Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"Comrades In 'Noticing'"

I recently mentioned that my “Go-To” perspective in writing comedy is “noticing.”  When other writers create successful “noticing” comedy, I invariably go, “Yeah!”  It’s like my team just scored a touchdown.   

Larry David is a great noticer.  Although sometimes, he notices stuff you wish he hadn’t bothered to notice.  “Is this bottled water, or ‘tap’?  It tastes kind of ‘tappy’ to me, and I actually prefer bottled.”

My reaction to that finicky perception is, “Stop it!”

On the other hand…

When Larry David strikes “Comedic Gold”-noticing, I leap from my seat and throw confetti into the air.  Or, its literal counterpart – a seated, appreciative “Nice going.”

Check out Larry David’s “Shouts and Murmurs” contribution in the March 5 issue of The New Yorker.  Actually, you don’t have to, as I will be liberally quoting from it in this blog post.  (Although the stuff I left out remains available for your perusal.  I am not one to ruin things entirely.)

What Larry David noticed was a literary cliché, which he blew up into a major commotion, to great ridiculing success.  How did he do it?  He noticed the practical consequences of that literary cliché.

A miniscule “noticing”, placed under an examining microscope – That’s my kind of comedy.

Which is pleasingly similar to his.

For whatever reason, Larry David’s imagination was captured by the romantic tableau of the “Wartime Sendoff.”

He begins with a recognizable introduction:

(And here, I quote liberally, without permission, though with genuine respect.)

“My sweetheart Alice… drove me to the station.  We were in love and the thought of being apart was overwhelming for both of us… Our hearts bursting, we gazed at each other for a few moments before she spoke.”

“Promise you’ll come back to me.”

“I promise.”

“And promise you’ll write to me.”

 “Of course I’ll write to you.”

“Every day.”

And here we go.

Imagining the practical likelihood of writing every day from a war zone.  Although obviously in love, that may still not be possible.  And if you’re honest, you mention it.

“Every day?  Hm.  Well, I’ll certainly try.  I’ll be in a war.  I’ll be fighting.  But sure, if I have time to do it, I will.”

Pressed to faithfully accommodate her unwavering demand, the reality of providing “Missives from The Front” kicks in even further.

“I don’t know where I’ll be getting all the paper from.  I can’t really walk around with a ream of paper in my knapsack.  It’s pretty heavy as it is.  I gotta carry bullets, grenades, a sleeping bag, a canteen.  I don’t know if I can load up with paper.”

Notice the specifics involving the battlefield obstacles to regular letter writing: “bullets, grenades, a sleeping bag, a canteen.”  Although not wanting to offend his beloved, the character pays sensible attention to the difficulties of hauling a ream of paper around in his knapsack.  And then, there is – practically and deliciously – the inevitable issue of the pen.

“I did {pack a pen}, but, I’m not gonna lie, it was skipping a little, so there’s a good chance it could run out in the first letter.”

At this point, his beloved is having serious doubts about his devotion, which he tries to truthfully assuage, the problem being that the “truthfully” gets him into increasingly hot water.

“Suppose I’m fighting all day, killing people, getting fired at.   Saving buddies.  Canteen low on water.  I get back to base camp, exhausted, filthy.  My first thought, if I can be perfectly honest, is going to be to sit down, relax, have some C rations… {And} after the rations, I’m going to look into a shower or something…. So after that, yes, if I have the pen and paper, I’ll try to write, although it may be dark.  I suppose I can use a flashlight, but it’ll be tough to hold the pen and the flashlight at the same time.”

Do you notice the exquisite details?  To me, this is what I aspire to.  This is me, writing at my best.  Except it’s somebody else.     

By now, all bets concerning the relationship are off.

“O.K., enough!  You know what?  I don’t even want you to write.”

And, after an ill-advised foray at “turning the tables”,

“… I mean, if anybody should be writing every day, it’s you.  You’ve got time.  And a desk.”

The romance is permanently kaput.

Notice, this is not a comedy writing, exerting his will on the situation.  Nothing is exaggerated, nothing forcefully contrived.  It’s just a nitpicky person, noticing everything but that that his “reasonable honesty” is torpedoing his relationship.

I was uncomfortable with the ending, which was a little dark for my liking.  But what can I tell you?  It was written by somebody else.

Still, it was very close to what I imagine I would have written if I had gotten that idea.  Except for the ending.  Which I would have worked on, to make cheerier. 

The thing is, this remarkable piece resonates so strongly with my preferred, natural style of writing that, although I have never had any of my submissions accepted by The New Yorker, reading Larry David’s excellent effort, I feel like I just did.

At least a little.

That’s the “down” side of noticing.

You tend to notice when you are “massaging” the truth.
Someone's anniversary is today.  And no one is happier about it than me.  Best wishes to both of us.  We are lucky hot dogs to have found each other.  By happy accident.  And without the Internet.

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I think this is the best posting of yours I've ever read, because of the way it breaks down why this piece of comic writing works.