A “Stan Daniels turn” is a joke. A convention of comedy film and TV, the Stan Daniels turn is named after the acclaimed televison writer and producer, best known for his work (and his eight Emmys) on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi. He was apparently so good at crafting a certain kind of joke that “they” eventually named the joke after him. Here is a classic Stan Daniels turn from an episode of Frasier:
That’s the verbal version: a character makes some claim about himself and then immediately acts in a way that undermines that claim. The Stan Daniels turn is also commonly done in the editing room. Here’s one from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
The joke is in the juxtaposition, in both cases. Audience expectations, subconscious as they may be, are subverted, leading to laughter. A man claims to care about children, only to grumpily shoo one away in his next breath. A man is described as being un-find-able, but we cut to find him anything but.
This week, I noticed what amounts to a Stan Daniels turn in the pages of Scripture, as the Psalmist reacts to the Law of God:
Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path. I have sworn and am determined to keep your righteous judgments. I am deeply troubled; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your word (Psalm 119: 105-107).
Our first reaction to the reading of the Law is something akin to, “Yes! That’s true, right, and good. I’m signing up.” We pledge our allegiance and our obedience. Everything is great, before our first step. Then comes the Stan Daniels turn. When the full weight and requirement of the Law makes itself known, our expectations are subverted, our hopes reversed. What began as a triumphant announcement of capability (“I…am determined to keep your righteous judgments”) turns into a frightened recognition of inability (“I am deeply troubled…”).
The bad news is that we are wholly incapable of upholding our promise. The good news (excuse me, the Good News) is that another has come, has in fact kept God’s righteous judgments, and has given his peace and hope to the deeply troubled.