Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Heeeeeere's Jonny! A guest post

There was something about Tommy that fought against his own gifts and talents. In a way it denied them completely. He had that magic intangible that makes certain men and women stand out; but he also had the tragic flaw. It was a kind of death wish and it had always been there. It was in his eyes and in the muscles of his face, in his words, gestures, every nuance and each subtle movement. His success was his ruin: he wanted to do something that is impossible in comedy.

As his writer my job could have been easy; I could have just let the scripts write themselves out of my perceptions of him, write his real character large, like they did with Hancock. He should have been his own material. But he didn't want it that way. I hated him for it, for what his search for "a new kind of comedy" did to me.

Enmity: there's just no reasoning about it. If tragedy is the comic in slow motion then comedy is adversity speeded up. You can make comedy out of any human situation. Take any abomination: the holocaust, war, cancer. If you write out the solidity, the fear, the hate, if you distort the shadow you can make it funny. The public will laugh at the serious or the tragic if you invite them to; all you have to do is take away the fear.

But it's in the hands of the writer, not the comedian. Tommy took the comic too seriously, he became a freak, made himself ridiculous. The public laughs at the contrast between the body and the shadow, at the difference between the comedian's (or his writer's) invented self and his biological and psychological reality as it is perceived within the context of the character it has been encouraged (Duped?) into accepting. When he starts, as Tommy did, to play himself too closely, the comedy disappears.

I don't think I ever liked comedians. It wasn't just Fatboy; I never met a comic that I liked. It's not that I have no respect for what they do, quite the opposite. It's really a kind of jealousy. You see, at one point, a long long time ago, I wanted to perform comedy myself. But I was no good. I tried and I couldn't do it. I'm just not funny. Give me the funniest, most brilliantly conceived and universally hillarious material and I'll die with it. I'm just not funny. You see, I don't want people to laugh at me or their short comings through me; as a performer I wanted them to laugh at themselves directly, and that doesn't work. There has to be clowns. I couldn't be a clown so I became a comedy writer.

Those were the worst years of my life. Writing comedy is art-killing, soul destroying labour. If a bad comedian does your stuff it bombs. He dies and you die with him. On the other hand, a good comedian makes the audience believe that the material is his own, he makes it seem effortless, natural, spontaneous, fully formed and immediate: the public is totally unaware that anyone else is involved, that what they're experiencing is part of a process. A good writer, furthermore, conspires in the illusion, he writes himself out of the world.


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