Who do we think we are?


THERE’S A COM­MON MIS­CON­CEP­TION RE­GARD­ING the sar­to­rial habits (such as they are) of Mor­mon mis­sion­ar­ies — you know, those per­pet­u­ally pos­i­tive, im­pos­si­bly young-look­ing men in white shirts, ties, and back­packs you see walk­ing two-by-two to­ward you on the side­walk, prompt­ing you to quickly cross the street. The mis­con­cep­tion, per­pet­u­ated in­no­cently enough by the hit Broad­way mu­si­cal The Book of Mor­mon, is that their white shirts are al­ways ac­com­pa­nied by black trousers and a black tie. As far as re­li­gious stereo­types go, this is absolutely harm­less. When I hear some­one re­peat it, I never cor­rect them, but I al­ways want to. It’s a small, im­por­tant de­tail: you will al­most never see a Mor­mon mis­sion­ary wear­ing a plain black tie. I know from ex­pe­ri­ence.

For two years, a mis­sion­ary’s life is so reg­i­mented (no mu­sic, movies, sec­u­lar books, or phone calls home), their civil­ian iden­tity so sub­sumed by their Church, that their tie is ba­si­cally the only way to ex­press a dash of in­di­vid­u­al­ity, at least pub­licly. So you’ll see some wear­ing wide old ties they picked up in thrift stores, or push­ing the en­ve­lope with bright-ish colours that were fash­ion­able three years ago, or wear­ing the kind of blue and red power stripes they imag­ine they’ll wear when they suc­ceed where Mitt Rom­ney failed. When you don’t even get to use your first name for two years, your ties be­come very im­por­tant to you.

We say that style is an out­ward ex­pres­sion of who we are in­ter­nally, but if that’s right, it hints at a po­ten­tially un­com­fort­able truth. If we all dress the same — at least within the con­text of our par­tic­u­lar style co­hort — how spe­cial can we be? Is it that we’re all the same in­side? Or is it that not enough men know how to ex­press them­selves with the mass mar­ket, fast-fash­ion tools we’re given? Maybe the mis­sion­ar­ies are on to some­thing — the dif­fer­ences be­tween us all amount to the width and colour of a piece of fab­ric you wear around your neck.

That’s why I’m happy to have Kevin Hart and Mike Mey­ers in this is­sue. Com­edy, both stand-up and sketch, de­pends on the con­tra­dic­tory values of uni­ver­sal­ity and in­di­vid­u­al­ity — pos­si­bly more than any other art form. The more spe­cific a joke, the more uni­ver­sally funny it is. And the more de­fined a co­me­dian’s per­sona, the more ef­fec­tive that funny per­son is. Kevin Hart is the high­est paid stand-up in the world. His com­edy res­onates with an in­cred­i­bly broad swath of peo­ple, and yet no one but Kevin Hart could do it as well. A good stand-up can re­mind us to be who we are, even as we all laugh when we re­al­ize we’re not all that dif­fer­ent.

So, live like a co­me­dian — a good one, with a point of view and ma­te­rial you didn’t crib from any­one else. And dress as if you were one, too. Ed­die Mur­phy wore a red leather suit for Raw — what’s your equiv­a­lent?

It’s about find­ing your tie and wear­ing it proudly, damnit.

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