Friday, June 08, 2007

Laughing on the Other Side of Your Face

On the other hand (re comedy):

I am about to write a novel. It is based, in some part, on my own life, and rooted in a particularly dark episode in my childhood. I tell my sister, who naturally shared that dark bit of childhood. She looks at me fiercely. She tells me, somewhat censoriously: ‘Well, you know what you’re best at, don’t you? Comedy. You’ve got to write it as comedy.’

I laugh. That’s what we do in our family: laugh. I am gritting my teeth. I am thinking: typical, ****ing typical, laughing to hide the pain, comedy to hide the pain, to pretend none of it really happened, so we can duck from reality, and so that the problems never get acknowledged, never get ****ing resolved, and so we go on hurting, limping to our ****ing graves hurting and laughing, holding our ****ing painful sides. (Can you tell I was angry?) Comedy, I’m thinking, as my sister glares at me, easy only if you’re avoiding the truth, not so easy if you’re trying to confront it, and still hurting and so still involved, easy only if you’re detached (and safely up high like Julian Gough’s Greek gods). In fact, I’m so angry I’m near to ****ing tears.

I write the novel. I show it to my sister. ‘I was wrong,’ she decides, conciliatory, wiping away her tears. ‘There’s no way you could have written that bit as comedy.’ (And anyway, actually, it’s not as if the whole novel is unremittingly tragic - the habit of comedy’s too ingrained in me, and there are other episodes in the novel which my sister found laugh-out-loud.)

I send it off. ‘Too dark,’ say the publishers. ‘Hmm,’ says my sister, that sardonic, sarcastic, ironic, ****ing satirical I-was-right-all-along look entering her eyes. What a joke.

See, there’s also this about comedy: it depends on your sense of humour, which depends in turn on your relationship with the material:

Well, after that novel I wanted a laugh, and decided to write a short comic play. I’m now producing that play for a theatre festival. A couple of weeks ago I talked to directors interested in working on it. Here’s my conversation with one who had made clear that the play related to his life:

Elizabeth, I’m really keen to do this play, but you’ll need to do a lot of work on it.’

What? Oh! ‘What work?’

‘Well, this thing you reveal so very near the beginning: it would be much better if you kept the audience not knowing it, sitting on the edges of their seats, give them an emotional investment by keeping them guessing.’

‘Oh. Ah.’ (Thinks.) ‘Umm… But if you did that, how would you retain the comedy?’ (Julian Gough’s ‘gods'-eye view’)

The director goes white. ‘Comedy? You call this play a comedy?’

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