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Irony In The Post-9/11 Age: Comedy And Tragedy As 'Very Strange Roommates'

Saturday on Weekend Edition, Neda Ulaby looks at the issue of irony in the 10 years since the Sept. 11 attacks.

From David Letterman to Saturday Night Live to Jon Stewart, she traces the ways in which comedy has continued to collide with tragedy, perhaps even more than it did before. And she speaks to comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who took a particular public thrashing over jokes he made right after the events of 10 years ago — and over jokes in the wake of this year's Japan tsunami. (Not for nothing does Neda describe him as nothing less than "The King Of Too Soon.")

It's a distinction Gottfried embraces, saying that comedy and tragedy have always been closely linked. In fact, he says, "There's that old saying, tragedy plus time equals comedy. And I always say, like, why wait?"

Viveca Greene, a professor who's studied humor after Sept. 11, tells Neda that certain turning points, like Rudy Giuliani's appearance on SNL, made the process of comedy's recovery especially interesting to watch — like a comedy show asking a mayor's permission to go back to being funny.

Neda also visits with an artist whose candy-colored Sept. 11 images define a different aesthetic altogether: a notion of post-irony that is, as Neda says, about "embracing what's genuine, in a sort of weirdly self-conscious way."

It's an interesting tour through some of the challenges that comedy has faced in the last 10 years, since the death of irony was widely declared — and through the many different ways that professionally funny people have found to meet those challenges.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


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