John Rodden at Commonweal:
The key to Philip’s personal appeal was his humor. As a boy, his favorite reading had been a famous joke book by a fellow Florentine, Arlotto Mainardi. As a man, Philip was quite a jester—and very jolly as well as a little zany. Writing about Philip in his Italian Journey, Goethe dubbed him “the humorous saint.”
But it wasn’t just that Philip liked a good joke. He radiated joy, a kind of elevated bonhomie. In Mystic in Motley: The Life of Saint Philip Neri, Theodore Maynard reports that Philip would burst suddenly into song at Mass. Fearing he might swoon at the altar with ecstatic fervor, he would direct his altar boys to read aloud his favorite jokes from Mainardi’s book, to bring him back down to earth so that he could concentrate on the ritual tasks at hand. But even this wasn’t always enough to calm him for long. We are told that, as he read the Passion during Holy Week, Philip would play with his keys and spin a sundial placed near the altar in order to help him keep his composure.