By Laurie Coker
When is too soon, after a tragedy – to move on, to forgive, to laugh? ‘Too Soon: Comedy After 9/11’ answers the question of when it is too soon to be situationally funny. The nation and the world witnessed the horrific events of the terror attack on the United States, and twenty years later, we are still grappling with the reality of the aftermath. Documentarians Nick Scown and Julie Seabaugh delve into the weeks, months, and even years that followed the events and the issues that faced comedians, talk show hosts, and Broadway stars as they ventured back to their respective stages to bring laughter – including tiptoeing around the tragic elephant in the room.
Performers, many based in New York City, including Janeane Garofalo, John Stewart, Matthew Broderick, Rob Riggle, Aasif Mandvi, David Cross, and many others, talk about the period following 9/11 and the difficulties with finding a balance between appropriate and too far. The directors offer a close look at the lives of people in the entertainment industry and their experiences treading, not always lightly, through the unfamiliar waters. Some make career-crushing mistakes, while others heal along with those they make laugh. Garofalo endured death threats, and Gilbert Gottfried dove in headfirst without looking back.
Recounted mainly by American comedians, ‘Too Soon’ reflects their struggles and efforts to confront the pain and suffering felt by fellow New Yorkers and the rest of the country as time marched on. In addition to the comedians who dared to make jests amidst the anger and hurt about the attacks, some comics, like Mandvi, had to deal with islamophobia, the political climate and questions came in as to the patriotism of those performers who dared make jokes in a time where America wanted action. Muslim comedians slowly strode into the limelight and told jokes from their viewpoint, which helped the healing process and changed minds about the face of evil.
9/11 is a notably touchy subject, even today, and comedians make their livings facing serious matters with humor – personal and public. In this case, the very idea of joking about the death of so many seems ludicrous, but in the face of fear, laughter can promote healing. Some will still find it too soon, but others have realized the horror and needed a release. ‘Too Soon: Comedy After 9/11’ gives a unique perspective to the period following that fateful day. It earns an A- in my grade book.