Did I ever tell you why I started writing comedies?
[No. And Probably for good reason. –ed.]
I started writing comedies because you receive an instantaneous ballot on whether or not they are successful. A joke flies or falls flat – and, honestly, most jokes fall flat – and you bask in the laughter or suffocate in the silence.
[I said, Probably for good reason. –ed.]
When I first started writing, I thought drama was the way to go. I’m naturally serious (when I’m not joking – and usually my joking sounds like I’m being serious) and I think that serious issues are the most important for human consumption (unless you have consumption, in which case: humor) or at least I did when I was fourteen.
[Could you please contract consumption? For me? –ed.]
When I was fourteen, I was enrolled in the School of the Arts, a literary-focused magnet school program that took up two classes of the day and that, as one of its requirements, required its students to write a play a year AND submit that play to Virginia’s Young Playwrights Festival. The first play I wrote was titled “The War” and was three acts long. And three pages.
[Oh, if only you’d held on to your instinctual brevity! –ed.]
It was a dramatic piece about a king and his second-in-command and how they die and are betrayed and blah blah blah who cares and even if you do care I don’t know it because you’re not laughing. Laugh, damn it! Laugh!
My next play was called “The Tower of Iron Will” and told the story of a guy named Will who wanted to ask a girl out, but couldn’t work up the courage. His Ego, Superego, and Id have a battle royale onstage until he manages to break through the “tower” of his self-protectiveness. I actually had this play performed in high school, and it was, well… received.
But that was a serious play as well, and still didn’t provide the sort of visceral feedback that a growing theatrical artist needs! And so: humor. By this time I’d read (through the School of the Arts) a number of Shakespeare plays (at least three… which is all you really need, right? Right?) and realized that the serious could co-exist with the comic, if properly garbled. And I’d read Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and, through that, understood that the serious and the comic don’t even have to be separated by distinct scenes, that the serious and the comic can co-exist within the same line. To wit, what is seriously depressing can also be heartbreakingly funny. Or the reverse.
[Please, oh please, reverse. –ed.]
So the next year I wrote a play that had comedy in it. Not very good comedy, mind you (Hello, “Clouds”) but comedy, nonetheless. And there was laughter. And all was right with the world.
[I believe you’re wrong. –ed.]
See, the benefit of comedy is that, as the writer/director/actor you don’t have to wait for the audience to praise you – they do so through their laughter – and as the audience you don’t have to worry about staying after the show is over to lavish your praise upon the cast and crew – they already know. The trouble with drama is that there’s no revelation of success unless the audience breaks down into tears.
[I’m crying on the inside. –ed.]