My Mennonite parents laughed very little, except when relatives and friends tickled their funny bones. They took the business of parenting very seriously. Other relatives lit up with a sense of humor: I carry an image of my Grandma Fannie and Aunt Ruthie once slapping their thighs in laughter as they ate supper.
And I have memories of my Metzler uncles acting goofy:
My Uncles, a Memoir Snippet
All my aunts were shaped like pears, and my uncles like apples except for lean Uncle Clyde. My uncles had mirth to match their girth. Each of my mother’s brothers could do something funny or strange. Uncle Landis could click his false teeth up and down on his gums clickety-clack, Uncle Leroy could wiggle his ears, both at the same time, Uncle Clyde’s hand-shake included a tickle with his index finger on the palm of my hand, and Uncle Abe could play his harmonica strapped around his neck with no hands. Both Abe and Pastor Clyde could do handstands, and all the brothers talked “pig Latin” between themselves, a play with words that kept their talk conversation secret. The idea was to add extra syllables to a word, something like this: Happy day, Lucky Duck could be spoken as “appyhay day, luckday duckday. When my cousin Janet and I heard their crazy talk like gibberish, we didn’t try to figure it out—we just walked away. They were letting loose on a Sunday afternoon.
Mennonite Actor Ted Swartz and Humor
In seminary, Ted Swartz got a 37% in Greek. That’s the visible evidence that this man was not cut out to be a pulpit preacher. Ironically, he felt “called” to be an actor in a culture that he admits is not exactly a hotbed of theater opportunity. To many, the phrase Mennonite actor is oxymoronic, sort of like a admitting to identifying as a Catholic-monk-clown. The subtitle The Not-So-Typical Journey of a Mennonite Actore echoes this oddity in his memoir Laughter is Sacred Space.
Like a hybrid Shakespearean play, Swartz combines both comedy and tragedy in a memoir of three acts, including rising action, climax, falling action with a reprise of each. Laughter is Sacred Space offers “a backstage tour of an artist’s life and mind.”
As one reviewer commented, Ted “opens the curtain on his own life.” And the forward promises, “ . . . if you’ve got some unhealed wounds, un-grieved losses, or even uncounted blessings” you feel as though you’ve had a good night at the theatre when you close the pages of this memoir.
Swartz finds humor in biblical texts: Jeremiah portrayed as a hillbilly, the disciples Peter and Andrew come alive in the comedy “Fish Eyes” and DoveTale, a Christmas show. Here is the brief promo vimeo for Laughter is Sacred Space.
His memoir is a mix of memoir, snippets of dialogue from shows, and photos and artwork from a life on & off the road. Expect side splitting guffaws and soul-rending pain.
Why I Read the Book
- Ted and I share a Mennonite heritage. Our mothers and grandmothers both wore prayer coverings. He attended Christopher Dock High School years after my stint as a teaching intern at this Mennonite school in southeastern Pennsylvania.
- He is an actor/author. I am a writer, the wife of a performing artist with inside knowledge of the grueling days “on the road.” He’s written a memoir. Mine is baking “in the oven” as we speak.
Life on the Road, in Ted’s Rear-view Mirror
The romance of being a traveling company lasted about two weeks. Life on the road can be tedious. Long drives, many hours simply watching the scenery go by. When people asked us what we did, we would say, “We travel for a living—that’ s our job. But when we reach our destination, then we get to play.”
Often I would want to scream at an audience.“Do you people have any idea how hard this is?!! I’ve been up since four o-clock in the morning: have driven eleven hours; gotten lost twice: I forgot a crucial prop; thried to be grateful, kind, and gracious; worked with your semi[inept sound person on the sound cues—most of which are crucial to the timing necessary for comedy—and now I get to try and be funny!!!”
Ted’s Tricks as a Professional Actor/Artist
Success in performing requires “naïve persistence.”
“. . . the trick for writers is to craft that fun idea sprouting up spontaneously into a coherent script that recaptures the elusive mystical element that made us laugh in the first place.”
“’The fact that you make each other laugh’—yes, that was the glue that ultimately held us [his partner and him] together.’”
“When you do theatre, you cannot hide: the audience is another character, and if they are not doing their part, or you haven’t invited them skillfully enough to join you, it’s painful.”
“The best God moments—when we are not aware of what we are doing.”
Two-minute Video of Ted’s book trailer
Connect to Ted’s website
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Do you have relatives who can tickle your funny bone? Here’s where you can share a tall [or short] tale.
Do you know Ted? Have you seen him perform?
How important is a sense of humor in your list of honorable personality traits?
My husband has made me laugh for more than thirty years. You can get through anything if there’s a smile waiting for you at the end of the day.
Arlene, I couldn’t agree more! Laughter and a sense of humor are high on the list of must-haves for a successful marriage.
Thanks for being the First Responder today, so appreciated, and congratulations to you and your husband on 30+ years together.
I don’t know, Marian, that top photo looks like a lively bunch to me! Life is certainly too fleeting not to have a sense of humor. I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with lots of laughter!
My relatives showed the full range of emotions, I just don’t remember a whole lot of laughter at home. Yes, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving day and weekend with family. I hope you did too, Jill.
Good morning, Marian! When my family gets together, there is always lots of laughing. If we get my mom to laugh, it’s wonderful. My husband has a reputation for his “bad jokes” and puns. He is delighting a new generation with them now. 🙂
Merril, I can almost hear the laughter when you post family gatherings on your Monday Morning Musings. Your mother’s laughter is infectious, I would imagine, possibly instigated by one of your husband’s “bad jokes.” Thanks for your early morning appearance here, as always. I never take it for granted!
I have to agree with Arlene above that laughter is a great lubricant in a long marriage. And it was so good to laugh together with small children when our extended family was together last week. We feel lightness of being in laughter, which is a spiritual experience.
And, yes, I do know Ted Swartz! We attend the same church, are part of the same writing group, and we even did a show together called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Our Memoirs.” Ted is also a co-director of one of the best tour companies I know. We were together in Ireland in August and September. A trip that will always be among my favorites. Ted and Sheryl Shenk have formed a company called Eklectic Pilgrimages.https://www.eklecticpilgrimages.com/
It so happens that Ted is doing an artist-in-residency in Durham, England, right now. His birthday is on Friday, so I will make sure he sees this post, Marian.
I think this post may have hit its target in England already, judging by the number of views this post is getting. Thank you for sharing, Shirley!
I’ve resurrected the Weather Vane article from 2013 that showcases both your and Ted’s comedy hour: https://emu.edu/now/weathervane/2013/09/27/ted-swartz-and-shirley-hershey-a-funny-thing-happened/ Oh, how I remember the Weather Vane!
Thank you too for sharing Eklectic Pilgrimages website. This experience may tempt other readers as it does me.
Your uncles sound like my uncles, Marian. 😀 😁 One of my uncles taught me pig Latin. And others used to tickle me with a handshake. They love to laugh.
A sense of humor is one of the necessary traits, in my opinion. I believe God has a sense of humor. 😀 😁
Of course, God has a sense of humor: He created humans and must laugh (and sigh) at our folly.
Perahps your uncles and mine are of similar vintage. Younger uncles I know anything about would be flummoxed by Pig Latin. Thanks, L. Marie!
My dad had a great sense of humour and had us laughing a lot. I recall many great moments of laughter around the dinner table. Times were tough but dad knew how to get us laughing. There is always much laughter at our family reunions too. I love the stories of your uncles. Then I met my British hubby who has that dry British humour that always surprises me makes me laugh and has saved our marriage on more than one occasion. Laughter is the best medicine I truly believe.
I couldn’t agree more. One of the things I have always loved about British people is their infectious sense of humour and I thought it was brilliant when they used the fantastic Mr Bean on the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012 playing the tune from Chariots of Fire: superb! 😂
I love Mr. Bean. What a beam of laughter and light he is. Thanks for recalling a humorous memory, Fatima!
You must have inherited your dad’s sense of humor. Your Facebook photos and others on social media always reveal a smile. I wonder if you’ve written about how you met your British husband . . . must be a fascinating story. 😉
Yes, I too believe in the truth of Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.” Thanks for chiming in here, Darlene.
You were wise to read this memoir enroute to your own, Marian! We at Mennonite Media worked with Ted closely for a number of years when he and his acting partner Lee were helping to produce and staring in various video projects. He struggled with writing a memoir, to be frank–(maybe everyone does who attempt it) but it comes to life and worth reading on many levels.
To your original question, I’m glad my Mennonite parents were not so serious that they couldn’t have fun: my mom is a true cut up and ham–now. Not so much in earlier days. Dad had his tried and true jokes, but yes, I think the most fun they had was with their brothers and sisters, even in later years–and telling stories or pulling pranks.
Memoir writing requires mining raw emotion, and I suspect part of Ted’s struggle was re-living his experiences with his partner/brother-in-the-faith Lee as he made the effort to translate them into words.
Your mother’s sense of humor comes through in your blog posts. I remember one about her especially a few years ago. As people age, they seem to take themselves less seriously, so maybe that’s why your mother’s a true cut-up these days. How fortunate you are to still have your dear mom.
I did see one of Ted & Lee’s shows. After viewing the video I cried. Laugh & Cry must be brother and sister. Yes, our Metzler uncles were funny. And our great uncle Fritz Martin and our grandma could ring the kitchen rafters with laughter around our family Thanksgiving table. Fond memories to make me smile. Thanks.
Thanks, too, for recalling the Martin freindschaft. Mennonite or not, these relatives could appreciate a joke, even if it was on them. Oh, and remember Rock racing Ruthie around the house to embarrass her with a kiss! 🙂
In my opinion, a sense of humour is vital in order to cope with life’s difficulties and I am glad you got that from your uncles. I can most definitely relate to their Pig Latin as my 2 older sisters used to talk ‘with the P’, that is you repeat every syllable you say using the same vowel but replacing the preceding consonant with a P or if there isn’t a consonant, just placing a P in front of vowel; thus my name would become Fapatipimapa. The funny thing is that my elder sisters didn’t realise their younger siblings had cracked the code and could understand everything they said. 😂
I am not familiar with Ted, but he sounds like a real character. I have, however, read Marlon Brando’s memoirs called Songs My Mother Taught Me, which is very funny and delightful.
Lovely post, Marian (Maparipianpan). 👍 💖
Thanks for the mini-lesson here, as I suspect some readers have never heard about pig Latin. I think I may have read Marlon Brando’s memoir, not sure. I remember the title because it seemed not to mesh with the persona I associate with him as an actor.
Thanks too, Fapatipimapa, for translating my name into pig Latin. It sounds like a elongated form of marzipan, a nutty confection. Ha!
So it does a bit, but I love marzipan. ❤
Oh my goodness, Marian. That first Vimeo promo for “Laughter is a Sacred Space” had me in tears this morning. And now, of course, I want to read the memoir.
I hope Ted reads this and smiles (or laughs). If can find links to his book on his website. But of course, you know that. You have probably ordered it already.
I’m glad we meet up each Tuesday and Wednesday. Thanks, Laurie!
This memoir sounds delightful. I like to read about and be around people who have a sense of humor about things, life, God… I’ll look for Ted’s book and performances. Thanks.
Thanks, Ally, for joining the conversation here once again. Yes, a sense of humor lightens the load.
Ted’s books and performances are all on his website, https://www.tedandcompany.com
Oh, I love this post, Marian. Laughter truly is the best medicine. Your tales of your uncles remind me of my great-uncle Freddy who would regale us with his adventures fighting the Indians. As kids, my cousins and I believed him with all our hearts and he always had us squealing with laughter. That continued into adulthood where he was the source of our belly laughs. Also my Uncle Michael , my Mom’s brother, can always be counted on to keep us all in stitches with his dry sense of humor. Ted’s memoir sounds very intriguing. Thanks for a another great post. What a nice way to start my day. 🙂
Your Great Uncle Freddy and Uncle Michael sound like real cards. No family can have too much laughter. I’m glad you enjoyed meeting Ted, and responding here to let us know. Thanks, Kathy!
I remember the times when I was young and your mom and dad would visit my grandparents in Hummelstown. There was always laughter on those visits. And, on the few occasions that either Aunt Fannie would come along or we’d get to her place in Rheems, there was always laughter there too. There are precious memories of times with the Martin/Longenecker clan. So thankful that I was born into that family.
Squeezing my eyes, I’m trying to recall Uncle Joe and Aunt Bertha’s house in Hummelstown. I seem to remember it sat up on a little ridge – right? I’m so thankful you were born into that family too, and that I can get to know you better at this stage of our lives. Your mother Mary and aunt Evelyn appear on a page in my memoir – a WHOLE page! Don’t worry, it’s all complimentary. 🙂
I love this, Marian! Thank you for introducing me to Ted’s writing and performing. As I enter my intense 3 months of trying to wrap my head and heart around my work in progress, this feels important — I will let you know where it leads.
The title of this post grabbed me. I’ve also asked the question, Do Benedictine’s laugh. There is a prohibition in The Rule against laughter, which Joan Chittister explains is not a prohibition against humor, but rather, against inappropriate, mean-spirited, cruel laughter. One of my oblate sister has an incredible sense of humor and often cracks us up. And my husband remains one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life. Laughter really is sacred space, I think. But like all sacred spaces (I’m thinking of intimacy) it can be perverted into something awful.
Mennonites and Benedictines share many values in common, I think. And the realization that some things that make people laugh simply are actually sorrowful and tragic, not funny. (I’m thinking of racist and sexist jokes, and those that poke fun of people with disabilities….)
Thank you for making me think.
Thank you for shedding true Benedictine light on this post. Who better to do it than you, Tracy.
I look to you for illumination about the views of this order. And I definitely agree, laughter truly is sacred space.
Now if I could only hear how to pronounce Joan Chittister’s name, where the accent falls and all that. I’ve seen her name in various books I’ve read recently, and I always pause in wonder.
I’ve seen your husband doing mimes and assuming other prankish poses on Facebook. Thanks for providing us with smiles here ~ and there, Tracy.
Accent the first syllable, CHITT-ister.
That helps so much . . . Thank you, Tracy!
Thanks Marian, I watched the 5 min video – so sad that his friend committed suicide. Always there is humour among tragedy, strange bedfellows indeed. Those times I’ve been aching from laughter have always been such a huge release. I remember a long time ago telling a joke that to me was so hilarious that I started laughing as I told it and simply couldn’t tell it I was laughing so much which had the family laughing. My husband is a great story teller; people so enjoy being with him, they always feel ‘better’. Some jokes are mean-spirited and poke fun at others and this makes me mad and sad.
I think writing memoir gave Ted a measure of healing. To lose someone with whom you are intimately connected to as friend and career partner had to be life-altering, horrendous.
Your husand is a doctor, I believe, and must understand the value of laughter as medicine. I am sure he doesn’t bully people with mean-spirited jokes. I raise my glass to laughter of the best sort, Susan!
The video was powerful, Marian. Laughter and tears, there’s such a close connection! I always feel a huge release of tension when I’ve had a good laugh with someone–usually my sisters or one of my daughters. Sometimes I’ve had the urge to laugh in church or in some other sacred space, and that can be quite embarrassing if you can’t control it. My mother had a saying in German: “Nach dem Lachen kommt das Weinen.” Trsl.: “After laughing comes weeping.”. My dad used to hold up his fingers, one at a time when we were having inappropriate laughing times, meaning when the last finger was up, the laughter should be done. Didn’t work most of the time!
I’m laughing reading your reply here. I know your father’s finger-full technique would never work on me; I’d only laugh harder.
This post was shared on another website, and one commenter mentioned how funny some expressions are in low German. I know you are an expert in the language, though I suspect mostly High German, but maybe you can guess at the humor.
And, yes, I agree, laughter and tears are cousins, maybe brother and sister. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Elfrieda.
My mother tongue is actually Low German, so yes, I know that humour. I have a reflexologist who knows Low German and we have so much fun when she works on my feet!
Thank for the update, Eldrieda. I’d be totally left out of the conversation, but I’d understand the laughter completely. It sounds the same in every language.
By the way, reflexology is SO very good for the feet, the whole body actually!
Of course Mennonites laugh. Even I can answer that question. And Pig Latin? I can teach you. My daddy who was sick for 12 years entertained me by teaching me Pig Latin and it’s a skill I hang on to–and never use. But it’s there. ou-yay, no-ay ig-pay atin-lay? I never tried to spell it before. I agree that laughter is sacred. I don’t get enough laughter spirit medicine without Vic around and with my hearing as it is. I can’t quip and jive with agility because I miss too much when the conversation moves fast and is punctuated with laughter. My jokes are too slow to be funny. But I can still appreciate watching others laugh which is a lot of what I did on Thanksgiving Day. Surrounded by laughter, sharing a huge feast with my son’s friend and his family, and watching an apricot full moon rise in the east.
I used to be considered very funny and laughter was a huge part of my marriage. I miss hearing, but maybe I miss the ease of shared laughter more. I love Ted’s tricks. Many apply to writing, too. You saved the best for last: ““The best God moments—when we are not aware of what we are doing.” Just wonderful. Thank you, dear Marian.
Never heard of Ted, but enjoyed the video. And I enjoyed the snippet of your memoir. Me, I love to laugh. Sadly, I don’t I find anyone in my family funny. 🙂
You are the first one to mention the memoir snpppet, thanks for noticing.
Maybe you don’t find anyone in your family funny, but I think you laugh with friends, especially on vacation. Thank you for spreading cheer in many other ways, sharing widely on your website and social media. Love it, Debby!
My pleasure Marian. Of course I’d notice the snippet! 🙂 And don’t miscontrue, I have a great sense of humor. I love to laugh. Only, not sure where it comes from because I’m definitely a blacksheep in that department. 🙂
Yes, I get it, but I’ll color you white (no, fushia!) in the “black” sheep department. Ha!
Maybe you (like me) don’t tell jokes well, but you certainly can paint a word picture. I enjoyed seeing the “apricot full moon rise in the east” on your Facebook page a few days ago.
I’m glad you related to so many of the points in this post. Thank you for pulling out special ones.
Of couse, Mennonites can laugh! 🙂
Marian, nice review and overview of Laughter is a Sacred Space. Thank you. Here’s my take on Ted’s book from a few years ago: https://young.anabaptistradicals.org/2012/12/10/laughter-is-sacred-space-memoir-of-an-anabaptist-comedian/
Welcome to my blog and thanks for providing a superb review of Ted’s memoir. (I left a comment on the website, but it probably has to be moderated before it displays.)
As you may guess from my About page, my formative years coincided with the decade before which the Lancaster Conference of the Mennonite Church experienced major change, especially regarding dress code for women. Hence: my banner Plain and Fancy. Hence: my breaking away. As I mention in my memoir manuscript though, “in my heart I will always be Mennonite.”
Thanks again, for stopping by with a comment, Tim!
Laughter is good medicine and a way of dealing with the world.
Thank you, Fiona. You probably have experienced the benefits of humor as you helped ailing family members in your past trips between England and Sweden. Blessings to you!
Hello again! I enjoyed reading about the Mennonite sense of humor or lack of… That’s something I’ve never thought about or wondered about before! You often open my mind to new subjects! I love a good joke but I’m not too good at telling them! You have brought several funny stories to my mind! Maybe you’ll read about them later on my blog! Thanks for sharing!
This blog post came about as a result of reading Ted’s book. Then I saw connections to my own life. You know how it goes, Anita!
Thanks for stopping by again today. I look forward to a funny story or two on your blog. 🙂
What could be better than a good thoaty laugh, it almost makes everything go away . My Dad had a wonderful sense of humour and yet I realise now he was probably insecure, humour was the glue that helped him stick things together . My husband also has a quick wit and yet he is not a conversationalist ( he lets me do all the talking 😊 bad move ) and suppose I’ve been known to like a chuckle or two …it’s got me out of sticky situations believe me .
Great post Marian …love the photo of your family above.
By the way Babysham was a very popular drink in the 70s here in the U.K , it was a very sweet Perry wine . Cherry B was another popular favourite .
What a way to describe your dad: “I realise now he was probably insecure, humour was the glue that helped him stick things together.” Smart man, your dad. Thank God you have inherited his wit. And you are quite possibly married to the right man (No, for sure you are!) if he lets you do the talking!
If I had to choose between Babysham and Cherry B, I’d pick Cherry B. I like the name better!
I grew up in a pretty stoic family. My parents didn’t laugh often, but my father has a “simple” sense of humor, that resonates with me. I can laugh at his “stupid” jokes or comments, but my mom and brother can’t. It’s funny in a way, when we all hang out together.
I like humor and I think it’s important in life and relationships, but it’s not something that can be forced. I find that when hanging out with good friends, the humor flows and my sarcastic self (my favorite personal humor) emerges. Usually, after a period of being together with friends, I can tell how happy I was by my level of sarcasm performed. 🙂 If that makes any sense…
Thanks for checking in with your take on humor. Yes, it makes perfect sense, your sprinkling sarcastic bits in friendly conversation. I’m guessing your brand doesn’t include put-downs. And I guess too you inherited some of your father’s “funny bone.”
Happy travels – enjoy December, Liesbet!
My hubby has an incredible sense of humor and I’ve gotten sillier through the years because of him. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a hard worker and takes the serious things serious. It’s just his lighter outlook on life, combined with his sweetness, grace and generosity have made him my dream husband. ❤
Welcome, Donna. Laughter is a great lubricant for a good marriage. It sounds like you have found a keeper, a dream husband. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment here, so appreciated.
Do visit again! 🙂
You (and Ted) are definitely right about the importance of humor! I’m glad to see that dreams can be pursued from anywhere in life. I hope the memoir in your oven turns out golden and delicious (metaphorically, of course)!
Thanks for the nod, Rebecca. I’ll take the good wishes both metaphorically and literally. This has been a long, upward climb. 🙂