Thursday, October 7, 2010

Is There Anything More Painful?

I learned this week that there is nothing more painful to read than a screwball comedy/farce that...just isn't funny. The writer needs to keep amping it up, and amping it up, because it's a farce, that's part of the deal. Once the jokes stop hitting, or worse, if they never start, it becomes a nightmare. It's like being stuck in a stopped elevator with Gilbert Gottfried.

It just keeps braying and braying, and you know the playwright must think this is funny. The set-ups make it clear they've been exposed to a Marx Brothers movie. Yet, the lack of cleverness and wit in the dialogue suggests that they didn't actually see it, but had it described to them by...someone like an economics teacher.


Makes me want to pull my hair out.

I also learned that...trying to apply a style of writing associated with a certain prose writer to dramatic scripting is, in many cases, doomed to failure. Especially if the style you've chosen to emulate is...rather wordy. I'm willing to READ a speech that takes five sentences to say something that could be said in one, but I can't imagine LISTENING to it.

Yes, yes...Shakespeare. We all love Shakespeare.

You. Are. Not. Shakespeare.

Shakespeare was also an incredibly clever user of the type of stage language that was commonplace for his time. Ol' Will wasn't sitting around thinking "Screw Marlowe and his realistic patter, I'm gonna fancy this up!!!"

For one, the point gets lost in your attempts to be "lyrical." I can re-read a passage in a book that maybe I didn't quite glom onto the first time...You get no second chance on stage. The moment is past, and you're on to the next scene.

For two, TALKING about something isn't anywhere near as dramatic as watching somebody DO IT. Watching somebody talk about the implications of what some other character just talked about, even less so. Especially when you decide all your characters spend their time talking about what's going on as if it's a lab experiment they're watching. If your characters show no investment in the plot, other than as an intellectual puzzle, it's really unlikely that I, as a reader or audience, will ever give a Rocket J. Squirrel about it, or them.

Look, there are no rules in theatre. There is a writer out there that can make anything work, and work well...

Well, not an unfunny farce, that's just...DID YOU REALLY THINK THAT WAS FUNNY?!?!? Seriously, look me in the eyes and tell me you thought that was funny...Hmmm?...Yeah, I didn't think so.

Yet, again, and I've written about this before, TELL A STORY. Find an emotional hook and play it out. Let that guide you to the style you want to employ. Let the story tell you want it wants, because then the style you've chosen won't be working against you. It'll be a choice ingrained in the dramatic thrust of what you're trying to get across. If you're choosing something, on a technical level, because it'll be "challenging" or "impressive," stop...and ask if it supports the story you're telling. If it supports the emotional hook you have into the story.

That's where the answer is.

And...I cannot stress this enough....If you're gonna write a farce, make sure it's actually funny.


  1. ...."couldn't give a rocket j. Squirrel"...I don't think I've ever heard that expression before.

  2. ...and I get $.05 every time you use it, so have at it...