When is it safe to joke about a tragedy? Is a century enough time? How about if the tragedy involves 2 million gallons of exploded molasses?

These are the questions that weigh on actress and comedian Ayo Edebiri. The Boston native, who stars on FX hit The Bear, was once "reduced to tears" while explaining The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 to folks at a party. The flood was triggered by a busted storage tank in the city's North End, killing 23 people and injuring 150.

"It was, like, a really serious thing that happened, obviously, and everybody started laughing and I was like, 'It's not funny,'" Edebiri, 28, said during a recent appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers. "People died of molasses. The streets smelled of molasses in the summer for 70 years after. It's nothing to laugh about."

She's right, but all these years later, there's just something about the words "molasses" and "flood" together that brings on the chuckles.

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"If a comedian starts talking about a Great Molasses Flood, it does seem like it might be a funny thing and not that people tragically died from molasses," Meyers told Edebiri, defending the heartless partygoers in the comedian's story.

"Which I get," the actress said. "It's really slow. Why didn't they just run away?"

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Once the molasses burst out of its 50-foot tank at Purity Distilling Company on January 15, 1919, it hit the Boston streets at 35 mph, so maybe not as slow as you'd expect. One account referenced waist-deep molasses in some areas, noting humans and horses struggled to make it out. The cleanup took weeks, and even then a sticky film lingered for some time on just about everything folks touched in the neighborhood.

Boston Public Library
Boston Public Library

Today, a plaque marks the spot at 529 Commercial St. where the disaster happened, citing "structural defects in the tank and unseasonably warm temperatures" as the cause for the explosion.

Edebiri's interview wasn't all doom and gloom. She also told Meyers about her love for the Cool Dog, a New England ice cream treat resembling a hot dog in a bun. As if she wasn't Boston enough already, she ended the interview by telling Meyers about the time her skeptical father turned down Martin Scorcese's request to use her house in the filming of The Departed.

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