Will it ever be appropriate to tell 9/11 jokes?

By Rebecca Davis 14 September 2011

Is it too soon to tell jokes about 9/11? British comedian Jimmy Carr received an answer to that question in the way of an overwhelming "yes" when he risked a relatively mild September 11 gag last weekend. By REBECCA DAVIS.

On the day of the 9/11 anniversary, Carr tweeted: “Sept 11th: date of terrible air disaster. When Eastern Airlines Flt 212 crashed in 1974. Killing 69. No one will forget that in a hurry”. The response was one of outrage: many of Carr’s Twitter followers unfollowed him in protest immediately.

Carr is not the first comedian to find out the hard way that the world isn’t ready for 9/11 jokes (at least, not the Western world. No word on how they feel about 9/11 jokes in Afghanistan). Russell Brand infamously rocked up to his job as an MTV presenter dressed as Osama bin Laden the day after 9/11, for which he was instantly fired. And US comic Gilbert Gottfried tried some 9/11 material at a Hugh Hefner event shortly after the attacks, saying he “had been delayed because he had a connecting flight at the Empire State Building”.

But both Brand and Gottfried tried their 9/11 shtick almost immediately after the event. What Carr’s experience suggests is that even a decade later, people aren’t ready. Perhaps this isn’t surprising: 66 years after World War II, the closest we’ve come to Holocaust humour is Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful”, and despite the fact that Benigni’s own father had spent three years in the Bergen-Belsen death camp, he still faced fire from critics.

There is, on the other hand, a proliferation of Hitler-targeted humour: from Monty Python to the ‘furry Führers’. So perhaps the key for anyone keen to get a laugh out of 9/11 is – in the fullness of time – to go after Osama rather than the attacks themselves. DM



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"The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology" ~ Edward Wilson