Who was the first to say that "tragedy plus time equals comedy?" It could have been anyone - Steve Allen, opens a new window,* Mark Twain, opens a new window,* Groucho Marx, opens a new window?* We looked at our books of quotations and found this saying attributed to Carol Burnett, opens a new window,* who said that she heard it from her mother. According to that entry, it is indeed considered a 'frequent saying.' (“Humour.” Oxford Treasury of Sayings and Quotations, opens a new window, p. 218).
[*to follow these links, you may need to enter your St. Tammany Parish Library card number when prompted]
When someone produces an autobiography or a memoir, if it doesn't include at least a little bit of tragedy, it isn't a very honest account of a human life. And since tragedy is an integral element in comedy, when we read a comedian's memoir, it's plain to see that comedians are much like any other human beings. They're certainly more than just joke-producing machines. They experience tragedy much like the rest of us. It's what they do with that tragedy, over time, that sometimes makes the comedy happen.
Take a look at this list we compiled of comedians' memoirs and autobiographies: