“She’s raising money to build a new ‘Burn Unit’ at the Jewish Children’s Hospital. It’s for kids! And you don’t have to be Jewish. Just burnt.”
You didn’t know this was a two-parter, did you?
Neither did I.
But wracking my brain trying to think of today’s blog post idea – and getting nowhere because that is not how it works – I relaxed my brain, and then it magically came to me.
The realization that, before moving on, there was some residual toxin in yesterday’s post that needed responsibly to be expunged.
You may not know this – and how would you? – but when I’m composing a blog post, it’s not just “Dum-dee-dum-dee-dum-dee-dum.” I am actually paying attention to what I am doing, meaning I am actively present during the process. Or maybe passively present. Or actively absent. Which all amount to the same thing. There is an ongoing interplay, where I consciously notice what I am talking about. Though I may not realize it until later, “later”, in this case, being when I relaxed my brain, and finally allowed it to emerge.
At which point, flipping the coin of what I had written about, I started to think,
“What if – horror of horrors – ‘Standards and Practices’ had an arguable point about that joke, and it should have sensibly been cut?” In contrast to the reaction I and my collaborators originally had when ordered to replace it, which was,
“Are you kidding me!!!!!”
(Imagine fire flaring out of our nostrils.)
“It’s a great joke!!!!”
Subliminal Concern: “What if we can’t come up with a joke that is equally as funny?” Which, not infrequently, is the case.
What we never for a moment considered at that juncture was,
“What if this ‘great joke’ has negative consequences?”
The reason we did not think that was because our minds – and “Reward System” – were decidedly elsewhere.
The room had exploded in laughter. By the “Prevailing Standard of Professional Comedy Writers”, imagining the ball dropping into the right hole in a pinball machine:, it was,
And a few exhilarating “Dings” beyond that.
As far as we were concerned, as Sergeant Preston announced to his stalwart Huskie, “Well, King, this case is closed.”
And then somebody said, “Wait.”
That’s very confusing. That’s winning the battle and they go, “Not so fast.” What gives? You are already celebrating not dying in combat.
Now, though, I am belatedly wondering,
What if ‘Standards and Practices” was – “Ugh!” and “Ugh!” again – right?
A joke may indeed be great. But what if somebody somewhere is paying the price?
Thoughts of this nature take me to shadowy places in the career, where I wrote things that, upon further consideration, I should possibly have steered clear.
I shall spare you – but mostly, me – the ignominious specifics. But it’s happened. Not often, but arguably more often than necessary. (Which, ideally, is never.) Ignored lapses of judgment. In my professional work on TV. Even in this actual blog. (Judged by commenter reactions and, in one case, “I am cancelling my subscription”, a regular follower, permanently flying the coop.)
I got some signals from yesterday’s post concerning the calculating steeliness in the process. Considering the original example, in our effort to find a humorous payoff for a viable setup, I heard myself mentioning, “looking for the funny.” Gauged by the hilarial uproar in the room, we – actually I – had fortuitously found it. Using the learned, natural “mechanics” of comedy.
Such language sounds coldly clinical to me. A professional “hit man” leaves no trace of incriminating evidence, the “job” impeccably pulled off. “Well done.” But, oh yeah, there’s a body.
Of course, comedy writing is not close to that serious. But the “mechanics” are eerily similar. Your concentration’s on one thing. To the active dismissal of everything else.
You like to think you have “taste.” And, generally instinctively, you do.
But sometimes, focusing exclusively on the matter at hand – paraphrasing an aphorism – you cannot see the forest for the joke.
An “Outside Reaction” can help.
But what if you work alone?
Or tell the intruding “Outside Reactor” – as we probably did – to “Go…”
The thing is,
We were only thinking about the “funny.”