Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"Could you argue a little slower? I'm writing this down."

My wife always claims that she’s just a “character” in any story or blogpost in which I include her. She insists it’s not the real her but one heightened for comedic or dramatic effect. And that’s probably true. She’s a therapist so she likes to keep a low profile (hence no photo for this post) so she doesn’t mind that she’s referred to infrequently.

She does have one beef and I must admit it’s a valid one. There have been times in arguments when I’ve thought: “Ooooh, this would be a great scene.” I bet the wives of every writer have this pet peeve.

But if you want to write from real life and personal experiences, arguments are a great source of conflict, which is a key element of good storytelling.

Two of the very best family sitcoms relied on writers sharing personal moments. THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND always rang so true because they WERE.

The truth is we don’t always come off so noble, so praiseworthy. We are often petty, foolish, dunderheads. This too is a hallmark of comedy.

We laugh because we recognize this behavior. But it also means we have to be willing to reveal to the world our foibles. “Characters” allow us to do that with a thin veneer of anonymity and safety.

And yet there is that line in real arguments – things said that are not meant for anyone to hear but your opponent. So for most writers they have two things going on – How do I win this damn argument and can I use it? And if they had to choose between the two, most writers I know would opt for the second.

Stories are just too fucking hard to come by.  


Janet Ybarra said...

I dunno, she could be pleased to know that she is your muse.

It's interesting, though, that you used a photo from EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, because I got turned off from that show early on.


If Patricia Heaton's character fought with Ray that much in real life, they would have been divorced years ago. She was constantly putting him down and complaining about him. I got no sense from her that she loved Ray in the slightest.

I never found that funny.

If I were Ray I would have taken the kids and run like hell.

You can portray an essentially loving relationship and still get laughs: George and Gracie, Lucy and Ricky, Rob and Laura Petrie, Sam and Darren Stevens and so on.

VincentS said...

I read where whenever Ray Ramono's wife would do or say something and say, "You're not going to put that in your show, are you?" He would respond, "Don't you want another addition onto the house?"

VP81955 said...

"I bet the wives of every writer have this pet peeve." Huh?

Ken, I never realized writing was a gender-restricted occupation. (By now, you've probably received a few comments on your faux pas, so I'll leave it at that.)

Oh, and today marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of Dorothy Parker, who I'm glad didn't take your "advice" to heart.

E. Yarber said...

Goodman Ace, later a mentor to George Axelrod and Neil Simon, began as a staff writer at a Kansas City radio station. His breakthrough came when his wife Jane showed up at his job so they could leave together for the evening and wound up on air bickering with him about the bridge game they'd played the night before. Audiences were taken with the peculiar byplay between the two and Ace was savvy enough to turn their relationship into a daily soap opera, EASY ACES. One of Ace's notions was to place a microphone beneath a table the cast sat around during the broadcast so that they'd forget they were being heard by thousands of listeners.

While Ace was talented enough to exploit his actual marital chemistry, the mistake most wannabes make is to ignore 98% of what they hear in order to push a fake persona of their choosing, always trying to make themselves out to be a glib hipster or adorable naif even if the other characters may be more interesting in their own way.

kitano0 said...

Janet Ybarra...I was thinking the same thing. I don't understand why people love to watch arguing. I never could watch "Raymond" for the same reasons you state. It just wasn't funny to me, at all. "Home Improvement" started feeling the same way to me...two grown married people arguing about things that any mature couple should have resolved years ago. Not just not funny, but so unrealistic.

Aaron Sheckley said...

I'm with Janet on this one. While there may be well be couples out there that act like the Barones, that particular trope is so overrepresented in sitcoms that I'll lose interest in a sitcom in thirty seconds flat if the writers use it. The "idiot manchild husband/shrewish nagging wife" shtick wore out its welcome with me a long time ago; it's not characterization, it's just a gimmick. It's a huge reason why I can't sit through an episode of Big Bang Theory any more; with the way that both Penny and Bernadette constantly berate and belittle their husbands, there's nothing in those relationships that would lead me to believe that Leonard and Howard would even like their spouses, let alone stay married to them. Based on the popularity of both BBT and Everybody Loves Raymond I know I'm in the minority here.

Andrew said...

@ VP81955,
Oh puh-leeze...
"Male embraces female, in grammar as in life."

Rory Wohl said...

"She’s a therapist..."

Ah, that explains everything

Covarr said...

"She’s a therapist so she likes to keep a low profile (hence no photo for this post)"

Based on what you've shared about your tasted in women, I would've assumed she looked like Natalie Wood. Based on how often you post pictures of Natalie Wood, I'm not sure your wife would appreciate that comparison.

...And now I'm wondering how I could write an argument based on a wife who doesn't appreciate her husband's thoughts about a decades-dead celebrity, and a turning point in said argument where the guy directly compares the two.

Big Matk said...

Who here remembers "The Bickersons"? I used to hear records of their comedy on the radio nearly 50 years ago. Don Ameche and Francis Langford played the always-arguing John and Blanche. I think a lot of television couple-comedy owes to this!

Anonymous said...

I'm with you all about Raymond. I grew up with that kind of arguing and it turned me off this show. There were shots of brilliance with this show, such as Marie's Sculpture and Bad Moon Rising, most of it was complaining and arguing and I didn't enjoy it.

Pam, St. Louis

estiv said...

The biography of John Updike highlights the fact that much of the material for his short stories and novels came directly from life. Names and professions would be different, but personality traits, physical appearance, and dialogue was often based on incidents that had actually happened to him not long before he sat down to write. The context would be very different from what had happened, but the incidents would be an extremely close match. At its best this can result in work that has the intensity of fresh experience, no matter how long ago it was written. His first wife put up with it, but apparently his second wife told him, like your wife, that she was off-limits. Don't blame her.

Louis Burklow said...

I'm not fond of sitcoms that are nothing but constant put-downs by characters who are supposed to like/love their targets. That said, I loved EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. In fact, I saw things from Debra's viewpoint. It was obvious she married Ray thinking he would break from his mother eventually and when the show started she was still hoping but starting to realize he never would completely. She was the audience surrogate character who was constantly amazed at how Marie ran that family. At times I wondered how they could stay together. The final episode showed Debra loved Ray enough to put up with him. That seemed to me a mature decision, one that most sitcom characters nowadays are in no way able to make. I find it frustrating that 13 years later, RAYMOND is still the last first-run sitcom I watched regularly.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Not long ago I heard some of my neighbors arguing loudly in their yard. It was a typical, husband/wife argument. In fact, it was so cliched that if I had written it into a script I would be accused of being a hack. I've been told many times that comedy isn't "real life," but a heightened version of real life. In other words, one could use such a thing as the basis for a scene as long as there's something that makes it unique or otherwise out of the ordinary.
BTW I liked RAYMOND through +/- season six. Then I got tired of it and never went back.

cd1515 said...

Totally agree with Janet and others could never get into “Raymond” for the same reasons.
Who wants to see a humorless shrew bitch at her husband?
Don’t we see that enough in real life?