"If comedy is tragedy plus time,
I need more fucking time.
But I'd prefer less fucking tragedy,
to be honest with you."
On November 23, 1963 the cast of the British political satire show, THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS, scrapped all the material they had written that week, went on live television and publicly mourned JFK who had been assassinated the day before. There were no jokes, just tearful and sincere testimonials about an American president these Brits described as a “gigantic marvelous present.”
On September 17, 2001 David Letterman returned to television for the first time since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and shakily asked for the patience and indulgence of the audience because “watching this tragedy I wasn’t sure I should be doing a television show.”
And last night, responding to the mass shooting in Las Vegas—the most recent mass shooting that gives city names like Orlando, San Bernadino, Newtown and Charleston horrific overtones —Jimmy Kimmel gave a raw and grief-filled opening monologue saying “I want this to be a comedy show….I just want to laugh about things every night but it seems to be becoming increasingly difficult lately.”
There is a saying in political humor that you can make fun of the smoke but not the fire. What do you do when everything seems to be fire?
Between the hurricanes, the shootings, the neo-Nazi marches, the North Korean threats, the unprecedented and vicious political division, the idea of creating comedy seems by turns both absolutely vital and completely pointless.
On November 4, 1943 Lou Costello, one half of the comedy duo Abbott and Costello of “Who’s on First?” fame came home from an afternoon rehearsal to find out that his one year old son, Lou Jr., had drowned in their swimming pool. He was supposed to do a radio show that night. Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Red Skelton and Mickey Rooney volunteered to take his place but Costello decided to do the show himself. He said later,
“After comforting my wife the best I could, I went back to the broadcasting station to do my radio show that night. Not because I was following the tradition of show business that "the show must go on." No, indeed. I wanted to do the radio show so that my voice would go out into the air, with the hope that Lou, Jr., might hear it wherever he was.”
So…we will be outraged and we will grieve and we will be overwhelmed at times, but we will continue to put our comedic voices into the air in the hopes that anyone who needs to can hear them.