First off, let me just say that Neil Simon is one of my comedy Gods. I’ve devoured all of his plays, used them as a study guide. There was a period in the '80s and '90s that his new plays and musicals would open first here in Los Angeles before going on to Broadway (we were New Haven with palm trees). I would see them three or four times, watching to see how he revised and polished them… and often times marveling at the craft and ingenuity of the fixes. (And amazingly, he did it without the invaluable help of network notes.)
He has two
autobiographies. I strongly recommend them both; especially the first
one. The process of turning around THE ODD COUPLE is classic. That play is assigned reading for my USC Comedy class.
awhile, several years ago, Neil used to workout at my gym. He was
approachable and very gracious. Like I said, one of my comedy titans.
But I rewrote him.
the story. My daughter Annie was
trying to get into the drama club at her high school. (This was before she wised up and became a writer.) She was expected
to deliver a comedy monologue. The one she chose was a long speech
from a character in Neil Simon’s PLAZA SUITE. It might have been the
mother trying to coax her daughter out of the bathroom on her wedding
day; I don’t recall exactly.
The audition could be no longer than
3 minutes. Annie rehearsed it with me and I timed it. She was long
by about 40 seconds. Speeding up the pace wouldn’t have helped. So I
took a deep breath, said “give me the script”, and thinned out the
Even as I was doing it I was thinking, “Oh, I am
surely going to hell for this!” You don’t take Moses’ tablets and say,
“I think there’s a better way to phrase commandment six.” But I did.
I found trims. I found some repetitions. I did not spontaneously
Annie rehearsed the revised monologue and bingo! It
was right on time. She used it for her audition, was accepted into the
club, and no one knew Doc's speech had been doctored with.
Why am I
telling you this? Do I like looking over my shoulder for fear of being
struck dead by lightening. No. I’m telling you this to make a point.
are ALWAYS trims in big speeches. Whenever my partner and I finish a
draft we always go back, re-examine any long speech and invariably find
Long speeches are a bitch to write. You’re often
including multiple thoughts. Usually the best way to attack them is
let it flow. Just get it all on paper. Don’t go on to sentence two
only after sentence one is absolutely perfect. Once you’ve said
everything you want to say, even if you’ve said it five times, then go
back and trim and eliminate and shape. At some point you will be
satisfied that the speech is just where you want it and every word is
Then go back in a few days and take out another 10%.
I bet if he doesn’t sue me, Neil Simon would agree.