Elder McConkie… Fallible Humorist?

On 28 October, 1966, Elder McConkie spoke on the topic of “Are the General Authorities Human?” at the University of Utah LDS Institute. A condensed version of his remarks on the humanity and fallibility of General Authorities was published in the New Era in 1973.

The condensed version lost a lot, like this introductory tidbit-

“Well, let me talk a little about this subject, “Are the General Authorities Human?” and do it somewhat informally. They told me they would like to record this, and I said that was all right, provided nobody ever heard it at 47 east south Temple, because I enjoyed my membership in the Church.”

That’s right, if you read the whole transcript, Elder McConkie is, well, funny. Funny, ha ha. He even pokes fun at himself and Mormon Doctrine before covering the subject in a more serious way.

Most of us only know the public persona of the apostles, and that persona is often doctrinally-focused and serious. It’s sometimes surprising when they decide to set aside the serious mask. I recall a BYU devotional given by Elder Scott sometime between ’98 and 2000. He cracked a joke, and the audience was stunned. He had to crack another one before the audience laughed. He was downright funny.

Others like Elder Holland are frequently humorous. In some of his earlier talks at BYU, he even does imitations.

Of course, it’s important to be careful, when you’ve only got 15 minutes to address several million people who will parse your language for every nuance of meaning. Most of the humorous moments I’ve had with apostles have come in smaller settings, such as BYU devotionals, or small groups on missions. Elder Holland had some great mission stories of his own that I don’t think he’d share in conference, not because they reveal anything negative about him, but because they served a purpose for us missionaries.

My parents, by nature of serving in a Bishopric with his son-in-law, happened to know Elder Maxwell fairly well. He once told them regarding Elder McConkie (paraphrasing) “It’s a pity he was always so serious in public. He had the greatest sense of humor, and no one in the Church knows it.”

It’s too bad that humor frequently gets edited out. Anyone remember General Conference in which President Hinckley challenged Elder Nelson to a duel after conference? Elder Monson offered to be his backup. Sigh… not in the Ensign.

The apostles and other GA’s are indeed human, fallible, and, if you can catch’em at it, funny.

11 thoughts on “Elder McConkie… Fallible Humorist?

  1. When I was a kid, Elder McConkie came to our stake conference. My Dad was suprised at how warm Elder McConkie was with the congregation. He stood at the door to the chapel and shook everyone’s hand beforehand, and was otherwise friendly. Dad expected the public image version.

    I’ve heard a story of Elder McConkie hiding under another GA’s desk. When the GA came into his office, Elder McConkie tried to pop out, but his size made that difficult so instead the whole desk started to rise and move around. I don’t know it it’s true, but I have no reason to think otherwise.

  2. It seems to me that we’re too quick to laugh at whatever meager jokes are lobbed at us by General Authorities. The way we lustily guffaw at every minor bit of humorous self-deprecation in Priesthoood Session borders on sycophancy.

    I do remember President Hinckley challenging Elder Nelson to fisticuffs in the church parking lot after the close of Priesthood Session. Our laughter in that instance was well-earned.

  3. We’re friends with one of Elder Holland’s sons, who regularly tells stories of his home life that helps me realize that their family is not so different from ours.

    On second thought, not that much like ours, when he tells about running around in the president’s house at BYU.

  4. Joseph B. Wirthlin came to speak at a multi-stake conference in my area a number of years ago. I went to the Saturday evening priesthood session. He was a riot—very fun and off-the-cuff.

    It surprised me because, of all the Twelve, he is the one most likely to put me to sleep during General Conference. His “conference style” speaking is very monotone. In person, he’s completely different.

  5. I believe it’s the very first one he gave when he became president of BYU, or at least a pre-1985 talk. He doesn’t impersonate anyone in particular, but does different voices for a typical recently-returned-missionary conversation, IIRC. In another one, he mentions both Mountain Meadows Massacred AND polygamy. (He must not have gotten the memo that we’re suppressing those topics ;)

    I’m afraid I can’t remember which is which. I listened to them all multiple times over the summer.

  6. There was a devotional by Elder Oaks when he was president of BYU where he spent the whole talk telling jokes about himself, his family, etc. I happened upon it one early kbyu morning and therefore have no idea when it was, but it was quite a sight to see the-future Elder Oaks cracking himself up.

  7. MTC, 1984, Elder Marvin J. Ashton spoke at one of the missioanry assemblies. He told this joke:

    “Why doesn’t Mexico do well in the Olympics? Because all the Mexicans who can run, jump, and swim are in the United States.”

    Not exactly politically correct, even for 1984, but he was old.

  8. Elder Maxwell’s biography tells of a time at a BYU function where the speaker parodied Elder Maxwell’s speaking style using lots of alliteration. Elder Oaks laughed very hard. (Neither were actually apostles yet–Elder Oaks was BYU pres.)

  9. One of Elder McConkie’s best lines was at a devotional assembly in 1973.

    Here it is, from the BYU speeches website:

    On the recent Monday when we were celebrating Washington’s birthday, I was down at my mother’s sawing a log in the backyard. She came out to give me some direction and see how I was doing it, and she wasn’t very pleased. She thought I ought to do it differently. She went back into the house and in a few minutes my younger brother arrived. She said to him, “I think you’d better go out in the backyard and give Bruce some help and see that he does this thing right.” And then she said to him, “Bruce isn’t very bright.” Well, so I’m not.

    That last line brought down the house.

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