< Telling Jokes about September 11th

Transcript

Friday, September 09, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

That was comedian Will Ferrell.

Comedian Marc Maron was living in New York on 9/11, and he saw the towers go down. He realized there was no time like the present to make jokes. Marc, thanks for coming on.

MARC MARON:

Sure.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

At the time there was a lot of talk about the end of irony, and although it's easy to look back and say, ugh, how naive we were, did you suspect at the time that perhaps we were entering in a fundamentally unfunny era?

MARC MARON:

No, I - I never thought that. I knew it was only a matter of weeks before things got funny again, in the sense that, you know, comedy has always been used to defuse fear and, and horror and uncertainty. You – it doesn’t just go away, it becomes even more necessary.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Did you talk with other comedians about when it was too soon and when it was time?

MARC MARON:

The people I was hanging out with, we never thought about that. You know, let’s do it immediately. You know, we're in the trenches here. We were in New York City. We had to reckon with it.

 

I mean, there was a period there where you couldn't even go below 14th Street, really, unless you live there.

 

And as soon as comedy clubs started functioning again, we were out doing it. And, you know, they haven't found most of the bodies, you can still smell the thing burning. Are we gonna stand up on stage and act like it's not happening down the street? So we weren't afforded that time.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

But you said since then that the, the laughter just – strange, something you hadn’t encountered before.

MARC MARON:

Right, well that was because we were in these clubs - I remember it was the Comedy Cellar, I think, where I really started to do stand up again. And people were wandering in. It was almost as if they had no idea where to go with their feelings; they had no idea where to go with their anger and their pain and just the horror of it. I mean, at that time there were pictures of missing people all over New York. It was a, a collage of this horror. And people would wander in and they’d sit down, and I don't know that they knew even why they were there, other than to find something to distract them from what we were living in at that moment. And the laughter came quickly. You’d do jokes and it’d be like, aha-ah. There was terror in it. And then it would go away very quickly. I’ll just never forget that. You know, you’d drop a punchline, it’d be like ahhh, and then it would stop abruptly. And you realized that nothing I’m gonna say up here is gonna create any comfort that they’re gonna be able to walk out of this club with, that what they’re here for is a very intense need for relief in this moment, and that is the best we can do here. So the audiences at that time were something I'd never experienced before, and I'll never forget it.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Let’s play one of your earliest jokes post- 9/11. It’s essentially about pain.

MARC MARON:

Two, three months ago I was on the road, you know, and I’d be like, yeah, I live in New York. They’d be like, ohh, really?

[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]

I mean, New  York  City was like the girl  at the office who got raped.

[CONTINUED LAUGHTER]

People are like, oh, we heard, well, oh yeah. [LAUGHTER]

Is everything okay? You doin’ okay? All right, well we know. We just wanted to let you know that we saw it from – across the way, and there was nothing we could do.

[LAUGHTER]

We’re just glad you’re okay.

[LAUGHTER]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Can you take us back to the moment when you're writing that joke, what went through your mind?

MARC MARON:

Well, all you heard about was like, you know, a nation is coming together. You know, I even had family members who just wanted to flock to Ground Zero. It was almost a magnetic attraction to tragedy.But I thought that a lot of people were coming from the Midwest to rubberneck and that they were flocking here to sort of politicize this thing, to make it about religion and about nationalism and about everything else. I felt that there was an agenda to this gawking. And it just - it made me angry, and just that weird condescending, sympathetic tone of people approaching you when they hear you’re from New York. And it was just like, oh my God.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

The earliest, most stunning bit of 9/11 humor, so to speak, would have been the late September issue of The Onion, what's called the “Blanking - I'll just – we’ll bleep it.

 

What’s called the Holy [BLEEPS] Issue that showed the burning towers and featured such headlines as, “Real Life Resembles Bad Jerry Bruckheimer Movie.”

You had an interview with Todd Hanson, who was the lead writer of The Onion at the time. Let's play a little bit of that tape.

TODD HANSON:

The story that people always talked about, about that issue was not on the front page, which was God angrily clarifies Don't Kill Rule. And he was saying, look I've been saying this for thousands of years.

[MARC LAUGHS]

How much more can I explain it? You’re pissing me off now. Quit it.

MARC MORAN:

Yeah.

TODD HANSON:

You know?

MARC MORAN:

Yeah.

TODD HANSON:

And at the end of that story, you know, God actually – starts crying. And I was actually crying when I wrote that. I mean, it was – it was funny, cry, cry –

MARC MORAN:

Yeah.

TODD HANSON:

- more than funny, ha ha.

MARC MORAN:

Right.

TODD HANSON:

Normally, The Onion loves to be irreverent.

MARC MORAN:

Right.

TODD HANSON:

And we love to get hate mail. And we did get a lot of hate mail, right at the beginning of the day. But then throughout the day we started getting hundreds and hundreds more, eventually thousands of emails, and 90 percent of them were not only supportive, they were like – ecstatic. They were saying things like, God bless The Onion, you know.

 

MARC MORAN:

Right.

                TODD HANSON:

Thank you, The Onion.

MARC MORAN:

Right.

TODD HANSON:

Thank you for giving me the first laugh I’ve had in, you know, a week and a half.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

I mean, this was – so early after the event, and yet, they waded right into it. What was you reaction?

MARC MORAN:

That was the truth of how everybody was feeling. You know, outside of the pain of loss or the pain of uncertainty or the fear of uncertainty, that – that was the immediate feelings that everybody had. I think it enabled people to have a little bit of distance and get a little bit of a laugh, but I don’t think it really trivialized what happened.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Todd Hanson told you that he didn’t want to, quote, “question the establishment when the establishment lay in burning embers at our feet.” But there was a lot of subversive humor to follow.

 

One of them is the classic trope, “If I don’t blank, then the terrorists win.” And, and here we have David Cross doing one of those:

DAVID CROSS:

You just see all these guys, like you’d read this thing in the paper, you’d be in like Houston, Texas and be like – you know, we – seriously considered not doing our show –

[LAUGHTER]

- after the events of the 11th, and we had a meeting. We were like guys, should we do the show. And then we all said no, we shouldn’t.

And then I stood up and I said, unh-uhn, guys, no.

[LAUGHTER]

If Houston’s own Assaulted Nuts improve group-

[LAUGHTER]

- doesn’t perform, then the terrorists have truly won. And we were like yeah, that’s right! The Assaulted Nuts will perform!

[AUDIENCE CHEERS]

Like Osama bin Laden’s going, pleeze, tell me, Assaulted Nuts are not performing!

[LAUGHTER]

No! What must I do? What more must I do?

[LAUGHTER]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

[LAUGHS]  So there were a lot of jokes like that.

MARK MORAN:

Well, how people take ownership of that tragedy and how that tragedy is used for individual gain or political gain or even marketing gain was heinous.

 

And taking ownership for 9/11 or using it for cultural traction is definitely something that deserves to be satirized, and I think he did it in a very funny way.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Is there a ten-year 9/11 joke? Or is it just not relevant anymore?

MARC MORAN:

Well, if it's not relevant anymore it's because it's been beaten to death, one way or the other, through humor and through politics. That’s – that’s a good question. It's obviously relevant as something we all lived through.

 

I, I – it actually came up on stage the other night. I'd done a setup to a joke, where I say, I almost killed two people. And there’s no reason to laugh there, but some woman stage right just started laughing. I’m like, what’s wrong with you. I mean, there’s no joke there. Is it just funny, the idea that I almost kill people.

 

And somehow like I built on it to the point where I got the Holocaust involved. I said, is – is that funny to you? And then people were still laughing ‘cause I was sort of attacking this woman. And then when I said 9/11, it was like, whoa, whoa.

 

And so, I think it does still represent a tremendous pain in his country's cultural fabric.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Marc, thank you very much.

MARC MORAN:

You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Marc Maron is a comedian and host of the WTF with Marc Maron Podcast.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]