tragedy plus time

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 18 22:50:33 UTC 2013

The culture editor at Slate asked me about the saying "comedy equals
tragedy plus time" which was discussed on this list in March 2011.
Many list members participated in that very fruitful discussion
thread. Barry Popik has an entry from June 2011.

The earliest instance I have found is in a February 1957 article by
the comedian and remarkable polymath Steve Allen:

[ref] 1957 February, Cosmopolitan, Volume 142, Steve Allen's Almanac
by Steve Allen, (This column was part of a series published between
1956 and 1957), Start Page 12, Hearst Corp., New York. (Great thanks
to the librarians at the Browne Popular Culture Library of Bowling
Green State University who provided scans of article text containing
the quotation from the "Steve Allen Collection")[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
When I explained to a friend recently that the subject matter of most
comedy is tragic (drunkenness, overweight, financial problems,
accidents, etc.) he said, "Do you mean to tell me that the dreadful
events of the day are a fit subject for humorous comment? The answer
is "No, but they will be pretty soon." Man jokes about the things that
depress him, but he usually waits till a certain amount of time has
passed. It must have been a tragedy when Judge Crater disappeared, but
everybody jokes about it now. I guess you can make a mathematical
formula out of it. Tragedy plus time equals comedy.
[End excerpt]


On Tue, Mar 15, 2011 at 12:48 PM, Jonathan Lighter
<wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      tragedy plus time
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> As Woody Allen famously put it, "Humor is tragedy plus time."
> According to somebody quoted without correction on CNN, it was Mark Twain
> who said it.
> JL
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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