Tuesday, July 07, 2015
Getting a laugh and tear at the same time
James L. Brooks once strove to get a laugh with the punchline “cancer” (in his movie TERMS OF ENDEARMENT). He succeeded beautifully.
Last week I talked about rolling the dice and building an entire show around one big payoff. Today’s feat is to get the audience to both laugh and cry at the same line at the same time.
This is from “Never Love a Goalie – Part Two, “ season five of CHEERS, written by me and David Isaacs.
The premise was that Carla was dating a goalie from the Boston Bruins and ultimately became his jinx. Since most couples have “their song” we thought it would be funny that “Oh Canada,” the Canadian National Anthem played before many NHL games would serve as their romantic song. (Hey, it’s still better than “My Heart Will Go On.”) We got a few jokes out of it and moved on.
Eventually we wanted them to break up. Those scenes are tough because you want the audience invested in your characters. If they experience a great loss you want the viewers to feel bad as well. But those scenes, especially in sitcoms can get horribly maudlin or the tone of the show can switch unnaturally. If at all possible, it’s great to have some laugh in there, even a little one. But you don’t want the laugh to minimize the situation. Tricky, huh?
What we decided was this: Eddie would come to the bar, break up with Carla, and give her a cassette he wanted her to have. Late at night when she was alone in the bar she played the cassette. It was “Oh Canada.”
I looked up at the studio audience. Most were laughing, some were crying, and a few were doing both at the same time.
Of all the things I’ve ever written it’s one of my favorites. Laughs and tears derived from a real moment – it’s everything I ever want to write. And now I can sit home and watch marathons while eating bagels.