HOW TO STAY MARRIED WHILE WRITING A SCRIPT WITH YOUR SPOUSE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I write scripts for Voicescapes Audio Theater with my husband, Tom. Writing scripts is hard; writing comedy scripts is harder … and writing scripts with your spouse is — let’s say “challenging,” at least if you hope to stay married.

Tom and me now

We have developed some Writing Rules of the Road to help couples stay sane and civil throughout the stressful process of script writing. Here are a few.

1. When one person says they don’t want to write because they’re not in the mood or because they have a headache, don’t insist on doing it anyway. Someone will get passive aggressive and the other will get pissy. Wait for a time when you both can enjoy it.

2. Never storm out of the room cursing and swearing that you’ll never write another word as long as you live! Use your words – both on the page and off.

3. Chose your words carefully, both on the page and off. Try to avoid phrases like “You’re an idiot!”, “How could anyone in their right mind think that line is funny?” or “No one from this planet would ever call that realistic dialogue.” In fact, avoid negative statements altogether. Start your comments with disclaimers like, “Don’t you think that maybe…” or “I personally feel that such and such might possibly work better here.” Then do not respond to the ensuing insults in kind.

4. Do not throw things; even soft things like fluffy dog toys. They can still knock over lamps or break the vase you paid way too much for at that stupid Tag Sale.

5. Have a “safe word”. When things get too intense and you absolutely       cannot agree about something and you are about to come to blows, use the safe word and drop the disputed issue immediately. Never bring it up again. What happens in script writing, stays in script writing.

6. Do not mix your personal relationship and your writing relationship. Compromises and concessions made in scripts cannot be thrown up as ammunition in a personal fight. And never bring personal issues to a script fight. The fact that your husband always sides with his mother when she gets snarky with you, will in no way improve your comedy script about speed dating.

I hope that we have been able to improve someone else’s writing relationship with these rules. We’ve actually never used any of them!

A PORN STAR, A PLAYMATE, A PLAINTIFF AND A GUY NAMED PECKER WALK INTO A BAR – BY TOM CURLEY

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stormy Daniels has a 1-hour interview scheduled on CBS this evening — 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper — at 7 PM. It’s the real deal show! Trump wanted his own show, and now, he’s getting it! Maybe not exactly how he planned it. 

And the bartender says “What is this? Some kind of joke?”

The answer is, yes and no. It’s not a joke. It’s reality. In so far as reality has become a bigger and bigger joke these days, it is a joke. And the bar they walked into wasn’t a ‘bar’ bar. It was a legal bar.

So, what’s the joke? The president is suing a porn star, Stormy Daniels, because she broke a Non-Disclosure Agreement for talking about an affair the President insists never happened.

I’ve never met this woman!

He’s basically saying: “I did not have an affair with that person to whom I paid $130,000 to not talk about the affair we had.”

What’s the other joke? A former Playboy Playmate, Karen McDougal, is suing The National Enquirer because they bought an interview from her detailing the affair she had with the President.

I’ve never met this woman either!

They silenced her by simply not running the story. The punchline here? The guy who killed the story is named Pecker.

The jokes are the news.

There’s also a plaintiff, Summer Zervos, who is suing the President for defamation of character.

But that’s not funny. Not all news is funny.

I don’t think the news is supposed to be funny. These days, more and more of the news is funny. Absurdly funny. Or possibly ridiculous. Is there a difference? “You can’t make this shit up.”

How many times have we heard that phrase recently?News and comedy are becoming one.

Where do you get your news? The CBS Evening News or Stephen Colbert? The ABC Evening News or Jimmy Kimmel? CNN or The Daily Show?

I usually choose the latter because I get the same raw information, just with jokes. These days you get the jokes more and more just from reading the news.

When I worked on network news shows at CBS, we would have monitors showing the other networks. As you’d expect, all the shows did all the same stories in roughly the same order. Makes sense. These days, I notice the same stories on all the late night comedy shows too. The comedians all tell pretty much the same jokes in pretty much the same order. The thing is, they all thought the jokes up separately. But since the story is the same, they come up with the same jokes.

It’s just the news.

Comedy and news are becoming one.

I know I’m going to laugh when I watch The Daily Show. I expect to laugh. I’m getting the same laughs from CNN and MSNBC. Who are not trying to be funny! They are merely reading the news!

“Hey, did you see Wolf Blitzer last night? He killed!” I didn’t make up the title of this blog. I saw it on TV. Which late night show? None of them. It was a pundit on CNN, Ana Navarro, who said it.

I’m here through Thursday. Try the veal!
Comedy-and-news-are-becoming-one.

That’s not what’s really worrying me. What happens when they separate? When comedy and news split and become two separate things? What happens when the news isn’t funny anymore?

Our current clown show reality has a shelf life. It can’t go on forever. It will just seem like forever. 

What happens after a sane, boring President is elected — and there are no more daily scandals, screw-ups, and shit-storms? No more crazy tweets? No more porn stars, playmates, plaintiffs, and guys named Pecker? The news will continue, but what about all the poor comedians, comedy writers, bloggers, and columnists? They will have to go back to writing jokes again.

They will be forced to think up funny stuff on their own! Our comedic muscles are atrophying! I can feel it. What can we do about it? Are there special comedic exercises? Should we fill in Mad Libs? Improv?

Sure, we could, but why bother? We can’t top reality. We can’t make this shit up.

When that time comes, we’ll all just have to buckle up and get back to work — making up jokes. When that time comes, I think I’ve got a good one.

Picture of Mr. Pecker not included.

A porn-star, a plaintiff,  a playmate and a guy named Pecker walk into bar …

Too soon?

WHY CAN’T THE TRUTH BE FUNNY? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There’s a common theme that runs through most sitcom episodes. And it hasn’t changed since sitcoms were first available on the radio. Lying. Humor is far too often based on people lying to one another – usually family members or close friends. The rest of the sitcom plot revolves around the liar trying to keep his lie a secret and the “lie-ees” getting close to discovering the lie.

At the end, the liar is exposed or the liar comes clean and realizes that he or she shouldn’t have lied in the first place. This is the synopsis of most “I Love Lucy” shows, as well as those of “Modern Family” today.

So why can’t anyone remember the lesson that lying doesn’t pay, from one episode to the next? Why can’t the sitcom producers and writers find something else in life and human relationships to laugh about?

I’m concerned about the prevalence of lying on sitcoms because children watch sitcoms. There’s no sex or violence so they’re assumed to be kid-friendly. But I think that it’s toxic to expose children to lying as the preferred way to deal with the people around you. It puzzled me growing up why grown-ups told me how bad it was to lie but then they all did it, every single week on TV.

Telling the truth on sitcoms must be like Kryptonite to TV writers. This gives kids a warped idea about relationships. It tells them lying is the common, accepted way to communicate. It says “Beware of the truth – it will get you in trouble every time!” Worse — the truth isn’t funny.

It reminds children that that the world is a scary and unpredictable place. You can’t trust grown-ups. Chances are they’re not telling you the truth about anything – from the inconsequential small stuff to the important big things. Children need to believe the grown-ups around them can protect and buffer the world for them.

Sometimes it’s not true, but children need to believe it. Like they need to believe in some version of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy at some stage of life. I don’t think it’s healthy for children to absorb mistrust from the comedies they watch. I think this is what happens when sitcom people automatically lie rather than deal with the truth. It is also annoying to watch as it is the same plot repeated through every year of television.

Lying is ubiquitous on TV comedies and therefore I believe, insidious. Today’s kids are already so much more sophisticated, and at younger ages than they were in my generation. So let’s not teach them too early that lying should always be your first choice. Let’s not convince them that truth is to be avoided at all costs. Let them get through childhood before they become dishonest and jaded.

“BEING THERE” REVISITED: A MODERN DAY REVIEW – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

Last night, Marilyn and I watched “Being There.” We hadn’t seen this comedy from 1979 in a long time, probably years. What a difference time has made!

I recall seeing “Being There” when it opened. I enjoyed the farcical Hal Ashby film about a mentally challenged man who somehow influences high and mighty power brokers including our Commander-In-Chief and his aides. It seemed like a Capra-esque flight of fantasy in 1979.  Couldn’t happen in real life. Our political leaders couldn’t be so naïve or vulnerable. We were caught up with Jimmy Carter versus Ronald Reagan. Many laughed at the notion of an actor becoming President. It wouldn’t happen, we smart folks reasoned with our historical savvy. No way a B-movie actor, revered for his roles as a beloved college football player and pal to a chimp named Bonzo — no way that guy could become the most powerful political figure in the world.  So we smugly thought.

Being There, 1979 poster

Peter Sellers is “Chance.” AKA Chauncey Gardner, a middle-aged gardener. The simple-minded assistant to a wealthy man who dies at the beginning of “Being There.” We don’t know much about Chance except he apparently has the mental capacity of a child. He is a brilliant gardener and likes to watch television. Chance is a sweet-tempered fellow whose world revolves around tending the garden — and watching television. He can’t read or write. He just gardens. And likes to watch …. television.

Chauncey Garden walking through Washington DC

Through a series of farcical plot twists, Chance becomes the house guest of an elderly, dying business tycoon and political king-maker (Melvyn Douglas) and his capricious wife (Shirley MacLaine).  The new benefactors mistake Chance’s observations about gardening as metaphors for Wall Street and fixing what ails our government. The President (Jack Warden), a close friend of the tycoon, thinks Chance — now accepted as the mysterious Chauncey Gardner — is his benign Henry Kissinger. Chauncey’s garden recipes become talking points for the President’s economic directive.

Peter Sellers & Shirley MacLaine in Being There (1979)

There’s one hilarious scene in the middle of the film where the Black maid who raised Chauncey from infancy — and knows he has “rice pudding between his ears” — rails at her friends and points out that “all you need to become president is to be white.” That was a joke in 1979. Not so funny these days.

In 1979, the movie plot seemed outrageous and outlandish. In those days,  many of us didn’t believe Ronald Reagan could be taken seriously. None of us conceived of him as what we called “a president.” We would have deemed it impossible. I still do.

As “Being There” reaches its conclusion, Melvyn Douglas’ tycoon dies. At the cemetery, as he is laid to rest, the tycoon’s pals and the President’s aides quietly share anxiety about the country’s future. They don’t think the President is strong enough to lead the country out of its economic swamp. There’s a final quiet agreement that only one man can save the country, the man with the savvy garden metaphors, Chauncey Gardner.

Closing scene

The man who would be President is seen wandering through the woods and into a lake, staking his umbrella in the water, perhaps divining a miracle. The end credits roll with outtakes of Peter Sellers laughing his way through many retakes of plays on words.

Marilyn and I laughed as the credits rolled by. Then, we looked at each other. Quietly. Very quietly. Through some bizarre upside-down ill-starred event, during the heart of a perfect political storm, Chauncey Gardner became America’s president after all. Not benign — and definitely not a gardener, yet surely as stupid and illiterate.

A gardener would have been a better choice. At least he could have grown a few roses.

HOW FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK

As long as I can remember, I’ve hated watching people make fools of themselves. I was 6 when I found myself running out of the room during an episodes of “Lucy” in which she humiliates herself. It was too painful to watch. Rather than finding it funny, I feel humiliated myself. I can’t help but think how awful I’d feel if it were me.

Humiliation is a horrible feeling. It’s almost impossible to get past it, no matter how many years pass.

Humiliation

Humor that depends on making fun of people does not make me laugh. I love witty dialogue, literary allusion, puns. I love parody and cleverness. Except for some particularly loathsome villains who deserve whatever they get, I never want to see anyone humiliated. I hate cruelty, mental or physical and cannot watch it.

Not surprisingly, I was one of the kids who got teased and bullied. I was way too sensitive. 60 years later, I’m still too sensitive. Some things never change.

This hatred of seeing people humiliated is probably one of the reasons I so intensely dislike our so-called president. I have watched him deride and humiliate reporters, parents of deceased children, disabled people, women, senators, other politicians. It makes my stomach turn. I cannot begin to tell you how, even if he did nothing else I disliked, this behavior alone would make me loathe him.

I need decency and caring from people who are supposed to be running my country. I expect them to show dignity. I expect them to be able to speak our language properly. I expect them to have read a few books and understand the world of which they are supposedly in charge. I expect them to be people for whom I can show respect and maybe — imagine that — look up to.

YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING – RICH PASCHALL

R.I.P. DON RICKLES!

With the presidential campaign going strong there are plenty of news items for late night comedians to poke fun at, but no one today could possibly be as biting as the King of the Insult Comics.  Not only has he been doing this for many decades, he is still at it.  From Johnny Carson to Jimmy Fallon as well as all the other late night hosts, this comedian has brought a brand of humor like no other.

NO JOKING AROUND, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Imagine a comedian who insults everyone by race, gender, ethnic background and every other quality you can poke fun at. The audience loves it. No one walks out.  No one calls for him to be banned or fired.  Social media do not go ablaze with attacks. No Facebook postings, hash tags, capital letter tweets, re-tweets, shares, or re-blogs.

Everyone loves it. That probably would not happen today.  A comedian can’t walk into a room, insult everyone, including the President of the United States, yet leave everyone calling for more.  We seem to have lost our ability to poke fun at ourselves and our eccentricities.  We certainly can’t laugh at stereotypes that grow up around our religion, our ethnic group, or our town.

Today, everything has to be politically correct.  Any comedian who forgets that may be in for a short career. There was a time when a serious actor but outrageous comedian was able to take off after just about everyone.  No one in the room was safe from his barbs, whether you had a front row seat or were anywhere in his line of sight, because that would also be his line of fire.

With a television career that began in the 1950’s, Don Rickles appeared in both comedies and dramas.  He appeared in the classic 1958 Clark Gable movie, “Run Silent, Run Deep.”  Other dramatic roles would come in the future but he gained his greatest fame as an “insult comedian.”

That’s right.  He came out and insulted everyone and went home.  I saw him at the old Mill Run Theater outside of Chicago.  The in-the-round theater was perfect for the non-stop rapid fire comedian. By the time Frank Sinatra told Ronald Reagan’s people that Don Rickles, a Democrat, would play the Inauguration or they could get someone else to line up the talent, Rickles was already known as “Mr. Warmth,” because he was anything but that.

The resulting show was classic.  By the way, he had the “mic drop” down pat long before today’s comedian (and others) used it.

You may say, and perhaps rightly, that a comedian can’t get away with stuff like that today.  Rickles has had a long, illustrious career as an actor and “The Merchant of Venom.”  He ruled the late night talk shows and concert halls.  We have lost the sense of humor that can allow comedians to act this way.

Rickles is the only one left of the acerbic comedians of old who can get us to laugh at ourselves by insulting us and our foibles.  Just a few months ago, Rickles stopped in by Jimmy Fallon just as he has done often with Tonight show hosts since Johnny Carson.

Don Rickles still performs his stand up act and is booked out to late in the year.


Don Rickles recently passed away. See him at Sunday Night Blog!

SHORT BUT SWEET by ELLIN CURLEY

I just saw a play that was interesting, but way too long. The producers had to fill out the required time for a Broadway play, whether or not they had enough good material. A lot of movies are too long for the same reason. To me, most action movies are no more than a series of barely distinguishable scenes of violence strung together from the opening credits and beginning “premise,” and an even more spectacularly violent dénouement. As far as I’m concerned, you could cut movies of this genre in half without altering the plot (what plot?) at all. But then, you might have a 47 minute movie and no one would pay to see it.

smiley-face-desktop-x-391568

This is particularly painful with comedies, particularly on television. Many sit-coms have a few funny bits and that’s it. The rest of the show just isn’t funny. In a perfect world, you could air an 18 minute episode because that’s all the funny material you had. You should be able to present the material that works and then call it a day. For the most part, half-hour shows are only 21 minutes after subtracting commercial breaks. Take off another one or two for coming attraction … and you’re down to 19 minutes. So many the problem is those really bad scripts? Maybe they only feel long because they are so bad.

I worry about this with blogs too. I have good ideas but I they don’t always add up to a whole post. So I’m simply going to present a few paragraphs from a couple of interesting articles I read recently.

First, apparently babies and young children are ‘designed’, by evolution, to seem cute and winning to adults to insure kids get the maximum love and attention they need to thrive and grow. Infants’ big eyes, button noses, and chubby cheeks elicit a kind of primal bonding reaction in adults. So do the sounds the make and the way they smell. It’s a visceral, chemical, and nearly universal reaction.

Children start to lose those physically attractive ‘baby’ features around age two or three, so adults are hard-wired to respond equally strongly to the speech patterns of young children.

The way kids perceive and say things sound funny and charming to us. Their observations about the world seem irresistibly adorable. This phenomenon has a name: “Cognitive Babyness.” Studies show that between age two and seven, a child’s cute behavior replaces their cute faces in stimulating a care-giving response. Go evolution!

Ana McGuffey - 1946 - Mme. Alexander - Doll's faces are intended to embody the "adorable" factor of real toddlers.
Ana McGuffey – 1946 – Mme. Alexander – Doll’s faces are intended to embody the “adorable” factor of real toddlers.

So much for interesting factoids. I’ll move to my next mini topic.

I taught Yoga and Meditation for eight years. I know the enormous benefits to adults — increased focus, attention span, calmness, control and confidence. Also, decreased tension and stress, anger, frustration, distractibility, and fewer physical aches and pains. It never occurred to me that teaching some form of Yoga and/or Mindfulness in to schoolchildren might have the same amazing benefits. But recently, I’ve read several articles about these kinds of programs being taught in kindergarten through high school, all around the country. They have produced outstanding results.

The skills taught have reduced the symptoms in ADHD kids. Calmed children with anxiety disorders. Helped kids with learning issues, behavior problems, and social deficits. The same studies have shown improved grades, a higher degree of empathy and kindness between kids — and an enhanced enthusiasm for school.

Many schools have incorporated some form of mindfulness into the curriculum for teachers as well as students.

Way to go! Good for you! Over and out!