A prop comic is a comedian who makes use of prop comedy. The stages and films term “prop“, an abbreviation of “property”, refers to any object handled by an actor in the course of a show. Although some form of prop comedy has likely existed as long as there has been theatre, the genre reached its zenith in the Vaudeville era. The Vaudeville team Olsen and Johnson made heavy use of prop comedy in their long running Broadway revue Hellzapoppin. Many contemporary comedians are noted for their different forms of prop comedy, such as Tom Eaton with his “trunk o’ junk,” Gallagher with his melons, Joel Hodgson and Harry Hill. Carrot Top often simply picks up an item, delivers a one-liner and then tosses it away.
Prop comics are sometimes looked down upon by other comedians, and the term is sometimes used derisively; however, some, such as Tommy Cooper, rose to critical acclaim as their props revolved around a gimmick (such as Cooper’s magic) and the comedian’s character around that gimmick.
Harpo Marx became famous for prop-laden sight gags, in particular the seemingly infinite number of odd things stored in his topcoat‘s oversized pockets. In the film Horse Feathers (1932), Groucho, referring to an impossible situation, tells Harpo that he cannot “burn the candle at both ends.” Harpo immediately produces from within his coat pocket a lit candle burning at both ends. Earlier in the film a man on the street asks him for money for a cup of coffee, and he subsequently produces a steaming cup complete with saucer, from inside his coat.
An object may be treated as if it is a different object or be used in an unconventional way, such as acting like a doughnut is a barbell or using a tuba as an umbrella holder.Prop comedy is a comedy genre that makes use of humorous objects, or conventional objects used in humorous ways.
Props are any items that the comedian or comic uses in an absurd way. These can be hand props; items that can be carried such as a book or slapstick; costume props (props that are worn such as tearaway pants); and set props (props that are built into the sets such as a breakaway chair). Arguably, the quintessential comic prop is the rubber chicken which has become a symbol for the genre.
Many of Jesus’ lively talks used props. Jesus made use of them in leading listeners from the known to the unknown, from the old to the new. Jesus’ method of taking known things and giving them a different significance was strange and arresting, and so interest was aroused and maintained. When Jesus was asked concerning the payment of taxes, for example, he asked for a coin. We can imagine the intense interest at this switch in events and sense the hush as he received the coin. The prop brings all eyes to itself: and concentrates focus. And so Jesus deliberately took the focus off himself – and the question: “What would you do about Roman taxes?”- and on to the coin itsel. –and the question: “What does this coin really represent?” The use of the prop suggested a new question to the hearers: “What do you do with your life-choices? Are your civic and social choices paralleled by your spiritual choices?”
On another occasion Jesus wanted to impress on His disciples the need for true humility, so he placed a little child in their midst and used him effectively as a prop, teaching about the place of society’s vulnerable, and –once more- on the life-choices made by the hearer.
Jesus was a creative prop comic, using a multitude of objects, people and scenarios from rural life. Every time such a common object was subsequently seen, the point that Jesus was making would have been reinforced. So, he told stories about shepherds (Matt 25; 26 and John 10); about seed-planting and sowing (Matt 13, Mark 4 and John 4); about wild-flowers (Luke12); about birds (Luke 12 and Matt 10); about grapevines (John 15) and about common salt (Matt 5 and Mark 9).
Jesus often used the actual surroundings of the moment as a prop: the sea, the mountains and the farm fields all became part of his stories. He sat down at a well (John 4) and immediately used it as prop for a story about thirst and refreshment. He used a fig tree to teach about the coming of the Kingdom of God.
We can also think of the widow and her two mites, the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, or the man who wanted Jesus to decide on his inheritance: real people and true events that became the grist for his mill. Like the bumper sticker that says “Be careful or you’ll end up in my next novel”!
Even the miracles themselves provided Jesus with a very unique kind of prop. Rather tellingly, the apostle John called them “Signs.” Clearly, that means that they were not to be understood as something in themselves but as pointers to a greater reality, like the shadow pointing to the actual object.
Older commentators merely stated that these miracles “proved” the deity of Jesus. Certainly the first non-Christian witness (Josephus) accepted that they indicated that Jesus was something more than a mere man, but took it no further. Were the great acts of transformation merely a sign of deity or something else? Water transformed into wine, a poor man’s lunch turned into a banquet for thousands, blindness into sight, leprosy into wholeness…? The first hint of this “something else” is given in Mark 2 when Jesus used the healing of the paralytic to demonstrate His power to forgive sins. But how are these two things related? The question is stated but not explored. A lot of Jesus’s conversation was intended to tease and provoke curiosity. It was as if he was saying: here’s a couple of simple life-principles: now figure out how to work them into your life.
Some miracles indicated “something more:” such as the healing of the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath day. The “Something more” is simply that rules and regulations are not enough. The miracle shows the breaking-in of something from the kingdom of the age to come – the Age of More.
And of course, Jesus himself became a prop, first in his own hands, and then in the hands of God. He taught His disciples how to pray by His life of prayer. He taught His disciples about humility by washing their feet. He taught His disciples about loving enemies by asking his Father to forgive the men who were crucifying Him.
And so the cross becomes the ultimate prop. It draws all eyes to it and forces a reckoning. It’s both mystery and revelation.
What does this tell you about God?
What does it tell you about humanity?
- Jesus & Observational Comedy (tithebarn.wordpress.com)
- September 28 – Peter & Jesus (nathanandjamie.com)
- Jesus and the Money-gods of the West (Part 4) (tithebarn.wordpress.com)