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Across borders and boundaries, race and ethnicity humans share the ability to communicate through laughter. And though the conditions that elicit a giggle are culturally distinct the emotional catharsis is universal. The chuckle is our ubiquitous way of expressing 'it's OK', 'crisis averted', 'all is well'. It is a signal of relief that a looming crisis has failed and a nonverbal way of relating safety. So in 2001 when the security so many Americans enjoyed fell with the World Trade Center towers no one was laughing. The crisis had not been averted. The thought that the countries leadership had become lax or arrogant with safeguarding that security was not 'OK'. All was not well. Americans became afraid and got serious.

In 2002 ABC did not renew Bill Maher's contract for Politically Incorrect for comments made shortly after the 9/11 attacks. “We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from two thousand miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly . . .” (Politically). Other talk show hosts were taking that time to be apologetic. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno began it's first show following the attacks with a still image of an American flag (Tonight). John Steward fought off tears during a grief filled speech that opened the next Daily Show. He thanked the country for allowing comedians the privilege “ . . . to sit in the back and lob spit balls . . .” (Daily). David Letterman spent the first five minutes of his September 17th show lamenting the loss of life, appreciating New York firefighters and police and expressing his respect for the guidance of New York's mayor Rudy Giuliana (Late).

Comedians were in unfamiliar territory. Networks were unsure of what kind of entertainment consumers wanted (Ashby). Their careers relied on the ability to push limits, to ridicule authority or point out absurdity. After 9/11 the country was united behind the source of most of their material, President Bush rose to a 90% approval rating (Presidential). The risk of offending the audience was higher than before and joke's that ignored recent events were out of touch. Three weeks later Gilbert Gottfried at the Friar's Club Roast of Hugh Hefner made a 9/11 joke. Near the end of his act, he bemoaned the difficulty in finding a direct flight home from the roast, saying “. . . they have to stop at the the Empire State Building first.” The audience booed and one member shouted out “too soon”. Disregarding their reaction, Gottfried moved on to his version of The Aristocrats and had members of the audience roaring and falling out of their seats, doubled over with laughter (Friar's). Though his flight joke bombed, by following up with another that was exceptionally tasteless, offensive, hilarious and timeless he made the point that eventually 9/11 and comedy could coexist, that all jokes carry the risk of offending someone.

Then the inevitable happened. Government began screwing up. President Bush started with calling out the rest of the world saying, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” In October the USA Patriot Act was signed into law allowing government to wiretap American citizens. Secret prisons were created to interrogate and detain people indefinitely. Iraq is invaded, liberated and occupied over years with no evidence surfacing that Americans were assured existed to justify the invasion. President Bush kept giving speeches riddled with gaffes and made up words. The enemies our government claimed were responsible for the attacks remained at large and the cost of war took it's toll on the economy. Vice President Cheney shot his friend in the face. The increase in Internet media sources lead to increased government scrutiny, increasing the countries awareness of the shortcomings of bureaucracy. American anger turned into American frustration and as approval ratings dropped politic humor rose.

Comedy Central's Daily Show made caricature's of political stereotypes and presented John Stewart as the logical, down-to-Earth everyman poking holes in government rhetoric. Stephen Colbert satirized conservative culture so well he was invited to speak at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. For 24 minutes Colbert roasted President Bush and the modern day aristocrats in attendance. Similarly, John Stewart was invited to CNN's debate show Crossfire. Thought Stewart did not show up in character. Instead, he accused the hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson of being partisan hacks apart of the political strategy of both democrats and republicans. He implored them to stop, that it was hurting the America (Crossfire). Stewart was suggesting they were out of touch and hurt the 'authentic' Americans, the working poor, who do not enjoy the status of a politician or television celebrity (Hall). Stewart won the support of the Crossfire audience and received cheers and applause. John was doing more than making a statement, he was being a voice.

Comedy in American has not changed in the last decade so much as it has shifted perspective. The nature of a joke is still the same. Americans have changed what they look for in a comedian. The September 11th attacks put a lot of fear into the country. And when you're afraid you want want to know someone is looking out for you. Government proved itself incapable. Comedians just kept doing what they had always been doing, representing the absurdity in tragedy. And 9/11 is a tragedy H


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