Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Comedy Is Hard

I'm still listening to classic old radio shows, although not as single-mindedly as before. And one surprising discovery I've made (which shouldn't be all that surprising) is how much material got reused.

I knew that mystery writers like Carlton E. Morse would reuse plots. But listening to ten episodes of the Bickersons back-to-back, you realize every one is written to roughly the same formula and rhythm. You even hear the same jokes being reused. Stuff like (as John complains how he denies himself luxuries to save money), "I don't even drink my bourbon anymore. I just chew the cork and hit myself over the head with the bottle!" Two shows even reused the same 45-second exchange word-for-word, which doesn't sound like a lot until you realize the skits were only 15 minutes long.

I don't know why this strikes me so differently than, say, a stand-up comedian using the same three-minutes of material over and over or the dudes on Saturday Night Live reusing the same characters and formulas week after week. There's something about having fictional characters speak the exact same dialogue that hits a button with me.

But I don't know why it should. Good comedy is hard, and if you gets a good line that gets a big laugh, why not fall back on it occasionally. Listening to that reused exchange on "The Bickersons" (and I know for a fact that this was at least the second time it was used, not the first), I noticed that it got one of the biggest, most extended laughs of the entire show (of course, this was one of the last episodes, and it seemed like half the lines in the script were recycled from other shows).

I'm not sure what all this means to me right now. I'm in Digger doldrums, fighting with the plot of the new book and trying to figure out a way to fix the last short story I wrote. Neither one works well on a story level. What magic did I have two years ago that I don't have now?

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