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Most of us recognize the fine line between the kind of joking that relieves tension and joking that ends with having to sheepishly ask “too soon?” Thanks to researchers, we may never find ourselves stumbling across this line again. A new study pinpoints a “comedic sweet spot” when coping after a tragic event that’s neither offensive nor irrelevant, but actually funny.

In the study, participants were surveyed before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy hit, rating tweets based on how funny, offensive, boring, irrelevant, upsetting, and confusing they were. Participants were most amused by tweets such as “Jus blew da roof off a olive garden free breadsticks 4 everyone” and “Oh sh!t just destroyed a Starbucks. Now I’m a pumpkin spice hurricane” the day before the hurricane and 36 days after it hit, and least amused 15 days and 99 days after the storm.

Researchers concluded that the level of threat accounted for their findings. Before the storm hit, the danger was purely hypothetical. Fifteen days later marked the classic “too soon” window when the threat still felt too real. A little more than a month after Sandy allowed enough time to create “psychological distance” from the threat, but by the time 99 days had passed, it was so far gone it was irrelevant.

Mark Twain was definitely on to something when he said, “Humor is tragedy plus time.” Just don’t wait too long to try your best material.

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