Horace Walpole, who said that "life is a comedy to the man who thinks and a tragedy to the man who feels," could not know how his words would echo in the waning days of 2001.
The jarring events of the past few months have left most Americans hungry for some sort of release -- and while many feel uneasy finding any comedy amid all the tragedy, others have found affirmation in laughing out loud with a crowd.
Which is why, not long after September 11, audiences gathered at the Comedy Works to watch stand-up funnyman Jake Johannsen grapple with concepts so serious they were overwhelming people around the country. Jake's take? He had his flag, and he was prepared to use it. Likewise, the house was packed for headliner Jeff Cesario at a recent gig. Cesario wasn't afraid of firing verbal barbs at newly august President George Bush, who'd just pledged to "smoke 'em out." Sounded like the country was on some massive coyote hunt, Cesario observed.
On New Year's Eve, it could be especially comforting to join in a collective belly laugh -- and the Comedy Works in Larimer Square has the stomach for it. Over the past twenty years, through times good and bad, the club has hosted New Year's shows. And while the means of attaining those yuks has fluctuated, the result is the same: laughter.
One year, Kevin Meaney raced onto Larimer Street with a remote TV camera, staging guerrilla interviews with startled drivers on topics ranging from the color of their slacks to whether they believed in an afterlife. On other eves, Jay Leno, Louie Anderson and someone named Roseanne, who lived in a trailer in Commerce City, played the guffaw grotto.
Even though all of those comedians had less tragedy to balance with their comedy, there are still lots of ways for today's comics to attack the funnybone.
That's the theory of Christopher "Kid" Reid, who made his mark in the 1990 comedy House Party.Reid will hold the Comedy Works stage on this New Year's Eve alongside his HBO Def Comedy Jam pal Billy D. Rapper Kid, at 37 no longer a youngster (he parted ways with his rocket-haired style a decade ago), says now is the time to blend musical improv with jokes, a tactic that puts him in harmony with America's rediscovered patriotism.
"I was in a club in Texas weeks after the tragedy, and people were dying to laugh," he remembers. "They were laughing before you even got out the punchline."
Not that he plans to wrap himself in the flag.
"People know me from TV and film, so the comedy they get is from the Kid perspective," Reid says. "But I also talk about things that are going on around me."
As a veteran entertainer, he knows he can't dance around the really big things, either, like the September 11 attacks. "It was so profound, you have to acknowledge it," Reid says. "So I try to talk about things you shouldn't do, like why it doesn't make sense to go into the local 7-Eleven and harass the owner." And that's because a Middle Eastern person would be as American as the next person, complete with a "Tommy Hilfiger turban."
Comic Billy D. -- a former policeman -- will continue to close his act with a patriotic song, maybe even the national anthem. And while his shtick hasn't changed over the past few months, he says audiences have.
"It used to seem corny, but now people are with it," Billy points out. "There are cynics out there, but most people don't feel that way."
While this New Year's Eve show will stretch to embrace elements more common to cozy old vaudeville than acerbic 1980s standup -- including music and stagecraft -- both performers recognize a simple truth.
"People want to laugh," Reid says. "And if you can't laugh on New Year's, when can you?"