Fred Sanford’s arch-nemesis in the classic TV series Sanford and Son was Esther Anderson, sister to dear departed Elizabeth. Elizabeth was of course Sanford’s wife before passing on and the recurring gag of him faking a heart attack would have him bewailing, “You hear that, Elizabeth? I’m coming to join ya, honey!” And she more than just disapproved of Fred marrying her sister, she knew God disapproved of Fred too.
I’m kind of hooked on this new channel Antenna TV as I sit here and draw. There’s no doubt many of the old shows were devoid of laughs and tried too hard for character humor such as Too Close for Comfort with Ted Knight as a cartoonist (that’s a cartoonist?!), but when you get to All in the Family and Sanford and Son then you start laughing. Maybe that’s because they were born of British counterparts or maybe because they always were breaking the boring mold set by the time period’s TV standards.
One of the funniest characters has to be Aunt Esther, played with comedic genius by LaWanda Page, because where else would you see a Baptist Bible thumper parodied in such a manner? Especially one who is a stereotype of all the little old ladies from the American black church. Certainly, not on any prime time sitcoms I know of today?
The episode I watched last night was sans Sanford (he was off on a trip) and so Grady Wilson was filling in and making Fred’s son Lamont’s life miserable. Finally, Lamont tricks Grady into going to a skin-flick downtown somewhere with a free ticket and then invites his friends over to party. Grady figures out he’s been had, tries to get back in but is locked out. So who does he go to? Aunt Esther and and her Bible study club. They break in under the false pretense that Grady will let them use Sanford’s place for prayer and worship, but find Lamont and his best friend are getting “hot and heavy” with two girls. Esther starts yelling, “Jezebels” and swinging her purse and all the Bible thumping ladies go on the attack until the poor, helpless girls run for their lives.
I find it all hilarious. Now to be fair to Christians, the parody is warm-hearted. I’m sure within the black church it is not uncommon to have a little old lady who could kick the devil’s ass herself. BUT you wouldn’t want her after you! Fred Sanford is hardly innocent but he more closely represents the rest of us then Aunt Esther. We want to be free of the drag of church and judgments on our lifestyle. Humor is wrapped up in pain and therefore the haughty behavior of little old lady Bible thumpers range from annoyance to sorrow as they tear apart families with an exaggeration of sin and the need for repentance.
Bible thumping Esther is yet another example in our pop culture which we amuse ourselves with because we don’t want to be her. She’s crazy and fanatical, even if everything she is saying is straight from God’s lips or quoted from the Bible. Why is that? Maybe we just don’t like to be told what to do or think, especially when we’re just having a good time–like making out (use birth control if it gets too hot!)? Or perhaps, deep down inside, we think a good portion of the Bible doesn’t apply to us and that, generally speaking, we’re good people.
Either way, here’s to LaWanda Page for her depiction of Bible thumping Esther. Thanks for the laughter.