Thursday, June 11, 2015

"Responding To JED (But Feel Free To Listen In)"

I am going to write something tomorrow that ties in with today’s post, which, unless I can think of a better one, will bear the title, “The Deliriously Pleasurably Unique Me-Ness of Me.”  Hard to believe, but I may not be able to top that.

First, however, I am required – do not ask me “By whom?” because I have absolutely no idea – to write this.

Regular commenter JED wrote in – How quaint.  I am pretending that it’s still “letters” – asking me to expand on my exquisitely insightful and incomparably expressed response as the show runner of Major Dad to a neophyte’s writer asking me what I meant when I said about a joke I had rejected,

“Too many words.”

And in response I said – or more accurately sang – the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, making my “Too many words” point by adding an extra note so it was,

“Da-da-da-da dahhhhh!

Rather than the rhythmically perfect

“Da-da-da dahhhhh!

I probably did not need to repeat that, but sometimes I like to sit back and marvel at how jaw-droppingly brilliant I can be.

An event that takes on heightened significance by its startling infrequency. 



First – with respect – a minor yet meaningful correction.

The neophyte writer did not inquire about a particular joke.  She just said – as best as I can remember thirty-seven years after the fact – “I hear you saying when you say ‘No’ to a joke, ‘Too many words.’  What exactly do you mean by that?”

To which I replied…

Don’t worry.  I will not go through it again.  Although, frankly, I can still not get over myself for coming up with it.

Not two days later, but absolutely “In the moment.”

Man!  You should have been there!  

I was.  And it was incredible!

“Da-da-da-da dahhhhh!

Okay, I couldn’t help myself.  I’m sorry.


In his comment, JED wonders if I ever go back and refine a joke that I have determined has too many words.  This leads me to ponder – for the first time, right now – whether my musical pronouncement was actually as clever as I though it was.  Or merely a stylistically encapsulated smokescreen.

Let me think about that for a second.  (Partly to provide JED with the considered answer he rightly deserves.  But also… I mean, will I really have to surrender my incredible “Moment”?)

By the way, are you aware of how rarely, bordering on never, a person on radio or TV ever stops to think about anything they are about to say?  Imagine if they did not immediately respond.  If it were on radio, you would think that your batteries had died.  Watching on TV, you might think that the speaker had been brought down by a stroke!

Stopping to think before you respond.

Nobody does that.

Making someone like me, in momentary deliberation, appear slow.  (Or, in the case of politicians, cautious, fearing they might inadvertently say something they actually believe.)

Okay.  Here we go.

It is possible, when I heard a particular joke pitch that was not to my liking, but whose verbal configuration also included too many words, that I took the diplomatic route of turning it down, saying, “Too many words”, rather than the more deflating and damaging, 

“Not funny.”

It other words, I had deliberately let them down easy.  Not that there weren’t too many words – and not that a joke is not immeasurably enhanced by the appropriate number of words – but that, perhaps, and in retrospect, was not the essential reason I was turning it down.  (And manufactured my ingenious response.)

Look at me! – Diplomatic and educational. 

I may have to revisit my inferior opinion of myself as a showrunner.

On the other hand, as JED correctly suggests, with certifiably good jokes, I have been totally sincere in bringing up their inappropriate number of words.  (Or, in some cases, syllables.) 

And my efforts have not always been appreciated.

Invariably as a participant on the rewrite team (rather than as the showrunner where I would inevitably exert unchallenged authority), there would be situations in which a joke would be pitched, and the writers room, myself included, would go crazy with laughter.  But then, almost immediately, I’d be thinking, “That joke would be even better if it contained the appropriate number of words.  (Or, in some cases, syllables.)

I would then offer a variation on the same joke but with a minor adjustment in its rhythmical cadence.

Sometimes, my alterations would be accepted.  But not infrequently, I’d be accused of “stabbing the frog”, meaning that the original joke was just fine the way it was and I was jabbing unhelpfully at the carcass, thus extending the already excruciating rewrite process (accompanied by a frustrated rolling of the eyes) unnecessarily.

So there you have it.  In the Major Dad situation, “Too many words” may have been simply a polite excuse to allow us to move on.  But there are definitely times when an already good joke can be sharpened and the laugh upgraded with an assiduous alteration of the wording.

A question remains, however, which is this:

Who determines what’s optimal?

And is there one indisputable comedic template?

I shall provide the answer – well, not the answer, I mean, who do you think I am? – but some continuing chatter in that direction manana.  (Sorry.  My computer does not include the horizontal squiggle that goes over the “n.”)  (Or more likely it does but I do not know where it is.)

1 comment:

JED said...

Thank you for responding so quickly! I wasn't sure how far ahead you write your blog entries and thought I'd have to wait for a long time before seeing your response to my question. That might mean, given my declining ability to remember things, that I'd have to review your original post and my question to prepare for this answer.

Then, it turns out that even in my original question, I had forgotten part of your original post. I appreciate your gently chiding me for not realizing that the neophyte's question was a general question and not about a specific pitched joke. This made me enjoy your response even more.

I liked your thinking about how your criticism could be tempered to not discourage someone. That is a valuable thing for any boss (or manager, teacher or mentor). It's so easy to dash the hopes of someone learning a trade. My wife is a talented musician who was accepted to a prestigious music school where she could have flouished but most of the teachers she had didn't think like you and ruined what should have been a wonderful experience. Their harsh criticism left her disillusioned and she left after two years. The world (or at least the local area) lost a chance to hear a unique musical style.

I can appreciate how much thought you put into everything you do. Thank you for this insight into your writing process. As I said before, it helps me to enjoy your writing and others' writing more.

Jim Dodd