Humor based on the September 11 attacks

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9/11 humor is black comedy or off-color humor that aims to make light of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. A number of scholars have studied the ways in which humor has been used to deal with the trauma of the event.[1][2][3]

Researcher Bill Ellis found jokes about the attacks from Americans the day afterwards, and Giselinde Kuipers found jokes on Dutch websites a day later.[4][5] Kuipers had collected around 850 online jokes about 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, and the Afghanistan war by 2005.[4] An infamous early public attempt at 9/11 humor was done by Gilbert Gottfried just a few weeks after the attacks. During a comedy roast for Hugh Hefner at the Friars Club his 9/11 gag didn't go over well with the crowd. Many audience members at the club yelled out "too soon," which has since become something of a meme for jokes told in the immediate wake of tragedies. Gottfried then improvised and performed "The Aristocrats" routine, which released a great deal of tension and got rousing applause from the crowd.[6][7]

In contrast to these early jokes about 9/11, late-night comedy shows and humorous publications did not appear for several weeks following the attacks.[4] The Onion, a satirical newspaper, cancelled the issue that had been scheduled to be released on September 11, 2001, and then returned to print with a special edition on September 26, 2001 which was devoted to the attacks. When the issue was released, the newspaper staff felt trepidation over making light of such a tragic event. "Everyone thought this would be our last issue in print," according to one staff writer. However, The Onion staff was quickly inundated with comments from readers, the vast majority of which were positive.[8]

One of the first 9/11 jokes made by a major American comedian in the UK was one told by Joan Rivers in London in 2002. The joke concerned the widows of fire fighters killed in the attacks, who Rivers said would be disappointed if their husbands had been found alive as they would be forced to return money they had received in compensation for their late spouses.[9] The joke received condemnation from Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters.[10]

In animation[edit]

In the Family Guy episode "Back to the Pilot", broadcast in November 2011, Brian and Stewie take a trip back in time during which Brian tips off his past self about 9/11 so that the old him can play hero and stop the terrorist attacks.[11] This causes George W. Bush not to be re-elected, meaning a Second Civil War starts that leads to nuclear attacks on the Eastern Seaboard. The Daily Mail reported on the episode, writing "Nothing is ever off limits for Family Guy and its creator Seth MacFarlane. No topic is taboo, not the Holocaust, not drunk driving and not even abortion, but last night's episode may finally have crossed the line."[11] A Time critic also wrote of the episode, "It sounds custom-made for a 'too soon' label, and it probably is. But avid Family Guy viewers live for "too soon" moments, no matter how sensitive the material."[12] Other news organizations, including Aly Semigran of Entertainment Weekly, also thought the show had gone too far with the reference.[13] Deadline also commented that it "squeaked past the Fox standards and practices department but is sure to raise as many eyebrows."[14]

However, perhaps reflecting how the acceptability to mainstream broadcasters of jokes referencing the 9/11 attacks has evolved only gradually, the DVD release of the earlier season five Family Guy episode "Meet the Quagmires", first broadcast in 2007, contained an extended scene which was removed from the episode as first broadcast. In the deleted scene, while traveling in time back to 1980s Quahog with Peter, Brian is confronted by the boyfriend of a woman he has been hitting on. In response to the boyfriend's challenge that he will fight Brian 'anywhere, any time', Brian invites the man to meet him "On top of the World Trade Center, September 11th 2001 at 8am", to which the boyfriend replies "I will be there pal. You think I'll forget, but I won't!".[15] Additionally, the season seven episode "Baby Not On Board" features a scene in which the Griffin family visits Ground Zero, which Peter erroneously believes is "where the first guy got AIDS."[16]

To improve the chance of an Oscar award, a 9/11 joke was cut from Jean Dujardin's 2012 comedy film The Players. The deleted scene featured a man seducing a woman in a New York apartment while an aircraft crashes into the World Trade Center in the background.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brottman, Mikita (12 February 2012). What's So Funny About 9/11?, The Chronicle of Higher Education
  2. ^ Ellis, Bill (6 June 2002). Making a Big Apple Crumble: The Role of Humor in Constructing a Global Response to Disaster, New Directions in Folklore
  3. ^ Lewis, Paul. [Cracking Up: American Humor in a Time of Conflict] (2006)
  4. ^ a b c Kuipers, Giselinde (March 2005). ""Where Was King Kong When We Needed Him?" Public Discourse, Digital Disaster Jokes, and the Functions of Laughter after 9/11". The Journal of American Culture (Wiley) 28 (1): 70–84. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.2005.00155.x. 
  5. ^ Ellis, Bill (October 2001). "A Model for Collecting and Interpreting World Trade Center Disaster Jokes". New Directions in Folklore (NewFolk) (5). 
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ Holt, Jim (27 August 2011). The Encyclopedia of 9/11: Humor, New York (magazine)
  8. ^ Stableford, Dylan (25 Aug 2011). "Remembering The Onion’s 9/11 issue: ‘Everyone thought this would be our last issue in print’". The Cutline (Yahoo News). Retrieved 17 May 2012. 
  9. ^ "Joan Rivers Jokes About 9/11 Victims". IMDb. 2002-05-01. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  10. ^ "IAFF Rebuts Joan Rivers Humor on 9-11". International Association of Fire Fighters. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  11. ^ a b "Family Guy causes outrage as characters high-five in celebration of September 11 atrocities". London: Daily Mail. 2011-11-14. Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  12. ^ Pous, Terri (2011-11-14). "Did Family Guy's 9/11 Satire Go Too Far for a Laugh?". Time. Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  13. ^ Semigran, Aly (2011-11-14). "'Family Guy' 9/11 gag: Did they finally go too far this time?". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  14. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (2011-11-14). "'Family Guy' On 9/11 Attack: "Let It Happen"". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  15. ^, Family Guy: Meet the Quagmires (2007), Quotes. Retrieved 2013-07-17
  16. ^
  17. ^ Oscars (2012-03-01). "9/11 joke in Jean Dujardin film 'cut so he could win Oscar for The Artist'". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-06-10.