This year, it will have been 20 years since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. A recent documentary concentrates on when and how people laughed again. 

We hear from the comics who were getting their start in New York City. A new cast member of Saturday Night Live, another’s one-man show was going to open. Rehearsals take place on September 10th, drinks, laughter, full of hope. Then it all changed. 

 Tragedy + Time = Comedy

After the attacks, the city, the whole country, felt on hold, trying to process what happened. But this documentary is about show-business, and it had to go on. The Producers went back on Broadway and they remember how it took a while but people started to laugh again, welcoming the distraction. 

I spoke with co-director, Nick Fituri Scown over Zoom asking him, why this documentary was about this particular event? He explained that he had visited  New York in 2001 for film school. When he saw The Onion 9/11 piece, it was the first time he laughed since the attacks. With his co-director, Julie Seabaugh, they decided they wanted to hear from the entertainers that made it possible for people to laugh again. 

“Comedy really has this power that we sometimes take for granted.” 

Nick Fituri Scown, Co-Director

They wanted to give thanks to the comedy writers and stand-ups that worked hard after the attacks. From the people behind The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live to comedy clubs, we hear that they knew there was more than just dick and fart jokes. They saw a need to laugh again despite so much uncertainty. They wanted people to think and how is a better way than to first make them laugh? 

The documentary also shows how performers and audience members would go too far. Comics who made jokes about punching cab drivers were called out.  The misogyny against female comic Janeane Garofalo went on Fox News to speak against the war. The Middle Eastern comics constantly felt like they would be attacked just because they had a different name and look. 

The filmmakers

My family is from Iran, we are fans of Maz Jobrani who hilariously spoke about trying to make Americans feel safer around him. “We are Persians, like the cat, meow,” is from one of his stand-ups that I often quote. The scapegoating, misplace hatred and quick, naive actions are a real threat. Comics represented that we are all humans, trying to survive. 

First responders who were also comedians like Cris Italia shared that comedy saved their lives. Marc Maron points out that a way to take the power out of a tragedy is by making a joke out of it. 

Some jokes work, some flop, some are too soon, pun intended. The documentary looks at all of these. Scown and I also spoke about the odd timing of the war on Afghanistan with the release of his documentary. It wasn’t their intention but it reminds us that we are still reeling from the terrorist attacks.

I highly recommend the documentary, I laughed, I teared up from the memories of that day, and I appreciated showing the different perspectives. 

It is premiering on Vice TV on Sep 8th with a few special screenings on September 11th. Learn more on their website:

Watch the trailer here: