a possible book. He organized “Stories & Jokes” into categories such as family research, scouts, bishop, ward newsletter blunders, missionary, death and aging.
Dana is a great-greatgrandson of Charles Root Dana, the principal mason who erected the Nauvoo, Ill., temple in 1844, and greatgreat-great-grandson of Richard Henry Dana, author of the early American classic “Two Years Before the Mast.”
“Our prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, uses a lot of humor to lighten the moment and to make people feel relaxed, and that is what the Gospel is all about,” Dana said.
Don Evans, the church’s Arizona spokesman, said Hinckley, now 96 and president-prophet since 1995, is famous for his humor. “The people love him for it. He has the ability to use humor, but he uses it appropriately,” Evans said.
The book tells how Spencer Kimball, the only Arizonaborn president and prophet of the church, once attended a 10-stake conference when he was still president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. At the event, a man wanted to introduce his daughter to Kimball. “This is Brother Kimball. This is one of Jesus’ apostles,” the father explained. The girl blurted, “Has he been here THAT long?”
Then there’s the story of the ward conference where the stake president asked a lot of children whether anyone could tell him something about the Apostle Peter. A girl waved her hand and was invited to come forward and tell everyone what she knew about the close associate of Jesus who had walked on water. “Isn’t it wonderful that this little girl’s mother and dad taught stories out of the New Testament,” the stake president said, beaming.
“Now, sweetheart, tell us all you know about the Apostle Peter.”
With that nudging, she began “Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater, had a wife ...”
Dana tells of an incident that happened in his own life too late to get into the book. He was at his grandson’s baby blessing, with two children on his lap. Four children were being blessed, and many stood to give testimony. The last woman, in her early 20s, got to her feet. “She started to bear testimony and got very emotional,” Dana said. He noticed his 4-year-old granddaughter fell quiet, then turned to him and said, “That is a sad old lady.”
“If you live around the LDS people, you see they are just common people, and they like humor,” said Dana.
“Members of the church enjoy laughing at themselves,” said Arizona spokesman Evans. “They look at things that are peculiar to the culture and understand that it IS peculiar, but they don’t take that too seriously.”
He said members stop short of criticizing or joking about church leaders. “I think you would find members in our church being much more serious about that than in the typical church,” Evans said. Yet, he said, “you will find members in the church with a good sense of humor. They are pious when they need to be, but generally they are happygo-lucky people.”