Conflicted on 9/11 jokes: How soon is too soon?

Gilbert Gottfried delivered his now-infamous 9/11 joke on Sept. 29, 2001. “The towers were still smoldering, but there was a ray of hope in the laughter,” fellow comedian Jeffrey Ross remembered. “The terrorists hadn’t won.”

When is it OK to joke about 9/11, if ever? New York’s professional comics are conflicted.

“There are now 900 and 11 jokes about 9/11,” joked Jeffrey Ross, the Roastmaster General on Comedy Central, who also happens to be a Greenwich Village resident.

But in the weeks after 9/11, no one was laughing.

“Everything came to a halt,” remembered Caroline Hirsch, owner of eponymous Midtown club “Caroline’s,” which closed for weeks after the attacks.

One venue, however, was open for business by September 13, 2001 — the Upright Citizens Brigade improv troupe.

“Everyone was shell-shocked, traumatized — including me,” said Astoria resident John Frusciante , 33, who performs at the theater. But, performing in the days right after the attacks, “wound up being very cathartic for the performers and the audience,” he remembered.

But for some comedians, 9/11 is strictly off-limits.

“I think it’s cheap,” said Nate Dern, 26, of Williamsburg, who also performs at the Upright Citizens Brigade. “I don’t approve of it as a person or a comedian.”

For many comedians, September 11, 2001 marked a turning point in comedy; when would the mourning end and the jokes begin?

“Making a joke about 9/11 might be the first patriotic thing I’ve ever done,” said Ross, 45. “I’ve had these rights, like freedom of speech, that I took for granted.”

Ross was awakened by ambulances the morning of September 11th.  

“We thought there wouldn’t be any more comedy,” Ross said. “We thought, ‘Are we out of business?’”

He says he uses humor to get back at the terrorists that took down the towers.

“We can’t get revenge against the hijackers,” Ross said. “Ridicule is the only revenge.”


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