Friday, April 9, 2010
Truth is Funnier Than Fiction...
Last weekend, I was visiting family, and a neighbor knew I write humorous romance, so she decided to "help me" with a real-life plot. A male high school basketball coach - married - is having an affair with the married cheerleading coach (female) AND the married field hockey coach (female). All three are going through divorces (shocker), and the women each think he's going to move in with them. The situation is rife with public fighting, back-stabbing, name-calling - apparently, there is no honor among cheaters. Go figure.
There are other circumstances and other events in this story, but as I stood there listening to her, I thought, "She thinks this is funny?" And she did. She thought this was a great set-up for a romantic comedy.
A writer friend of mine who also writes humorous romance said to me that her editor wanted her to "funny things up" at certain points in her story for revision. "It's really hard to be funny on demand," said my friend. "As I'm writing, sure, that's when the ideas come, but in the editing process, it's like all the good jokes are used up and now I have to come up with more."
As we're talking about humor on this month's blog posts, I tried to think about what I could contribute. Yes, my stories are tongue-in-cheek humor, but I honestly don't try to be funny. I guess I naturally am (and my siblings would add "looking" after that "funny," but then, that's what siblings do). And like anything that works, why deconstruct it to figure it out? It works, be happy with that.
But I needed a blog post for today and since I can't tell you how to be funny (though I could offer a few suggestions for "funny-looking"...), I tried to figure out why that woman found the coaching love triangle funny.
I'm still trying.
So I looked to those who are known for being funny. Stand-up comics. What type of spin they'd put on it to make it funny.
I came up empty. Oh, I'm sure many of them could make that funny, but I don't identify that situation as having anything humorous whatsoever. There are kids involved, the community, people's reputations and professionalism... I'm just not seeing the funny.
I did, however, have a good time looking at what a few stand-up comics have made funny.
And you know what I found? What's tickled me most in comedians is how they take the the mundane, our every-day lives, something we all do, and they bring it out of obscurity and poke fun at it. The idiocies they point out make us laugh. More often than not at ourselves for not seeing the funny side to some of the stupid things we do, or even just the stuff we never even think about that maybe isn't so funny until they put their own spin on it.
I think that's the secret. Other than flat-out slapstick, I'd have to say that some of the funniest things are what we normally do - with the twist a comedian/comedienne puts on it. And you know me; I'm all about twists.
One of the quintessential examples for me is Bill Cosby. Pretty much anything the man does in a monologue is hysterical, and he's pulling that from real life. I have his album from the 70s(?) where he's talking about "Jeffrey" on the airplane. "Jeffrey, Jeffrey, Jeffrey." Jeffrey's climbing on the seat, Jeffrey's not sitting still, Jeffrey's whining... Doesn't sound funny as I write it, but when you hear the man deliver it, omg, hysterical! And the "Dad is great, gave us chocolate cake," routine really hits home as the mom comes down and sees that Dad gave the children chocolate cake for breakfast. Most of us would probably shake our husbands by the ears and say, "What are you thinking? Where's the nutrition? Now they're always going to want chocolate cake for breakfast!!!" Bill goes on to show that there are eggs and flour and butter in chocolate cake, so it's nutritious. I'm with him on that one. I love chocolate cake, and, heck, for breakfast? That'd really start my day off with a kick!
Jerry Seinfeld got nine seasons of laughs for his "show about nothing." It wasn't about nothing; it was about every day life and he poked fun at the mundane. My favorite episode (well, besides Master of Your Domain, which shall forever remain one of the BEST half hours ever), was the episode where they were waiting to be seated in a Chinese restaurant. Twenty-four minutes of them waiting to be seated. Looking at that idea on paper, it just shouldn't be funny, yet, omg, I was rolling on the floor! Why?
Because I could identify with it. See, Elaine is hungry. Starving. She needs to eat. And she loves Chinese food. I relate to that; I love food and when I'm hungry, I'm hungry. I especially love Chinese food.
So, they're standing there and the maitre d' is refusing to seat them (thanks, George...) and Elaine is about to expire from hunger pains. So Jerry offers her $25 to go over to a table of senior citizens, take an egg roll off someone's plate and eat it, without telling the diners why she's doing that.
I lost it when Elaine considered it, because at that time, I might have done it. Hungry, a bet, money, and food. Yep, I would definitely have considered it. (And if I had actually gone through with it, I would have bought the diner another one with that $25, but winning the bet would have been important, too.)
I know other people haven't found it as hysterical as me, but that's because I could relate to it. Something normal, ordinary--so ordinary who would even think to do this?--yet absolutely hysterical.
Then there's Everyone Loves Raymond. That show is nothing BUT every day life, but oh how we can all find something to relate to in that show.
To be more modern, what about Modern Family? Just extended family living their lives with real life situations. My whole family enjoys that show.
So, I go back to the Coaches' Love Triangle (there's a title): could there be a spin or twist to that set-up that would make it funny? Oh, definitely in the real-life way. I'm sure a comedian could have you rolling on the floor describing the situation, but as a plot for a romance, I'm going to have to go with a No. I can't identify with that situation in any way that makes it funny for me. There's no twist I could put on it to give someone a happily ever after.
But I'm sure George Carlin, were he still with us, could come up with something. After all, he's the guy who did the "7 Words You Can Never Say on Television" monologue--and I'm sure he'd use each and every one of those words.
So, to today's question: Favorite sitcoms and/or episodes?