Too Soon: The Comedy of 9/11


Too Soon follows the halt and evolution of comedy following the greatest tragedy in U.S. history.

In the initial 9/11 aftershock, comedy clubs closed their doors for the first time ever. Late-night talk shows leave the air as TV news runs around the clock. The Onion pulls its first New York issue. The media asks, “Is comedy dead?”

When clubs reopen, audiences are desperate to laugh, but as artists constantly reacting to their environments, comics struggle with how – and even if – they should address the elephant in the room. They eventually make inroads discussing the fallout and our reaction to the event rather than the event itself. In response to physical attacks, media misrepresentation, and the building Iraq War, the number of Arab and Muslim comics expressing themselves on stage expands.

In the wake of 9/11, political humor surges through the mid-Aughts. The Daily Show becomes a Peabody-winning cultural touchstone as it tackles the Iraq War and the Bush, Jr. Presidency. Following the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden onward, 9/11 jokes become prevalent across television, film, and the new medium of podcasts. Comedy has changed national emotions from sorrow and fear to strength and perseverance. It helped us heal in the aftermath of the attacks…and will continue doing so in the most increasingly uncertain of futures.