It was Steve Allen who first suggested the following equation: Comedy is tragedy plus time. Or maybe it was Lenny Bruce. Or Carol Burnett. Or Woody Allen. Or Mark Twain. Regardless who came up with the concept initially, it would explain my reticence for making light of the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Any and all attempts at humor fall flat in the face of what has become a national tragedy. Rather than promoting any sort of understanding or peaceful response to what is becoming a far-too-predictable series of events, the reactions on all sides have been just as shameful as the past confrontations brought on by initial confrontations.
I should state here and now that I have no firm beliefs or convictions about exactly what happened on that August afternoon in a suburb of St. Louis. A Grand Jury was asked to determine, based on mountains of evidence and hundreds of eyewitness accounts, and they couldn't come up with anything. Or they chose not to come up with anything. What this meant, for the months prior to the Grand Jury's lack of decision, was that the accused officer, Darren Wilson, remained on paid administrative leave while the whole ugly mess was taken apart and put back together dozens of times by a steady stream of pundits, prosecutors, and experts who gave their opinions from just outside the closed doors where the actual deliberations were taking place. Meanwhile, in Texas, a high school teacher was fired for her angry rants about the situation on Twitter. The months that have passed have not made this funny. Not funny "ha ha," anyway.
And so we wait. Will there ever be anything funny about the death of Michael Brown? Is there anything amusing about a town being torn apart? Is there laughter to be found anywhere, on the outskirts of town? In the midst of the broken glass and spent tear gas canisters? My son and I watched the footage of a Little Caesar's Pizza restaurant being burned to the ground in Ferguson, and we made lame attempts to make a joke out of what we were seeing. What we were doing was "gallows humor," the kind of jest that occurs when the only way to make sense of that uncomfortable situation is to say something completely inappropriate. We couldn't make it funny. We couldn't make it right.
That will take time. Lots of time.