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More Than Just Slightly Amusing Accountants

The comedian Bob Newhart began his professional life a fair distance from the field of comedy. His first vocation was as an accountant. Now with a 60-year career in entertainment, his particular style of delivering punchlines – slow, emotionally blank, and with a minor stammer – has become his signature. But early on in his career, his act didn’t get such rave reviews. More than once he got the advice that he should change his approach to a more standard and familiar one, and tell jokes the right way if he wanted a laugh. Bob didn’t take the advice. As he put it, “I’ve been told to speed up my delivery when I perform. But if I lose the stammer, I’m just another slightly amusing accountant.”

Each of us has elements of our personalities which can at best be called distinctive. Things that make us seem out of place, in small ways or in big. One of us sings loudly and proudly and just a little off key. One of us still has those superfluous loops in his signature that he acquired from his cursive teacher in third grade. One of us collects, well, just about everything. Most of the things that are particular to us just come and go: we acquire some habit in one year, and lose it in another. Other things may last much longer, and some of them very well can get in our way. No one would tell Bob Newhart’s story if it ended with him as a somewhat unhappy accountant who tried to break into comedy when he was younger and didn’t get anywhere with it.

But somewhere among the stacks of things that we cannot change, and the things that we’ll change whether we try to or not, and the things that we really ought to change, but won’t ever without a whole lot of work – somewhere in there are the things that make us different in useful and interesting ways. These are the things that distinguish us as more than just slightly amusing. As we grow, both as social animals and as spiritual beings we need to be mindful of these rough edges and odd corners of ourselves. We must make sure that we don’t file off our imperfections to the point where our shape becomes too smooth to make any impression at all.

I try to remind myself of this, whenever I get frustrated with someone I love or know or otherwise spend a lot of time with. Those things that might feel in the moment like flaws and inconveniences all fit together into a vast jig-saw of a whole person. It doesn’t mean that no one should ever change or grow or become different. We all have faults and failings in need of repair. But as I forget and remind myself nearly every 10 seconds, my expectations of normalcy or convenience don’t determine what should change in another person. The measure of what about ourselves needs to go, and what about us needs to remain is found in the purpose we put our lives to. As we return to worship in our congregational home from a summer spent doing church at the beach (or farther afield for some of us), let us be grateful for the many benefits life in religious community gives us, including a means to assess which among our quirks and characteristics need mellowing, and which are the things that make up part of who we are, and who we need to be in the future.


In faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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