This week I am obsessed with this question. How much do you think about your audience while you write sketches? How smart do you assume they are? I think you have to assume your audience is filled with dumb idiots.Because audiences don’t laugh when they’re confused. Audiences want to laugh. They’re usually generous with their laughter. But if they’re unclear about any rules of the sketch world, they spend more time thinking than laughing.In a black box theatre with minimal props and costumes, anything can happen. You can be in outer space, you can be under the sea. Actors can be animals. There are easy ways to give context clues: if everyone is wearing ties and sitting with one person standing giving a presentation, the audience assumes it’s an office, sure. If it takes place at a bus stop, one of the characters can quickly mention it up top- now you’ve built a part of that world.But in comedy, usually something about the world is crazy. This is why in improv it’s way easier to stick to one unusual thing. Because the audience assumes that things are happening with the rules of the real world- if only one rule is changed they can easily see how that’s funny in relation to the rules of the world they already know. You have to do less work.In sketch there’s an instinct to be a bit more coy. But I think that in most cases, every sketch benefits from straight-up stating the funny thing about the scene on the first page. Not subtle. Not elegant. But important. BUT— here’s my real question. How much credit do you give the audience? How, as artists, can we ever credit the audience with understanding the rules of the “real” world when in actuality these rules are in flux all the time?I think this is why my friend Georgie writes such brilliant sketches. We call them, “weird world sketches.” Because while there is one central joke to her scenes, mostly the jokes come cascading down from each other- as the sketch progresses, we find out ANOTHER weird thing about the world, and it builds on what the audience already knows exists in this brave new world. This works because it disarms the audience and assumes that they are dummies and you must tell them everything about the world of the sketch- social conventions, emotions, laws of physics- that people take for granted in most comedy.If you assume your audience is filled with absolute dumb dumbs and you have to explain everything to them, then you make sure of two things. First, that they know what your joke is. That’s the most important reason to assume your audience isn’t that smart, and that alone will work for most sketches. But more interestingly, you make sure that you are entirely in control of the world of your sketch, and can make infinite jokes in that world. Because if you take the time to explain everything to your audience, then you free yourself up to make every single thing a joke. Kinda crazy, but it works. I don’t know. Anyone wanna talk about this? I’m interested!
Cards for Sale!
Unhappy Victorian Valentine’s Day Cards are now available on Etsy - check them out here.
You Only Live Once, after all…
Hi! My friend Meredith is an incredible artist who lives in San Francisco. She made these beautiful and very, very funny cards for Valentine’s Day, and lucky for all of us they’re on sale. Follow the link and check ‘em out!
My Dad, Writer
Do you sometimes wonder why you feel compelled to write? Do you ever wonder if it’s genetic? My friend Meredith is an artist, and she comes from a family of artists. Even her lawyer father writes poetry. But maybe she learned by example. My brother, sister, and I all have a strong creative drive- both my sister and I are writers and my brother is a musician (and I think he sometimes writes, too). In the case of nature vs. nurture, we definitely didn’t have any concrete examples growing up— our father spent our formative years as a businessman. But lately, it’s become clear that he also has the need to put what’s going on in his brain out on paper- and I think it’s really exciting that this is a passion you can discover at any point in your life.
Last week I was surprised to find a Sedaris-like short story in my inbox from my dad (albeit a lot more Republican). It’s funny!!! This is his first ever creative writing piece, or at least first in a long time, and since he refuses to start his own blog, I told him I’d publish it here. I think it’s funny to note that we have a similar style in some ways- very wordy! So, Internet world, check out my father’s newly found creative writing talents:
Medical Moments In Oz:
Doctor’s appointments are for me like playing roulette- I always lose. But this Monday was going to go well, I could feel it. I was playing red so I was 50/50; with my luck though 00 would come up. I had already had to cancel this appointment three times- snow, ice, snow. I was a month past what was a very critical doctor’s visit.
Well, I only had to make it from my home in New Jersey to my appointment in Manhattan. Oh boy, I was so excited. Just like a little kid sitting on Santa’s soft warm knee I was going to be lying on the doctor’s table. Sure, the doctor’s table might be much colder than Santa’s knee, but I was counting at least on warm hands.
I left early with my wife riding shotgun, and with ice on the driveway. I know you are thinking I did a slip, slide and bang on the ice and the journey ended. Not a chance. Perhaps that would have been better but I did not know that yet. Ah, an incredible traffic jam at the GW because of a giant pot hole (or the Governor). I was ready for any pothole there because I had already hit the really huge potholes earlier. Now I needed a new muffler, but it did give my soon to be pierced spine a real wakeup call. Ah, no problem time wise I left at 6:45AM- even with traffic I would be early.
Weaving, dipping, deking, and diving between, ‘we will crush you’ trucks and ‘you will never pass me’ cars I brilliantly slalomed myself onto the FDR with a lot of horn work all around me. Almost there, only had to get to 68th. But then Noah stepped in and brought a flood of biblical proportions- if the weather speakers can use Arctic Vortex I can use a few biblicals. Now it was obvious I was going to be late. My wife called to relay that message but the beating rain on the car made it sound as though we were parked in the bell tower of Saint Patrick’s. Obviously they could not hear the message. When I did arrive at 10:00 I thought they might cancel a fourth time, but luckily (or so I thought) I was still on.
Little did I know that some of the most memorable moments of my life lay ahead. I had planned well ahead about completing the ever hated medical forms. Those are the ones created by bored front desk staffs- really, really bored. They were not going to tax my memory or incite my rage this time. No way. This time I had my wife along and she is great at the tedious, no not again, aaarrrgggghhhh forms. She finished them handily, as I knew she would- surely a good sign. I was to learn that ‘good’ is a relative word.
The waiting area was a long rectangle- more like a bus terminal. An hour passed. No problem; I had my trusty Kindle, but it kept reminding me that my power was low. “Please don’t fail me now. I am begging you”. Gads, was I really talking to my Kindle. But of more concern were the clear signs that unexpected troubles were ahead. If I had only known, I would have been heading home that very minute. The exit was calling me “Leave now dummy.” My brain said one thing but my butt said sit- dumb butt.
An attendant kept calling out names and no one answered. I began to wonder again if I should just leave. After all I didn’t want to become a name that did not answer. Finally, the woman, why is it always a woman, called me in. I never made it through the door. A fellow intercepted me and took me on a forbidding, long, lonely walk to the other end of the rectangle. I passed through a door that I was hoping against all hope did not lead to a very hot place with doctors who have hands of fire. Warm is okay but fire, not so much.
I was escorted through the maze, thinking I should memorize it just in case I needed an escape route, to the dressing area. I was given one of those sadistically designed hospital gowns- why are they called gowns? Clearly I’m not going to a ball. Over the years I have put on so many; as of yet I cannot figure out how they work. I think women know how but I am not good at tying backward bows. I learned early that if I tied knots I couldn’t get out- embarrassing. This one even had an extra arm hole. Maybe I had been hypnotized into disregarding my third arm. That’s why I was here, they were removing it. I was a bit relieved when I saw, at least thought I saw, there was nothing sticking out of the third hole. As expected I was told to sit and sit and sit and sit.
Did I forget to mention that the fellow next to me (why is it always a fellow), mentions that he had been waiting so long because someone with an earlier appointment was late? Oops! I just gave him my, that is just so completely unfair face, a shake of the head and a “boy doesn’t that always happen, don’t you just hate it”. It was obvious that he did hate it- a lot. I think he knew I was the responsible one; he only gave me the evil eye.
Suddenly, I was pointed to. I jumped up and fairly ran to the scanning room not wanting to lose my turn to the “evil eye” one. They needed to have scans so the doctor knows where to insert the needle; I thought, hey didn’t doctors take anatomy in school? Guys, you can just pull a guide up on your iPhone. Now I am picturing this giant needle and hoping that the doctor is not nearsighted.
I was pointed once again to where I had been sitting earlier. The same old sit routine. But this turned out very different. A large shadow began to sweep over me. I glanced up and shrunk down; a giant stood there- his knee caps level with my eyes. Immediately I knew this was one of those “people who never come back.” Had I stumbled into the middle of some freaky Frankenstein wing? I’ll say it again- YIKES!!
Now as far as Goliaths go this one was a fashion plate. He was a dapper looking giant of a chap, with a French accent and pencil mustache (anything would look like a pencil on that head). He was busting out of an ill-fitting sports coat and had a very large tablecloth sized tie. His hair was slicked back, with mentholated Vaseline. Wow, had I discovered David Nevin on steroids. He stopped and looked at shrinking me and asked in his small accented voice (really weird) “What are you doing here?” Duh! I thought to myself, “Please tell me this isn’t a doctor, let alone the one who will be putting needles in my back.” I knew I definitely should have acted on my escape instincts earlier. Bad butt!
He was a very chatty fellow to say the least. Frankly, I thought he must be coming from lunch and had way too much sugar, caffeine, or hopefully not something a bit more medicinal. His little squeak asked what was wrong with me. I played along and told him, “tripping over my toes.” With a withering look and a squeak he said, “Did you ever think it is just old age?” “No, not with tripping toes, Mr. Goliath.” I was getting more unsettled by the second. He departed with 2 jaunty giant steps back and two forward; he even said “may I.” I slowly got over my concern. I realized then that clearly he was not a doctor.
Finally, I was marched from maze to maze to the staging area. Was I just imagining it, or was it getting hotter? We started to take the elevator but the tech said we would walk because he didn’t want to get stuck in the elevator again. Really!
The nurse looked at me then told my escort that there was no room for me. Yippee, perhaps this was a good thing. I gave her a second look and again started to worry. She wore knee high leather boots. It then crossed my mind that maybe I had the wrong address and this was an establishment of a different sort.
But anyway, I got the “sit there” look and tilt of the head. My heart clenched when I saw Dr. Dapper Dan the giant man (better known as triple D) walking down the hall. Was the floor shaking? Everyone flattened against the walls to let him by. The nurse tells me 3D would be ready for me shortly. So the giant was my doctor. Didn’t doctors have height restrictions? Had I heard her call him Dr. Saint-Germaine? Not a comforting name. I knew then I was truly cursed. I started to think of what delicious torture I was going to inflict on the Doctor who sent me here.
I figured the wait was for him to change from his giant dapper clothes to something a bit more hospital like. In I went ready for anything- or so I thought. I worried. Was Germaine a code word for a strain of mutant germs? The nurse said lie on the table on your stomach. She then told me to expect anything, such as being twisted in all directions. Then to up the ante she told me I am only the third patient to be worked on with this new equipment. Worked on??? Hey, I want the old equipment! This news did nothing to relax me.
Finally the giant Saint-Germaine came in. The Saints were definitely on the march. I think they were also snickering. I hoped I did not get to meet them personally any time soon. Much to my surprise Goliath was still in his street clothes. Something was definitely wrong with this picture. He was donning a huge blue suit that appeared to be one of those sumo play suits. Maybe the good thing about the suit was that I did not think he could get close enough to the table to do any damage.
He was all business now- monkey business. They handed him the foot long needle. In his monster hands needle looked only an inch. Believe it or not he then started singing, yes singing, the Everly Brothers classic “All I have to do is Dream.” I only hoped he was dreaming about me. I sure wasn’t dreaming about him- I was terrified. He stabbed me with the needle as he reached the chorus with a flourish. It was unreal. Soon he said “Well this is not what I expected. Usually the protective sac is not so large, thick or where this one is”- terrific. It will be hard to get this precise. I’ll go slowly” (honest he said just that). Did I need this blow by blow? NOT. This was what we had the scans for- right? Where is your iPhone? I worried I was going to hear that metallic sound of the needle as it hit the metal table.
I was desperate. Then he said, “Okay I’m in, now to get some fluid. Come on, come on just a little more.” Hey, how much do you need?! Could you just leave a little? “Okay there it is. Oh wait…” This was definitely a spot where silence would be golden. Yet all I got was the Everly Brothers. My confidence was completely shot. He said he was shooting the dye in, which was good. But then he wanted to have a conversation, which was bad. He started to talk about belief in the afterlife. Triple YIKES! I was definitely starting to wonder if the whole place wasn’t some kind of organ harvesting setup. So that’s where all those people who never returned went! He went on about my afterlife (not his but mine) until I asked him “So
‘What does a rose think about the afterlife?” That stopped him cold. He went back to murdering the Everly Brothers. This guy was not getting a recording contract any time soon. Please I’m begging you- Let me out of here!
Then the twisting started. I thought leather boots had been kidding; oh no she still had the boots on. I think I heard the chains rattling; the cuffs are coming out. I was told to twist this way and that. Since one of my problems is I cannot move well I had a bit of trouble. No problem, Goliath just pulled and yanked until I was where he wanted. I now have a lot more respect for yoga.
After doing that for what seemed like hours he said, “Be sure to keep your chin up as far as it can go. We don’t want the dye flowing up into your brain.” Are you kidding me? My head had been up and down and all around and he tells me that now? I picture the dye slowly seeping into my brain. I wondered what color it would be when I got the CSI treatment.
Then he started the vaudeville show again. Pithy comments and “All I Have to do is Dream.” One track mind! Finally he finished. I was shaking so badly I couldn’t get up. Like a rag doll he pulled me up and squeaked “We’re done here.” Happiness and relief spread through me. See, there wasn’t anything to worry about. Then I thought of the seeping dye.
They got me up and took me down stairs- no elevator please- and finally said I could dress. There was no stump where the third arm hole was. Phew! At least I had something to be thankful for. More than that, I had learned all the words to “All I Have to do is Dream.” Each impossible position had ended with Dream. Did he practice that timing at home on some sort of plastic dummy? Probably not because he had a real dummy to practice on- ME!
Upstairs I had to wait to talk to 3D. I got the ‘sit there’ eye and nod again. Oh no, there was the distraught fellow who I had taken the time slot from. He was still waiting! I indignantly said “What, you’re not finished yet. That is simply outrageous. I would write them a letter about this.” He gave me an even more evil, evil eye. Yeah he knew. I went into a defensive posture just in case.
3D invited me into his cubicle that had walls covered with giant new monitors. Everything in this place was new and on the technological cutting edge (maybe “cutting” is not a good word around here). New was not a good thing because they didn’t know how the stuff worked. He wanted to show me what he had found. Oops! He couldn’t get it up on any of the monitors. Goliath called the tech. The tech had no better result s and he got nothing. Goliath was not happy and let the techie know it. No squeaky voice now. The techie visibly shuddered and I shrunk further back into the chair. I felt as though I was watching a rerun of the Obama Care web page fiasco.
I was finally dismissed without a clue of what showed up. My guess was nothing because I didn’t keep my chin up. Answers would hopefully come another day- more likely, based on what I had experienced, NEVER. So what was I here for? Will I ever know?
I was left alone. I was anxious to get back to the rectangle (no elevator please) which was not easy since now I couldn’t walk without a new and severe tilt and stumble- great job doc. The giant blue sumo suit would have come in handy now. I would love to give “bouncing off the walls” a new visual definition.
I turned the 25th corner and was relieved to find it was the original rectangle and not another place that missing people journey to and never return. Why there was my wife- she had not abandoned me! On the other hand she has been sitting for 7 hours. She was cheerful none the less. Is she the good Saint? Definitely! Now all she had to do was find the right garage, get the car, not turn down a one way street the wrong way, as I had, and then relocate this unique Land of Oz.
Blessedly we crossed into NJ and I finally know, like Dorothy, I am home again. I could only think that Goliath was no Wizard. Wizards don’t come that big. If Dorothy had him as the Wizard she would not be back in Kansas. More than likely she would have gone through the door of “where no one returns”.
So that is the story of my adventures in a medical world of Oz. Take my word for it, this was not a particularly “This Magic Moment” the Drifters sang about. I guess I should have been ecstatic. I got out- may the good saints be praised. Was I the only one that made it out? On the plus side, there was no stump, I did not end up crispy from those hands of fire, and I still had all my organs, at least I think so- I failed 10th grade biology. I may not have found out anything but at least my Dapper Goliath had not been singing The Kingston Trio’s M.T.A. (“…but did he ever return no he never retuned and his fate is still unknown…he’s the man who never returned.)” or in answer to his afterlife discussion The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young.” Yes there were many things to be thankful for. Well maybe only one- Freedom!
All the characters and situations depicted above are unfortunately or supposedly fictitious. But they don’t protect the innocent because clearly there were none. The gown is true, the boots are true. The sumo suit is true. The elevator is true. The brand spanking new equipment is true. Finally the poor fellow whose appointment I stole is sadly true. Goliath is partially true. The missing and never returned have not returned. And the story line is completely true, honest; no one could possibly believe I could make this up!
All I can add is “Now, you all be sure to enjoy your next visit to the hospital!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”