You discover that piece you have written, once deemed to be acceptable, to be, upon further consideration, fundamentally flawed.
You revisit that offering to determine the specific nature of that flaw.
Once determined, you then proceed to correct that flaw, trying to make what was previously determined to be “right” actually “right.”
And you wonder concurrently with that rehabilitation process,
“How did I miss it so badly?”
Is what you do.
If you happen to be me.
How was I so embarrassingly fooled?
Here’s the secret. A secret that, to some degree, explains why the rewrite process on half-hour comedies takes so long.
You write something. It could be a joke, or a more lengthy following of a selected comedic trajectory. It’s funny, but you sense there is something slightly “off” about it. It is perhaps “out of character.” (for a specific character, or for the series’ recognized tone.) It is somewhat of a “reach” (from a believability standpoint.) It is of marginally questionable taste. Or it produces an inconsistent or extraneous “bump” in the story.
But it’s funny.
Your “rewrite task” at this point is to replace something funny with something equally funny – or possibly funnier – that is, in the greater scheme of things, more suitable.
And that…is difficult.
Partly because the writer is stubbornly protective of their original impulse, and concerned about what jettisoning it says about their creative judgment. And also partly – and maybe more significantly – because what is already there…
“Funny”, in comedy, is a life raft. It is comforting and safe. “Funny” is what you are supposed to be doing, and you did it. Now, you are asking yourself to abandon that comforting life raft in search of another life raft that may either not exist or, especially under the time restraints, be impossible to locate. And if may not be as funny.
(The pathetic moaning of a comedy writer in fear.)
Not all this is conscious, of course. It wasn’t in the case in question. I had followed down the wrong path, at the time believing it was the right path. And traveling along that wrong path…
I had discovered “funny.”
“I’m done!” I believed. But I wasn’t. What I really was was relieved to have completed my task, and, distracted by the “funny”, to believe I had done a competent job.
I had succumbed to a serious misjudgment. And not0 for the first time.
I have mentioned this incident before, but I shall repeat it, because it quintessentially exemplifies the situation.
Best of The West, my affectionate homage to movie and television westerns.
Episode: “Daniel’s First Love”
Storyline: After an eleven year-old boy (series regular “Daniel”) accidentally breaks up the impending marriage between 13 year-old “hill country” girl and her 14 year-old fiancée, the girl’s father insists that Daniel marry her instead.
To me at least, a married eleven year-old is funny. So I am already in love with myself for thinking it up. (based on actual research about early marriage.) But here’s the problem.
In the climactic scene, in which the girl tells Daniel she is leaving with his former fiancée, the following explanatory interlude takes place:
“Daniel, our marriage? It’s not a real marriage. You know what I mean?”
“That’s what I mean.”
Finally, surrendering to the inevitable, Daniel asks, “Can I at least kiss you goodbye?” The girl agrees. After which Daniel proceeds to bend her over backwards and deliver a powerful and memorable kiss on the lips, and then stands her up again.
“Are you still leaving?”
“Yes. (RE: THE INCREDIBLE KISS) But I am leavin’ a little sadder.”
Okay, so what’s wrong with that moment? It is definitely funny. I can attest to the peals of laughter from the studio audience. The problem was…
The script (meaning me) had required a pre-adolescent boy/actor to kiss an older female actor (considerably older; she only looked thirteen) in an adult and therefore disturbingly inappropriate manner.
Why had I permitted that to happen?
Because it was funny.
That comedic sequence, had it been cut, would have been difficult to “top.” However, nobody at the time ever considered that possibility… everybody?
(READERS, IN UNISON): “Because it was funny!”
I have recently considered an alternative. (After the “Our marriage, it’s not a real marriage. You know what I mean?” – “No.” – “That’s what I mean” exchange:
“Can I at least give you a goodbye hug?”
DANIEL GOES TO HER. THEY EMBRACE. STILL LOCKED IN THAT EMBRACE, DANIEL REACHES UP AND BEGINS AFFECTIONATELY TICKLING THE TOP OF HER HEAD.
“Is that anything?”
You see? Cute. But not as funny. So you leave in the kiss, your confidence in its effect blinding you to its troubling implications.
The truth is, that if you have a reasonable amount of comedic “chops”, you will discover “funny” in any direction you proceed down. Fear should not inhibit you from investigating other alternatives. You might actually surprise yourself in the process. He said, ending his comedy-writing lesson for the day.
“Bringing it all home”, some blog posts are simply more demanding than other ones. You have to honor that, and give each of them the time and attention that it requires.
And with that, I return to the repair work on “Arguing Before The Supreme Court Fantasy.”
Which I have retitled “My Arguing In Front Of the Supreme Court Fantasy.”
That’s better, isn’t it?