Influence #1: Animal House.
Sure, just about everybody loves this old flick. It introduced us to John Belushi (on film, at least). It birthed a decades-long, and ongoing, line of college comedies. It had great music (Yup, that's blues master Robert Cray playing bass at the frat party).
But most of all, it was the writing. The ass-kickingly awesome comedy screenwriting. The script was penned by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, and Chris Miller. These guys gave us funny characters, ludicrous situations, and a strong dose of nostalgia. I don't believe any comedy flick between Animal House and the end of the century did as much in one hundred and twenty minutes. I mean Yeah, there are other funny films from the 80's and 90's (Meatballs, Caddyshack, The Blues Brothers), but none of them gave us such a credible ensemble of characters with such palpable story lines. And, for the most part, none of them gave us pathos. And pathos raises a comedy up to something higher. I'll talk more about it in this blog, but put me down as a big lover of pathos -- that element of a rare comedy that makes us wanna cry while we're laughing.
Influence #2: Veep, Eastbound & Down, Curb your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld ...
The mean comedies. I bunched them all together into one influence. I call them mean because they give us unlovable characters who cheat, lie, steal, etc. -- whatever it takes to succeed. Mean comedy, selfish comedy, dark comedy; call it what you like. There's a handful of examples from TV (some listed above) and precious few (Pulp Fiction, for one) from the big screen to cite. I think that's because few screenwriters and directors can pull it off. Moreover, almost nobody wants to make these films. I can say from experience that most film producers will freak out if you try to sell them on an unlovable protagonist.
Nevertheless, a certain segment of the audience (mostly the over-40 crowd) loves these folks (including yours truly). And that segment doesn't go to movies anyway; they watch TV. And by TV, I mean HBO, for the most part.
So let's raise a toast to selfish, rude meanies. Without them I'd have little to watch, and even less to laugh at. If you went to drama school like I did and studied Theater History, you know these dark comedies harken back to the English Restoration, when playwrights delighted audiences with self-interested characters who stopped at nothing to pursue their goals. I woulda liked that era, the late seventeenth century. But then, I probably woulda died of plague and not made it to middle age.
Influence #3: My sister Amy
I've got kids. And I've noticed in my kids a startling pattern of similarity with my own childhood. My son loves to make his big sister laugh. Fart jokes, poop gags, silly one-liners, you name it. He's the joker, she's the jokee. He'll turn somersaults to crack that girl up. I did the same with my older sister, Amy, when I was his age. I was a jester to her queen. There was little I wouldn't eat or slam my head up against if it had a chance of making her laugh. So thanks, Amy, for the audience.
Oh, and Amy was funny, too. When she was in middle school she and her friend created two characters for a talent show. Two silly, old grannies with crackly, granny voices. They cracked me up. And that's influence. I think those laughs are still rattling around in my head when I write. So, again, thanks, Amy.
Maybe you have a few comedy writing influences you wanna tell me about. I'd be delighted if you did -- using the comments section below. Thanks!