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Jewish World Review March 25, 2003 / 21 Adar II 5763

Steve Young

Steve Young
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Should we be funny during war?


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | D'ja hear the one about the planes that hit the Towers? I hope not.

I am a comedy writer by trade, though many of you have written me in the past with some legitimate challenges to that fact.

As a satirical writer commenting on the issues of the day, I must make daily judgments as to what subjects make acceptable subjects which will actually make audiences and readers laugh. Since comedy is so subjective with the public having a diverse composition of funny bone, the judgment must always be mine. Sometimes I judge wrong. In comedy there is a collective and unwritten law that "nothing is out of bounds." Even cancer has found their way into standup and film as grist for the comedy mill. I have heard many with terminal disease, joking about that particular devil.

But there was one such event that slowed, nay silenced, the humor machine: 9/11. At the time I wrote an article ("The Humor Will Return. Just Not Yet" http://www.wga.org/WrittenBy/0900/humor.html), pointing out that as Leno, Letterman and most any other who make their money on the backs of laughter at the day's events, not only held off with the jokes, they canceled their shows all together. The Emmys were postponed - twice.

That made perfect sense. There was an invasion. For all intent and purpose, we were at war. And for Heaven's sake, Americans had died and American lives continued to be in jeopardy.

This past week, a year and a half after that abomination, what has changed? Nothing, except the location. There was an invasion. We are at war. And for Heaven's sake, Americans have died and American lives continue to be in jeopardy. Why is it that when we are so personally attacked, as on 9/11/01, we find no room for the humor? But when we do the attacking, there's no evidence of late night shows canceled, no award shows postponed, no monologues negated. In fact, the war in Iraq continues to be a rich source for material.

What is the difference? As they say in advertising: Location. Location. Location.

The war is thousands of miles away. Even with the 24/7 of cable news, the actual distance of the action from our own shores seems to provide a cushion from pain. A cushion from an affront so personal we can't stomach wit.

Now, I'm certainly not saying that there should be no comedy or entertainment during wartime. We need it at those times more than ever. Norman Cousins wrote well of laughter's rehabilitative powers ( "Anatomy Of An Illness" ) during his bout with cancer. Former TV Executive, Sherry Hilber, helped create Rx Laughter (www.rxlaughter.org), a nonprofit project that studies laughter's benefits for severely sick children and their families at the UCLA School of Medicine

What I am questioning is the American psyche. The part of us where judgement lives. Why isn't the pain and suffering as real when it takes place there. I don't have the answer. And I'm not saying that we should stop the humor now I'm just asking.

And quite frankly, I need the job.



JWR contributor Steve Young, Prism Award winner and Humanitas Prize nominee for his television writing, is contributing editor at the Writers Guild of America's "Written By" magazine. He is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful: Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Stepping Stones to Success," "The 130 Tales of Winchell Mink," Harper Collins (Winter, 2003) and the director/writer of "My Dinner With Ovitz." His website is www.greatfailure.com. Comment by clicking here.

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02/28/03: Celebrities for war
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02/18/03: The Sting, Part II: Osama turns himself in
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01/23/03: Can we really blame HBO for terrorism?
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01/02/03: A look back at a sorry but pretty funny year
12/30/02: Using 2002ís failures to make a successful 2003
12/20/02: McCartney Credit Reverse Sets A Dangerous Precedent
12/18/02: Radio talk takes a surprise hit
12/16/02: Apologies running rampant: The country is in a sorry state
12/13/02: Lott apologizes for his apologies
12/09/02: FDA OKAYS "SOLARIS" FOR TREATMENT OF SLEEP APNEA
11/26/02: Finding the McTunity within their McFailure
11/15/02: Can the Dems learn from Lincoln's failures?
11/06/02: The Day After... who'll comfort me now?
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10/29/02: Was I totally responsible for the market's upsurge?
10/09/02: Finding The Bull Within: Wall Street Needs To Rethink The "F" Word
10/01/02: Merriam-Webster Needs To Rethink the "F" word
09/25/02: Held up in the passing lane ... and life's other positive curve balls
09/23/02: Shrinking the waist problem: Using Good Old American Failure To Lose Inches
09/17/02: Earth to Florida: No more elections
09/11/02: The humor will return. Just not yet
09/09/02: Bush coalition on fast track
08/30/02: N'Sync's Bass gets NASA okay: Former astronauts Gagarin and Glenn form boy band
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07/23/02: Is Wall Street the enemy? No, but that's where the enemy hides
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06/27/02: Apocalypse now!?
06/14/02: Coulter for the defense?
05/21/02: SUICIDE BOMBER KILLS SELF! NO ONE ELSE INJURED! Inept bomber is refused entrance into Paradise. 72 Virgins breathe sigh of relief
05/19/02: Hey world! How about trying the shoe on the other foot hypotheses
05/13/02: AM Radio and Enron
05/03/02: "Deep Throat" to Be Revealed ... But will America Swallow It!?
04/29/02: Britney Spears next in line to blast off into orbit
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04/15/02: If you truly care about America, you'll read this column
04/01/02: My Uncle Miltie
03/27/02: The Fightin' Righties
03/20/02: Woody Allen refuses to cast self...
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02/19/02: Greenspan Announces Lower (Television Network) Interest Rates
02/15/02: Ken Lay sells soul to the devil: Beelzebub loses life's savings
02/12/02: Enron's Skilling mistakenly takes the Fourth, forcing him to spill his guts
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12/20/01: Finally! Friends of Color
12/14/01: Bin Laden's Funniest Home Videos
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11/05/01: Bridges Over Troubled Water
10/29/01: The other terrorists
10/16/01: Diary Of A Young Defense Department Comedy Writer
10/01/01: Playlands, burgers, and family sanity
09/25/01: Dissent is walking on red, white and blue egg shells
09/21/01: OPEN LETTER THE MOST HIGH (RE: Falwell and Robertson comments)
09/17/01: Gary, we miss ya
09/10/01: Smelling out a real hero
09/04/01: Don't give up on that dream!
08/24/01: Pitch day at the Mouse
08/21/01: It Depends On What Your Definition Of "Unlimited" Is
08/06/01: IN OPEN LETTER FROM THE NEWS ORGANIZATIONS AND TALK SHOWS OF AMERICA

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© 2002, Steve Young