Monday, August 5, 2013

Lucy Gets Serious

I have a new term of comedy writing art: Flexible Protagonist Personality Syndrome. In a cast, you tend to have a few primary protagonists (Sam Malone/Diane/Rebecca in Cheers.) Each character has a few things that are written in stone (Malone is a chivalrous pervert, Diane is small name big ego, Rebecca is a gold digger,) so on, so forth. But, within those spheres, we have a lot of wiggle room. Probably the biggest example of this is with Frasier in "Cheers" and Frasier in "Frasier." It is kind of hard to imagine the Frasier in "Frasier" and the Frasier in "Cheers" as the same person; the guy who on-the-fly turned Charles Dickens into a sort of modern day hard boiled crime story for his bar buddies is not really the same guy who throws those lavish dinner parties. But, those are at the extremes. For most of both shows runs, you can find a sort elastic personality that fits the characters that wouldn't be acceptable in a more serious drama.

This flex is because comedy requires some give and take from the audience; Woody (or Coach for the early seasons), for example, is essentially a living cartoon character. But, Woody especially, swings from being one of Sam's biggest boosters in his skirt chasing ways, to being a fairly conservative sort of guy when it comes to sex and marriage.  In a long-running series like Cheers, this can show character growth (the Sam we see at the end is not in anyway the same Sam who hires Diane in episode 1,) so it is often forgivable. In a shorter piece, like this story below (Table of Contents here), it is distracting. Hopefully, I've done a decent job of keeping our protagonists' personalities from flexing too much, or stretching too far, for the sake of a joke.

* * *

Sobering up yourself is pretty easy. You drink some water; you get a good night’s sleep. Sobering up someone else is hard. You don’t just slap them in the face, and they feel better. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. Sometimes, you just get slapped back.

“He slapped you.”

“I told you it wouldn’t work,” I said. We had sat Jon down on one of the half-couch, half-benches that are meant to look inviting but be uncomfortable enough that people don’t hang out in your hallways. He was blinking his eyes and cradling his pounding head in his hands.

“What time is it?”

“Time for your speech,” I said. “If you can walk.”

“I’m ready. I’m going to let that bitch have it,” Jon said, trying to push himself to his feet. Christine not so gently pushed him back to sitting down.

“You’re still drunk,” I said. “You don’t want to go out there drunk and angry.”

Jon was being stubborn. It was one of his least endearing qualities, I decided. Christine peered through the doorway to see what was going on inside. She came back, with her arms folded across her stomach, tapping her foot.

“So, good news, bad news, Lucy.”

“Give me the good news,” I said as I pushed more coffee at Jon. He at first waved it off, but after I said ‘please,’ he took it in his shaky hands and started to slurp it down.

“The good news is that Sam’s got everything under control,” She said. “The bad news is that I’m pretty sure he’s talking to a fuzzy, blue puppet. Which is talking back in a bad French accent.”

“Puppet?” Jon asked. “Those God damned puppets are here?”

“Not necessarily those puppets,” I said. “But some puppets are.”

It was a weak defense, and he actually managed to get to his feet. He stumbled a bit, and I steadied him as he walked to the door. He looked down in his drunk haze, and I’m pretty sure I heard him mutter something vulgar. He tried to take a step forward, but I held onto his arm.

“You need another minute or two,” I said. He pulled his arm free, whirling around, his aromatic drunk breath hitting me full in the face.

“Those damn puppets have showed me up for the last time! I’m going to tell them what I think of them too!”

“Lucy, if you let him go, it won’t be your fault. Karma is the best revenge,” Christine said as Jon started to take another step forward. He dropped his coffee cup, which hit the carpet with a clink and a splash.

“I can’t help but feel mildly responsible for what is about to happen,” I said. Sam and the blue puppet, which I had no doubt was being operated by Kenny from behind the stage, were currently trying to determine when the French invented their own version of French toast.

“After the development of the Belgian waffle in the 1600s, the French took the baked bread products world by storm,” The blue puppet said.

“Why don’t we just hide here,” Christine said. “We can let nature take its course.”

Jon was whistling and snapping his finger as he stumbled up the aisle. People were starting to look at him, and Sam started a nervous clap. “And here is our speaker for the rest of the night — Jon … well, you all know him! Come on Blue Boy, we’re off!”

“You stay right there you mass of fuzzy disappointment!” Jon shouted as he pulled himself up the stage next to Sam. Sam cleared out from behind the podium as Jon stumbled against it, tilting it forward. Sam grabbed his shoulders and righted him on the stage.

“Now, listen here you little blue piece of crap —”

“Mon Dieu,” The puppet said. “It is time for us to vamoose.”

“That’s not even French,” Sam said.

“That’s right, Sambo,” Jon said. “This little blue fraud isn’t even French! He’s not even real! And you know what? She loved him! She loved him more than me!”

“Is it too late to stop him? I think it is too late to stop him,” I said. “I just want confirmation that the window of stopping has long since closed. Because, once I know that formally the window has been shut, nay, painted over and sealed, I’ll go slink away into the corner.”

“You could still rush the stage,” Christine said. “It would be a really, how does it go? Futile and stupid gesture?”

“Those are my specialties,” I said, taking my gloves off as the blue puppet tried to explain that he was real in the same sense as Tinkerbelle. I folded them and tucked them into my purse. I was making my way up to the speech when I heard Jon pound the podium.

“So you weren’t just seeing my wife! How many other sluts were you with, you little blue home wrecker!”


  1. Links in case you forget a few key points: Jon talks about his wife's puppets.

    Sam gets the puppets.

    The puppets? Not a random ass pull, but rather, a Chekhov's gun. Even Kenny's French character/accent has been mentioned before. This is the key to good comedy, wrapping up a bunch of individual threads that work together (which is why Frasier and Cheers are great, the early dominoes get set up then knocked over by the conclusion, especially in the more farcical episodes of Frasier.)

  2. Terms of Comedy Writing Art devised by Matt: In addition to Flexible Protagonist Personality Syndrome, I have Sitcom Detente.


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