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Tragedy plus time equals comedy, or why you shouldn’t trust Wikiquote

Funny VikingWarning: while this post may be about comedy, don’t expect it to be comic.

I would consider the quote “comedy is tragedy plus time” an old saw, but it’s still an interesting idea. Could every tragedy become funny, given enough time? The British comedian David Mitchell seems to think so. (I’ll link to his video rant, which tries to explain why Vikings raping and pillaging in the Dark Ages is funny, but the Soviet takeover of Berlin in 1945 isn’t yet, below.)

The quote should really be, tragedy plus time allows comedy. Depending on how you portray events, you can still achieve either a laugh or tears, and sometimes both. That’s what art is all about, right? But can you imagine taking a scene say, Schindler’s List, and turning that into a rip-roaring farce? Wait, no! Don’t even try to imagine it, because, as they say in another cliché: “it’s too soon. ” You can make jokes about Nazis (not much fun in Stalingrad), but please, no jokes about their atrocities. Personally, genocide strikes me as one of those events that is impossible to turn into comedy, no matter how long ago it happened. (But perhaps I’m not really trying. Maybe there is some good humor to be had in the Church’s elimination of the Cathars, for example.)

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