Today is the sixth anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks. On a day like this, my thoughts inevitably turn to comedy, because that's what my September 11th was really all about. Some comics are taking advantage of the anniversary to put on a show at The Punchline entitled Too Soon? I'm not performing, but Jow Klocek, Ali Mafi, Tapan Trivedi, and Boxcar are.
"Too soon?" is a question I often ask, but usually sarcastically, after I've said something wildly inappropriate. The most effective use of "Too soon?" that I've heard comes from up-and-coming comedian Kevin Munroe, who uses it as a tag after a joke about Jesus: "Too soon? 2,000 years later is too soon?"
How soon is too soon to begin joking about horrific events? Due to the Daily Show's ascension and the ubiquity of blogging, the time window has shrunk quite a bit. There's much more of an established blanketing of stories by news organizations. It's the ESPN model, where every big story is covered by multiple reporters and absolutely beaten into the ground, whether it's Michael Vick's dogfighting, Terrell Owens's overdose, or the Virginia Tech shootings themselves. No matter that the VA Tech shootings didn't have anything to do with sports; the story led every show for the first days following the massacre. When a news story is inescapable, the backlash against forced mourning and exaggerated sadness happens quickly.
One comic told me that the rule of thumb for touchy material used to be The Tonight Show. If Johnny Carson did a joke on something, that topic was immediately fair game for comics anywhere. I don't know if that rule still stands for any joke done on Letterman. I hope so, because I have a killer bit I'd like to do called, "The World Trade Center North Tower: Will It Float?"
I'm a bad person to ask about timeliness, since I hosted a comedy show roughly 15 hours after the planes hit the World Trade Center, during which I made a joke about how the Empire State Building should be the prime suspect. In addition, I had material on the Virginia Tech shootings three days after it happened. It wasn't exactly sensitive, but at the same time, I don't think anyone would have felt better if I'd worn a VT hat on stage, or changed my Facebook icon to a VT logo with a black ribbon behind it. That'd be kind of Hokie, anyway.
I didn't expect people to fully embrace the material, so I prepared a backup joke. When the audience didn't laugh, I'd say, "I'll take that as a moment of silence for the victims." However, I never got to use it for the first two weeks I told the jokes, because the crowds always laughed. So I might be an insensitive asshole, but so were all those audience members. You think you're better than me? Huh?
(Too Soon? takes place at 8 PM at the world-famous Punchline Comedy Club, 444 Battery Street in SF. 18+, $14.)