I had a couple of examples left. And I like thinking about pure comedy – comedy for its own darn sake – because it makes me happy. No bristling commentary. No struggling to make a point. Pure comedy is the pretend shotgun that shoots colored confetti. You just point, aim and pull the trigger.
When I wrote Best of the West, I did a lot of research. Rather than merely parodying the classic moments in western movies, I wanted the comedy to come out of the actual reality of the times.
My goal was to have Best of the West feel like a situation comedy that was made in 1865. No technological anachronisms. No references to an unknown future.
One thing I learned from my research was that the guns in the Old West didn’t always work that well. Sometimes, when you pulled the trigger, the guns blew up. Other times, they burst into flames, the flames frequently igniting the shooter’s clothing.
I couldn’t exactly duplicate such mishaps on my show. Actors balk at losing fingers for a laugh. And they hate it when the script calls for them to be engulfed in a fiery inferno. But the general concept stayed with me.
Sometimes the guns didn’t work.
In the pilot episode’s climactic scene, Sam Best, The Good Guy, faces off against “The Calico Kid”, a notorious gunslinger, hired by Parker Tillman, the local “bad apple”, to “take care of” this Good Guy nuisance. At the critical moment, the two combatants drew and fired.
Making use of the information that sometimes the guns didn’t work, I had both of the shooters’ guns seriously malfunction. I mean, the bullets came out okay, but they sprayed all over the place, hitting everything but their intended targets. Glasses shattered. Bottles exploded off the shelves. Bystanders, safely out of the line of fire, found themselves suddenly diving for cover.
The bullets went everywhere. But the two combatants, dismayed by their weapons’ erratic performance, remained entirely unhurt.
Finally, the exasperated Tillman, witnessing the debacle from an overhead stair landing, threw his hands in the air, and exclaimed,
Grounded, at least superficially, in reality. It was true that sometimes the guns in the Old West didn’t work. But two guns in the same gunfight, both malfunctioning in precisely the same manner – neither one of them able to propel their bullets in the direction they were aimed?
Let’s say that’s unlikely.
With pure comedy, however, historical authenticity is a lesser consideration. The primary issue is to elicit maximum laughter.
And we did.
Another premise for pure comedy came from something I personally observed. I would not have to change a thing. The situation was perfect just the way it was. At least, to me.
It is Christmastime in Los Angeles. I am strolling through an open-air mall/slash/theme park in the Valley called City Walk. The spirit of the season is everywhere. And part of the celebration would include a Christmas-themed presentation performed by children.
When I joined the semi-circle of curious bystanders, I was greeted by a group of what appeared to be Middle Schoolers, standing behind a long table, on which sat a series of brass bells with handles, each bell tuned to a different note in the musical scale.
I’m sure you’re familiar with this type of entertainment. In this case, each participant was responsible for two bells, which they would ring at the appropriate moment, to generate a bell-ringing rendition of a song. In this case, the song would be the iconic “Silent Night.”
Unfortunately, by “show time”, two of the young bell ringers had failed to appear. Since the available bell ringers were fully occupied with two bells to ring each, the absence of two participants meant there would, inevitably, be bells that would be unable to be rung.
Well, as the saying goes, “The show must go on.” And so it did.
The ensemble went into “Silent Night”, minus its full complement of bell ringers. Unfortunately, the loss of essential bell intonations left noticeable gaps in the familiar Christmas carol.
It’s hard to reproduce what I heard verbally, but the Middle Schoolers’ rendition of “Silent Night” with some bells missing sounded something like this:
You get the idea. In deference to the religiosity of the material, and the fact that the kids were trying their best under difficult conditions, I bit my lip as hard as I could, to keep from laughing. But pretty soon, my lip was starting to bleed. So I quietly headed away, the gap-toothed rendition of “Silent Night” echoing painfully in my ears.
I pitched the “bells” idea as the payoff to a proposed Christmas episode for a certain very popular current sitcom. Later, the irate series show runner called my agent, and excoriated him for sending him a writer –me – who was so pathetically old-fashioned
It appears that pure comedy is not welcome in the cooler-than-Thou Age of Irony.
My final offering may be the granddaddy of all pure comedy. It originated at a time when audiences were perceived to be more innocent. I believe they were actually less innocent. The reason they appear more innocent was they were so continually beaten down by life, they were accepting of a primal level of comedy that would simply allow them to laugh.
The reality element of this comic notion stems from the fact that, in the olden days, baseball players had strange nicknames, like “Dizzy” and “Daffy”, “The Big Train” and “The Georgia Peach.”
The comedy routine takes the real situation a step (or more) further, and we end up with this, to me, the funniest piece of material that was ever set to paper.
This particular version overstays its welcome somewhat. But at it’s heart, there beats the very purest of pure comedy.