When can we laugh again?

Producers of television late-night comedy shows and cable news parodies were wrestling Tuesday with the question of when it will be fitting to be funny again. Following David Letterman‘s somber return to the air on Monday, Jay Leno attempted a more upbeat reappearance Tuesday night.

While spending much of the evening praising the efforts of “heroes” of last week’s events, Leno also evoked some laughs. “It’s hard to believe, nine days ago, the biggest story in the United States — the Barbara Walters special, the cover of the magazines: ‘Anne Heche is crazy,'” Leno quipped. To those who might object to lightheartedness following such an enormous national tragedy, Leno urged that they tune into ABC’s Nightline, “which is a good show, too.”

The events of last week posed a particularly difficult problem for cable’s Comedy Central, which has already pulled That’s My Bush! and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart from its lineup. A spokesman for the network told today’s Boston Globe: “There’s … nothing to make fun of. … There’s nothing left to work with. At what point does that change? It’s hard to say.”

Even Canadian comics were having difficulty getting a handle on recent events. Don Ferguson of the comedy group Royal Canadian Air Farce told the Canadian Press wire service that the group has been stymied writing material for their season debut next month.

“What would you do — a topical, political comedy show goes on the air and doesn’t mention it? How can you deal with it but not deal with it?” Antonia Zerbisias, the television writer for the Toronto Star, commented in her column today: “Is this another victory for the terrorists? … I’m not saying that now is the time to return to the comedy business as usual but, when pundits keep saying ‘Nothing will ever be the same again,’ should [comedy] be one of the things they are talking about?”