< Telling Jokes After September 11th

Transcript

Friday, September 09, 2011

BOB GARFIELD:

This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

And I'm Brooke Gladstone. After the attacks nothing really seemed funny. David Letterman’s monologue from his first show after 9/11 perfectly captured how many comedians were feeling.

[CLIP]:

DAVID LETTERMAN

You can feel it, you can see it. It’s terribly sad, terribly, terribly sad. And watching all of this, I wasn’t sure that I should be doing a television show, because for, for 20 years we’ve been in, in the city, making fun of everything, making fun of the city…to come to this circumstance that is so desperately sad, I – and I don’t trust my judgment in, in matters - like this

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

That week I hosted a calling show with then Saturday Night Live’s Will Ferrell. Ferrell was most famous at the time for his savage impersonations President Bush on Saturday Night Live.

[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE]

WILL FERRELL:

So what’s my secret? I don’t know! Mostly good genes, I guess.

[LAUGHTER]

And plenty of sleep. Fourteen hours a night.

[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]

Every night – no if’s, and’s or but’s.

[LAUGHTER]

Also, keeping a moderate work schedule and taking frequent cat naps.

[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

We decided to rerun that conversation with Will Ferrell this week, who told me that back then the writers’ room at Saturday Night Live was filled with people who, like Letterman, no longer trusted their judgment.

WILL FERRELL:

Yeah, the one place you'd think maybe there would be some tasteless jokes we, we were - we weren't comin’ up with them, yeah, yeah.

[OVERTALK]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

So what happened? Did you set some ground rules? Did you say okay, first off, no Bush jokes?

WILL FERRELL:

Well I think the political and topical humor that we're usually known for, we're - we're gonna have to kinda keep our foot off the gas pedal for a while. I guess we'll be making fun of celebrities. You can always do that, right? Yeah, mm-hmm [AFFIRMATIVE]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

That's fair game.

WILL FERRELL:

Right.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

The fact is that nobody really seems to care about celebrities right now.

WILL FERRELL:

[LAUGHS] Yeah.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

It’s - this is the time of the genuine working class hero.

WILL FERRELL:

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it may be - for those of us in humor our one salvation to still be able to tell, I don't know, the cast of Friends type jokes.

 

We're, we're beginning to enter a new era for so many different things, including comedy, you know. And watching David Letterman last night who is - he even said it himself, he's based his whole thing on making fun of, of things and people, especially in New York, and it’s just not appropriate right now, yeah.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

So I mean, where is comedy in this country and especially in this city and on Saturday Night Live, if irony is suddenly off limits?

WILL FERRELL:

Yeah, I - I'm, I'm, I'm not quite sure. I, I don't know if - if we're going – gonna be going back to literally the, the days of vaudeville and we're just gonna be doing slapstick and s - you know, slipping on banana peels on stage.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

But who's gonna laugh at that?
                     WILL FERRELL:

Probably no one but  [LAUGHS] - but we'll be trying - I don't know. I don't know, and - and who knows if anyone will be laughing at anything, so –

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

How will you know it's time to get back and make fun of stuff again?

WILL FERRELL:

I, I guess by baby steps you've already sensed that there's a slight return to normalcy here in the city –

[OVERTALK]

- you know?

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Well David Letterman did make fun of Regis Philbin.

WILL FERRELL:

Yeah, right, so that’s –

 

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

That – that’s what you'd call a, a baby step.

WILL FERRELL:

Right. And [LAUGHS] if every two weeks there's another horrible news story, you're not gonna - you're still not gonna want to yuck it up, so –

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

I'd like to bring in Deborah now, in Manville, New Jersey. Thank you very much for coming on.

DEBORAH MANVILLE:

Mm-hmm. Oh, thank you for the program. I really felt very compelled to call. I - I find that we really and truly do need some humor right now. I believe in laughter as part of the healing process.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

If Will Ferrell went into his famous George Bush imitation, could you still find it funny?

[OVERLAP/TWO SPEAK AT ONCE]

DEBORAH MANVILLE:

Right. No, no, I don't think so.

[WILL LAUGHS]

And, and as Will was saying. you know, it's, it's tough!

WILL FERRELL:

Yeah.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

So you want to laugh but you don't know what you can laugh at right now.

DEBORAH MANVILLE:

True. Very, very true.

WILL FERRELL:

Yeah, well I, I think the humor'll go back to more just observational humor about just quirky things in life and, and - and silly characters that, that aren't based in reality at all.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

So you see the resurgence of Shecky Greene?

WILL FERRELL:

Yeah [LAUGHS] - maybe just a lot of knock-knock jokes.

[BROOKE LAUGHS]

WILL FERRELL AS GEORGE W. BUSH:

Hello, America, it’s me, George W., your president. And in a few weeks I won’t be able to say that. I know, it’s sad. But change is necessary. Without change we’d all wear the same clothes every day and only watch the movie Tango and Cash.

 

So I'm leaving the White House to go tear Dallas a new party hole. But don't worry. The Tiger Woods guy is takin’ over. He seems to know a lot of stuff, but here’s the thing…

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

That was comedian Will Ferrell.