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Zeit: Perspective

What is funny now?

We asked comedian Barry Friedman, a regular contributor to Desert Companion, about satire in a post-Charlie Hebdo world:

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Following 9/11, Gilbert Gottfried said, “I have to leave early tonight, I have to fly out to L.A. I couldn’t get a direct flight, I have to make a stop at the Empire State Building.” Comedians can be tone-deaf, callow, astonishingly ill-timed in their material.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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“Is nothing sacred?” Christopher Hitchens once asked. “No,” he answered.

Si seulement. If only.

In the days after the Jan. 7 attack, it was heartening to see millions take to the Paris streets to support writers, artists, comedians and cartoonists. Culture, civility, expression, life, the protesters seemed to say, are more important than a fanatical adherence to faith.

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Which leads me to a joke about a concentration camp.

An elderly couple decides to pay their respects at Auschwitz, so they fly to Poland to take a tour of the infamous camp. That morning, though, they have a terrible argument. Throughout the day — the barracks, town, railroad depot, the gas chambers themselves — they don’t speak. On the way back to the hotel, the woman, moved by her experience, says, “Honey, about our fight this morning, I’m sorry.”

“NOW you’re sorry,” he says “You ruined Auschwitz for me!”

This is not a joke about the Holocaust, not really, but about resiliency, survival. When I tell it — in Vegas, at parties, Passover Seders — it is always the Jews who laugh first and loudest.

“What’s the secret to comedy?”

“Timing!”

There will be jokes about Charlie Hebdo someday. And that will be good.