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Finding Funny After 9/11

Saturday Night Live, NBC, September 29, 2001

Ten years ago Sunday.   Doesn’t seem that long, really, but a lot has happened since then, so it must be true.

The common question is, of course, “where were you when it happened?” Most of the answers are pretty mundane — I was right here where I am now, early in the morning, doing what I’m doing now, working on the computer, when I heard about the first plane hitting the tower. But for comedians, the questions are different. When did you feel it was safe to be funny again? Where did you find humor in the darkest of hours? If ever there was a time when the question “too soon?” wasn’t funny in and of itself, that was it.

This CNN report looks at how comedians dealt with the terrorist attacks ten years ago:

In the segment, our own Chris Hardwick talks about his experience being on a plane at JFK when the attacks happened and going out to see the late Greg Giraldo a couple of weeks later, and Bill Burr, Marc Maron, and Rob Riggle (who was activated from the Marine Reserves after the attacks) talk about their own experiences. There are also clips from the first post-attack episodes of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Daily Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, and Saturday Night Live.

You can find analyses of how 9/11 affected comedy elsewhere, like AJ Aronstein at Splitsider discussing how, for a moment, sincerity displaced irony, or this piece from WNYC in New York that examines the same issue and includes a talk with Gilbert Gottfried, who discusses his now-legendary Comedy Central roast appearance (a poorly-received 9/11 joke that led to his epic version of “The Aristocrats”). And Dave Berg, former producer at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, has a piece in The Washington Times describing how that show dealt with the first post-attack episode.

I don’t know whether there’s a real answer to any of the questions about comedy after 9/11. It’s impossible to pinpoint the moment the general public was ready to find things funny again, or explain why. Was it Saturday Night Live? The Onion? A live comedy show you saw? If you want to give it a shot, or you have some memories of that time and how long it took you to think about anything other than what happened that morning, the comments below are the place to do it.

(The usual weekly wrapup will resume next week)

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  1. anghockey says:

    I was in New York City.

    It was the second day of freshman year of high school. A classmate walked into bio class to say that a plane had hit a one of the Twin Towers. I didn’t believe her. Then the whole school was called into the school chapel, where a projector showed the two towers burning. I didn’t realize it was live. I thought it was a recording. Surely, they had put out the fires.

    We went back to class. The towers fell as we watched, horrified, during the mid morning break. I screamed.

    My best friend at the time told me she couldn’t get in touch with her stepfather. He didn’t come home from work that night. We were sure he was just trapped in the rubble. Nothing that awful could happen to someone you were that close to. He never came home. They found his remains days before they closed Ground Zero.

    But we kept living. We clung to New York-centric comedy like the Daily Show and SNL. The Yankees went to the 7th game of the World Series. Nobody remembers that they lost, only that they went. Jon Stewart’s monologue could not hit home more….

  2. Craig says:

    I find it strange how vividly I remember watching the first Daily Show and the first Conan after the attack. It’s almost with the same clarity as I remember first hearing about them, or getting home from school to first see the news coverage. At the time I didn’t really think about my love for comedy in the way I do now – it was more just a casual enjoyment – but I guess that just goes to show how big of a part of my life comedy was, even back then. I don’t think I could get through such tragedy without comedy.

  3. Diane says:

    Shortly after I arrived at work I heard that a plane hit one of the towers. I attempted to go online to the news sites but due to the large amount of traffic none of them would load. So I headed off to my 9:00am class.

    A friend of mine told me a second plane went into the tower. German history class was extremely surreal that day. We saw a film on the bombing of Germany during WWII. As I watched the film footage of Germany’s wreckage I wondered what was going on with the two towers. After class I was told that the south tower fell.

    The things that got me though the day were The Onion and a showing of Shrek on the quad. The solace of hanging out with friends and he comedy of Shrek helped me get though the day.

  4. Magnoliafan says:

    Guys like David Cross were finding funny after 911 and the bullshit hypocrisy the right wing gave most Americans.

  5. tj says:

    i was in high school and i remember having to work at mcdonald’s after school, and i was so sick of stupid people coming in and telling me i needed to go fill my car up with gasoline that i just wanted to laugh, so i turned on tv and every station was just airing the same news footage, except for my local wb station. They were showing Bill and Ted’s bogus journey, which i was pretty stoked about until i realized they were supposed to be airing a new episode of dead last. To this day i still blame 9/11 for the premature cancellation of dead last.

  6. Sawyer says:

    Funnily enough, I was in history class that morning, and we were in the midst of a World War II lecture when another teacher came in to talk to ours. I thought nothing of it at the time, and when he started talking about the Pentagon being hit, I thought he was still talking about the war, and I was surprised I hadn’t heard of the Pentagon being attacked during that time. It took a while for things to click; I didn’t actually hear of the World Trade Centers until a few hours later, and that’s when the scale of the tragedy hit me.

  7. JMRudy says:

    I remember one particular Onion article which resonated with my high school mind:,220/

    This piece still rings true for me even today. I think my disbelief that day was partially fueled by the fact I HAD seen this all before…

  8. Merle says:

    I’ve revisited Jon Stewart’s first night back at TDS a few times in the last 10 years. It’s always stood out as the things he said are exactly what I was thinking and that helped me personally move forward. So I don’t think he reads this, but thanks, Jon Stewart. I’ve always wanted to thank him for finding the words that I couldn’t.

  9. DefconDan says:

    I’ll just post what I put on Facebook after sharing the vid:
    While I really want to just leave 9/11 be this weekend, I did find this interesting… sometimes you just have to find your laughter again…