“Too Soon?” (part 1 of 3)

“Too Soon?”

For 3 months during mid-2015, Darren Criss memorably played the titular role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway… a 3-month measure of quality over quantity (given that the horrid Spider-Man musical, which I never saw, had finally closed down in 2014, and had gone through 6 months of previews before it even “opened”).

Near the end of the first half of the show, Hedwig ends up with a sheet of music stuck to her foot and laments to Yitzhak – “what, we cannot clean the theater up before we do a show? If I wanted to see a mess on a Broadway stage, I would have seen Spider-Man.”

Audience groan-laughs.

Hedwig looks out into the crowd and asks “Too soon?”

Naturally, the show that gets mentioned changes over time to keep it current.

The phrase “too soon?” is used to respond to someone making a comment that was intended to be funny, but touches on subject matter that perhaps should not be joked about, usually because it was a recent event.

It is hard to track down a true origin, but Gilbert Gottfried’s joke about 9/11, that he told at a Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner mere weeks after the attack, is said to have kicked off the modern age of “too soon.”

His joke: “I have to leave early tonight, I have a flight to California. I can’t get a direct flight — they said I have to stop at the Empire State Building first.”

Gottfried says “I don’t think anyone’s lost an audience bigger than I did at that point. They were booing and hissing. One guy said Too soon! He was just a face in the crowd, but now I wish I knew who it was, because his comment became part of the language.”

“Too soon,” Gottfried continues. “I had never heard that before. I knew there were times where people wait to make jokes about something, but I always thought that concept was ridiculous. Is there an office with a guy behind a desk who decides when it’s not too soon anymore?”

A 2014 paper in Social Psychological and Personality Science (studying the use of humor after a bad hurricane) found there was a peak moment to joke about a tragic event – 36 days later. After that, the “funniness” of the joke wears thin, and is seen as merely, well, meh.

“We find that temporal distance creates a comedic sweet spot,” says professor Peter McGraw. “A tragic event is difficult to joke about at first, but the passage of time initially increases humor as the event becomes less threatening. Eventually, however, distance decreases humor by making the event seem completely benign.”

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