Saturday, 22 March 2008


It's a tranquil and snowy Easter Saturday, and I have worries. And not just worries for my high-chocolate diet and self-unbuttoning jeans. (Damn those puny buttons.)
Nor are these continuing worries on the self-unbuttoning state of spelling in this country. (I'd love to go round every Facebook profile and online dating profile and correct the 'your's and 'you're's [I'd ignore the 'ur's for the time being] and 'there's and 'their's and 'there're's, and even the 'thier's, but I have a suspicion that I'd score low in the online popularity stakes.)

But why offend random online people with my anality when I can offend everyone with episode one of my sitcom? As my commitment to its future continues to waver, I find myself in need of some form of closure before I can move on; and so I treated myself to a six-and-a-half hour Larry David extravanganza: ten half-hour episodes from season one of Curb Your Enthusiasm, a one-hour pilot, and a thirty-or-so minute interview.
As the interviewer observed, Larry doesn't pull punches, making gags about incest survivors, the size of a boy's penis, porn stars, the disabled, racial differences ...
I was only a few episodes in when I became acutely aware of a tight knot in my stomach. It was tension.

Larry likens gags to diving: you should score highly for accomplishing a difficult dive.
I felt very much that what he was doing was creating high levels of tension, thereby setting up a high level of release. Tension and release - the key components of humour!
Of course, therein lies the risk (and risk is another word that Larry uses often): one is more likely to fail on a difficult dive; if one fails to release that high tension, one is highly screwed.

Check out this clip, in which Larry joins forces with a Tourette's sufferer, and soon everyone in the restaurant finds release through profanity. It's easy to see how very wrong this scene could have gone, and how brave Larry was to run with it. Note the comedic music that Larry chose as a safety net to make everything right again at the end of each episode. Be warned: you might find the language in this clip offensive!

We know the score: no writer ever made a living writing about some dull man who did some mundane things and wasn't really happy and wasn't really sad and didn't feel much for the universe. Plenty of writers, however, have made a living writing about love and anger and revenge and friendship - writing about the extremes of humanity, both good and bad, but never indifferent.

I felt this way after writing my Summer of Love short story: I had nothing to measure the degree of risk with. I felt that the child abuse theme might be contentious, and I tried to pitch it at the right level. Ironically, more people were offended by my mention of God. Go figure.

And now I have offended several people (six I think) with my apparently uncompromising approach, and here's the rub ... every one of those offendees found a different theme offensive! We're not discussing death threats here - more, friendly advice along the lines of 'You'll find yourself getting into difficulties with x.' Furthermore, I'm not likening myself to Larry David: I have no delusions about my lowly status and mediocre ability. And if I was offered a gig on the condition that I remove the adolescent boobs/smoking/fisting/Kashmiri killer/Scientologists/old woman tumbling over cliff/disabled man/cross-dressing/anal sex/bestiality, etc. gags, then I wouldn't hesitate.
Jack Bickham sympathizes with that very typical writer who fears making a fool of himself (something that Larry David confesses to). No-one wants to send out weak work; we want to shine. But Jack is adamant: Keep sending that work out.

Technically, I have as many bases covered as I am capable of: I have the character mix, the premise-driven gags, the character arcs and relationships, the invisible shown-not-told exposition, the clear and emotionally-driven motivations/goals, the inexorable forward momentum, the swaps in polarity, a coherent style and consistent type of humour, a shunning of clich├ęs and avoidance of first-level consciousness ...

But I find it impossible to guage the likely success or failure of the humour on any objective level and, with utterly inconsistent feedback, the usually semi-reliable feedback route hasn't much alleviated my dilemma.

As I structure a new potential project, I find myself worrying about my religious protagonist, and hear Maria's words in my head: You can only go a little way with the God angle, and you have to tread very carefully. So I have prepared a foil - a non-religious love interest - thereby balancing the tone. And this overruling of my convictions in favour of a perceived response unsettles me. Is it wisdom, prudence, or cowardice?

All this said and done, there is only one certainty: the writer whose fear prevents him from sending out work will not make a living from the writing. Oh, and a second certainty: if you're a writer, you're not the first to experience these worries!

NB. If you have an online dating profile, please observe that my use of the word 'you're' is a contraction of the words 'you' and 'are', with the apostrophe replacing the discarded 'a' in 'are'. And please don't send me photos of yourself on all fours with a ball-gag in your mouth. Those photos should be sent to:


esruel said...

No thanks - I don't want any of your cast-offs!

solv said...

And don't you send me any more pix of yourself on all fours with a ball gag in your mouth!