Comedy equals tragedy plus time

When it's OK to joke about 9/11, plus Pete Davidson, a date to be determined, and 7 other things worth your time.

My question today is when it’s OK to laugh.

On 9/11, 343 FDNY firefighters died, and one of them was Scott Davidson, 33, who had been with the department since 1994.

He and the others from Ladder 118 were last seen running up the stairway in the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel, which was right next to the towers.

Davidson had been born in Brooklyn, grew up on Staten Island, and had a reputation for being kind of a firehouse comedian. Someone later recalled the time they had an inspection from a really intimidating, humorless chief.

Davidson couldn’t help but make a joke. He put his arm around the boss, and said: “Chief, I don’t know why nobody likes you — you seem OK to me.”


Davidson left behind a daughter and a son: Casey, 4, and Pete, 7. Fast forward a decade and a half, and Pete, now 26, grew up to become a professional comedian, and a cast member on Saturday Night Live.

He’s also starring in an upcoming, fictionalized autobiographical movie, called The King of Staten Island, in which he plays the son of a firefighter who was killed (although not on 9/11).

Pete’s character has been in “arrested development” since his dad's death, and “spends his days smoking weed, hanging with the guys and hooking up with his childhood friend.”

(Here’s the trailer. If you can’t see this please enable images.)

The movie was supposed to be shown at South by Southwest, and then the Tribeca Film Festival, but given Covid-19, it’s going straight to video on demand on June 12.

Sad to pour yourself into an autobiographical movie like this, only to have it debut under these circumstances, don’t you think?

But, I think everything about Pete Davidson's career is “under these circumstances”—meaning that it’s mined from the depths of what happened to him after his father died.

He's been very open about his struggles, like in a 21st-century Instagram influencer way, including mental health issues and even suicidal thoughts.

There is also a sense that as a 9/11 victim, Davidson gets to decide (or maybe did decide a few years ago) when it was becoming OK to joke about that tragedy.

He’s not the only arbiter of course, but he’s one. The key examples everybody cites comes from a Comedy Central roast of Justin Bieber he did in 2014.

  • First, while making fun of Bieber's father: “I lost my dad on 9/11, and I always regretted growing up without a dad … until I met your dad, Justin.”

  • Next, making fun of Kevin Hart and Snoop Dogg, who starred in a box office bomb called Soul Plane: “Soul Plane was the worst experience of my life involving a plane.”

(Here's a link to the performance, but I'm warning you, it's pretty darn R-rated. Seriously, I’m warning.)


I was originally thinking about comedy today, due to the death of actor and comedian Jerry Stiller, 92—probably best known to a lot of people from his roles on Seinfeld and King of Queens.

I wrote a bit, in draft form, about how some comedians are managing to continue to perform during Covid-19 and all the quarantines.

Maybe we'll revisit that sometime.

But one thing I think we really need right now is laughter. Both the “if you can’t laugh now you’ll go crazy kind,” but also the kind we’ll enjoy someday in the future, when all this is so far in the past.

Comedy equals tragedy plus time, they say, and we’re pretty well stocked right now with both of those ingredients.

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7 other things worth your time

  • The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today, via telephone, over whether President Trump can stop Congress from subpoenaing his tax returns. Decisions area expected by the end of next month. (NBC News)

  • The cities best prepared to recover from Covid-19: San Jose, California; Durham, North Carolina; Austin, Texas; Seattle; and Minneapolis. (Yahoo Finance)

  • President Donald Trump abruptly ended a press briefing on coronavirus testing Monday after two short, heated exchanges with reporters.

  • A Colorado restaurant that defied orders and opened on Mother’s Day, resulting in scores of customers eating in close proximity to each other, has been shut down by the health department. (CBS Denver)

  • With J. Crew going bankrupt, what will men do for shirts now? (This is tongue-in-cheek, of course; J.Crew isn't disappearing; it's just going through Chapter 11). (Jezebel)

  • Redfin says now might be a pretty good time to buy a beach house, as Airbnb hosts are rushing to offload properties in vacation areas. (MarketWatch)

  • This is from the same photographer who did the Great Eclipse photo I’m so enamored of. He’s now camping off the grid in Arizona somewhere. (You’ll have to enable images if you can’t see this.) (Jon Carmichael)

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