Curtis Brown in Aeon:
No. There isn’t. It might be a bit more complicated than that but not much. I was about to write “child molestation” when I remembered the comic novel generally regarded as America’s greatest after Huck Finn(which, for its part, joked about slavery). “I am now faced with the distasteful task of recording a definite drop in Lolita’s morals,” says its narrator at one point, when his 12-year-old stepdaughter-cum-mistress demands a raise in her weekly allowance. “Laugh not, as you imagine me, on the very rack of joy noisily emitting dimes and quarters.”
Laugh not, indeed, for there is something dark at the heart of laughter. Like sex, it is impossible to morally zone and regulate, but we can’t stop trying. The most familiar law is that of the decent interval: “comedy equals tragedy plus time.” It’s sometimes attributed to Woody Allen, and it does actually feature in his tragicomic Crimes and Misdemeanors. What people forget is that he put it in the mouth of Lester, the TV producer and brother-in-law — superbly brought to life by Alan Alda — who is probably the single most fatuous ass in the entire Allen canon. Like everything else Lester says, “tragedy plus time” is smug, pernicious nonsense. Timing is everything in comedy. But whatever else it means, it doesn’t mean waiting around until the coast is clear.