Tuesday, October 2, 2018

"The Fighting' Side Of Me"

I’ll bet you didn’t think I had one.

In truth, neither did I. “The Contrarial Side of Me”?  You bet.  But “The Fightin’ Side”?

I guess it doesn’t show up that much.

But then, you pick up the paper one morning…

I just sighed.  

And now, I’m collecting my thoughts……

You know what a “Name Joke” is?  

A “Name Joke” is a joke that includes somebody’s name in it – somebody you’ve heard of – which puts down that person, in the process of slamming somebody the recognized person publicly represents.

That wasn’t too clear, was it?  The problem is I don’t do “Name Jokes”, so I have a tough time explaining them. Basically, it’s a “cheap shot”, with somebody’s name in it.  The most egregious version being the kind where the alluded-to person is functionally harmless.  

I have often wondered – because I am that rare breed of saintly, empathic, caring human being – what it must feel like when someone – say some Minor Celebrity from a bygone era – sits down for a carefree evening of TV watching, and, in the course this random interlude, they hear – and here I shall give this “Name Joke” thing a try…


You know what?  I can’t do it.

Just imagine a gratuitous, Minor Celebrity “Take-Down” for the sake of a too easy laugh.  And the blind-sided Minor Celebrity watching at home – possibly in the company of their loved ones – going,

“What did do?”


“I was playing a part!

Or, less likely but still possibly,

“Aw, they remember.”

It’s not big deal, I suppose.  Like goes on. But, lacking the skin of a rhinoceros, I imagine not nearly as cheerfully.

In a paralleling comparison, that’s how I recently felt, reading theater critic Charles McNulty’s review of Karen Zacarias’s play Native Gardens in the Los Angeles Times.  The personal injury is admittedly not as direct as a “Name Joke.”  It’s not like McNulty said,

Native Gardens is the kind of thing Earl Pomerantz might have written.”

And not in a good way.  

Rather than insulting an individualwhile critiquing Native Gardens, McNulty continually references the television half-hour comedy.

And not in a good way.  

(His review being essentially an extended “Name Joke” about sitcoms.)

Consider some selected quotes, and their acrid smell of unsubtle condescension:

“Karen Zacarias..has now written what is essentially a sitcom for the stage.”


“The plot… seems lifted straight from some television source book.”

“Ew, again!

“The writing, for the most part, has a gleaming TV-style effectiveness.”

“Was that a compliment?”

“I don’t think so.”

“It sounds like you could see the same thing at home.”

“It’s like TV, except you have to drive somewhere, and pay to get in.”  

I just sighed again.

Okay, I’m fine now.  

First.  Former TV writers can write highly enjoyable stage plays. Ken Levine, for one, has written a number of them.  Neil Simon – he was good too.

But that’s not my point. (Or point of “incendiary combustion.”)

Throughout television’s history, there have been…


“Situation Comedy” is a particular genre of writing, with its own requirements and its own standards of excellence.  As such, it is not generically dismissible.  


Throughout televison’s history, there have been skillfully – often brilliantly – executed sitcoms. There has also been… You see?  If I drag in an acknowledged substandard sitcom, that would be a “Name Joke.”  (You can insert one of your own, if you must.)

Look.  Allactivities display a range of qualitative effectiveness.

HONORED MATHEMATICIAN:  “You call that an equation?”   

A just person evaluates each example individually.  That’s how I judge humanity.  I don’t hate groups.  I dislike people one at a time.   

Today’s Message: Do not do “Name Jokes” about sitcoms. You are pissing off writers, who may not throw punches, but when pushed to the limit, can hurl some lacerating invective.

Let me be clear here. When I wrote half-hour comedies, I did not think I was writing Shakespeare.  I thought I was writing half-hour comedies.  I didn’t even think about Shakespeare.  Or Tennessee Williams, or Tennessee Gleckel, for that matter.  (A “Parody Name” contrived by genius comedy-writer Jack Douglas.)  If anything, I thought about the heroes of my cohort, hoping to equal their lofty accomplishments.

In the end, we did what we did, the best we knew how.  

And we do notneed superior critics ruining our day with disparaging “Name Jokes.”

And I mean it!

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