Dating back to the ‘30s, THE NEW YORKER has always had a feature called “Shouts & Murmurs”, a weekly essay by one of the premier comedy writers of the time. This was the gold standard. Today the best of the best contributors is Paul Rudnick. Always hilarious, head and shoulders above the rest.
Back in the ‘70s when I was starting out and devouring comedy in all forms, I often gleaned inspiration from the “Shouts & Murmurs” pieces. And back then the best of the best was Woody Allen. Two compilations of his NEW YORKER pieces have been published – GETTING EVEN and WITHOUT FEATHERS. I recommend them both. Yes, there will be things that are dated, but his comic premises are wildly inventive and even the stuff that might seem a little stale was fresh back then.
So it was with great excitement that I saw in the August 5th NEW YORKER edition that there was a new piece by Woody Allen. Imagine my disappointment when it was terrible. Instead of great jokes there were random funny words that when put together were supposed to evoke laughter. The premise was wandering and everything about this piece felt tired and forced.
Now I hear all the time that the editor of “Shouts & Murmurs” is very tough on submissions. I find that a little hard to believe when I see that if you starred in SOCIAL NETWORK or GIRLS your piece gets printed even if it’s not in the same league as Paul Rudnick’s.
But what do you do about Woody Allen? Here is an icon, a giant who has brought prestige and notoriety to your magazine. What if the editor read his piece and felt the same way I did? (I would hope that he or she did.) But how do you reject Woody Allen? What is that letter like?
Much tact would be required. This is a writer who deserves the upmost respect. So after giving it much thought, this is how I would write that rejection letter:
Thank you so much for your submission, “Now Where Did I Leave That Oxygen Tank?”
First off, let me say that I am in awe of how prolific you are. Considering the number of screenplays you’ve written, it’s commendable that you even had the ten minutes you obviously spent to conceive, write, and polish this humor piece.
If I may, congratulations on your latest movie, BLUE JASMINE. This was a wonderful film, one of your best, and I appreciate how you were able to basically repeat scenes numerous times and yet get away with it because of the performances – especially from Cate Blanchett. That same repetition was in fine evidence in your latest submission.
I couldn’t help but notice that BLUE JASMINE bares a striking resemblance to A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and just as you are obviously paying homage to Tennessee Williams in the film, in this humor piece you are paying homage to Woody Allen.
So, as stated above, there were many positive aspects of your submission. However, I wonder if perhaps this is the wrong department for it. Might you be better served offering it to the “Fiction” section? Or perhaps “Annals of Technology”, “A Reporter at Large”, or “The Sporting Scene? Unfortunately, our upcoming slots have been taken. Lena Dunham has submitted a laundry list that is both hilarious and unique to Millennials. And Jessie Eisenberg has a wonderful piece that we might have considered even if he wasn’t one of Hollywood’s brightest young stars.
Please do not consider this a rejection in any shape or form. In fact, should BLUE JASMINE receive numerous Oscar nominations next January, please resubmit. You are one of the pillars of this publication and are entitled to special consideration. If I have to move Mindy Kaling’s piece back a week I will.
Editor, “Shouts & Murmurs”
(You know what? I should probably submit this.)