Comedy Writing: Smut as Creative Necessity?

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So if you aspire to be a comedy writer AND you are a follower of Jesus, how do you handle the comedy writer’s raunchy room? A former writer’s assistant is suing Warner Brothers for the harassing atmosphere of the writer’s room for “Friends,” but writers and others are rushing to the defense of crudity in the comedy creative process arguing it is a “creative necessity.”

Diane English who created “Murphey Brown” realizes it is bad, but uses the “you had to be there argument.” “If someone put out a transcript of what goes on in writers’ rooms, it would be very, very hard to explain. I can remember some nights lying on the floor screaming with laughter, thinking if anyone was here with a tape recorder, my God, how horrible. (Sometimes, typically at 2 or 3 in the morning, comedy writers make jokes they never expect anyone else to hear. These are trotted out exclusively for the pleasure of punchy, bleary-eyed co-workers whose senses of humor have been hardened by years of professional wear and tear. One writer might start with the story of a humiliating colonic, which might trigger speculation about what a particular network executive would look like dressed in bondage gear, which could inspire a poem composed entirely of venereal diseases”

The lawsuit argues that such an environment is sexually harassing. “Just how horrible is no longer a source of speculation, thanks to a former writers’ assistant who was fired from the NBC sitcom “Friends.” Amaani Lyle contends that while doing her job, which was to record anything any of the writers said, she was subjected to her bosses’ dirty, personal and just plain weird banter, so much so that it constituted sexual harassment. Crude language, naughty doodles, sexual fantasies involving cast members: all are dutifully chronicled in a lawsuit against Warner Brothers Television; Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions; and three writers, Adam Chase, Gregory S. Malins and Andrew Reich.”

Attorney Adam Levin argues that the essence of “Friends” was sex, which was what many concerned parents said to the protestation of their kids who loved the show. “They were talking about sex because that’s their job “The real crime here is that these writers are being individually sued for doing their job¢â‚¬¦”This was not ‘Barney and Friends. The show dealt with pornography, threesomes, oral sex anal sex. How could they not talk about sex in the writers’ room? (The “Friends” writers certainly had some legitimate reasons to talk about sex: this was, after all, a show in which a character once fashioned for himself a prosthetic foreskin out of Silly Putty.”

Jon Sherman who spent five seasons writing for the buttoned-down ‘Frasier’ and a year with the relentlessly inoffensive ‘Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, adds, “I don’t believe there’s a room out there that’s clean. Both rooms could get incredibly filthy. Out of context it sounds horrifying and awful and makes no sense. But to do this job well, you have to open your head up – and sometimes what comes spilling out isn’t exactly pretty.”

Jake Farrow, a writers’ assistant who worked on ‘Friends’, seems to prove the point that these people don’t get how offensive the environment is: Uh-oh, I haven’t gotten a joke in the script for 15 minutes. The easiest way to get a laugh is to make a masturbation joke or ask how many dead babies can you cram into a glove compartment.” It does not seem top occur to him that most people don’t think dead babies is a humorous subject.

In a particularly low blow, Ms. Lyle’s suit said that while joking about the supposed infertility of the actress Courteney Cox, one writer described her reproductive system as “full of dried up twigs” and speculated that if she tried to have sex, “she’d break in two.”

If you are a follower of Jesus wanting to break into the comedy writing game what are you to do? Join the game and stay clean? Join the game and get sucked into dirt? Start a new game? The option of abandoning comedy writing completely violates our calling to be a loving presence in fallen culture, the choice to get sucked into the dirt violates our mandate to be countercultural, and the alternative of starting our own game is probably impractical financially and from a distribution standpoint.

Comedy writing is not the only gig that requires us to create a better culture, while countering fallen culture and at the same time communicating good news it just seems like a very tough one. Stop and take a minute to pray for Jesus’ followers who are in these trenches.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in October 18, 2004 by | No Comments »

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