Monday, July 24, 2006

The Queen of Subtext in Comedy

Thanks to everyone who’s agreed to participate! Please keep the submissions coming (via email)! I’ve already received quite a few fantastic scenes, and I’m genuinely excited about the discussions we’ll be having on subtext over the next few weeks.

I know what a shock it must’ve been to get my email with the question, “Would you mind sharing with me your favorite example of subtext in a movie?” The answer is NOT EASY. It requires thought and concentration because nothing gives screenwriters more fits than subtext (although I think it is something we should embrace and love). SO… as many of you continue to think about scenes with subtext, I’d like to share a couple of non-cinematic examples (so as not to accidentally steal anyone’s thunder).

First, check out a short blog I posted earlier this month about a moment in time captured by the great screenwriter, William Goldman, where a few simple words conveyed volumes of subtext. It’s called
Subtext & Natalie Wood.

Second, let’s talk about the funniest and greatest break-up book in the history of mankind (and womankind) – Anita Liberty’s
How To Heal The Hurt By Hating.

On the cover, she writes:

My boyfriend, Mitchell, whom I dated for three and a half years, left me for a woman named Heather, and, to get even, I have devoted my entire career to humiliating him in public. Enjoy the book.

The book is a collection of (slightly) bitter journal entries. It’s amazing how much hilarious subtext can exist in one’s own private journal. You can read excerpts on
her website. Consider the subtext found in the following journal entries:

Not Thinking About You(Oh but of course she is!)

Guys Who Want to Sleep with Me…(Seduction is always about the art of subtext.)

Independence Day.” (She tries to convince herself how great it is to be dumped and alone and how she doesn’t really need anybody especially HIM.)

But back to the title of her book, which, in and of itself, has some subtext to it because we all know that healing hurt feelings by hating someone is not what her book is really about. She is not advocating hatred and bitterness in the world (although at times you might wonder). It is a funny expression of feelings at a very painful time in her life, and thus, her book is, in fact, about laughing through the pain. It is about the miserable business of going through all of those necessary emotions you have to go through after a bad break-up (and yes, you have to acknowledge anger and maybe even a little hatred… or A LOT of hatred in Anita’s case). And then you realize, after you finish her book, that it was downright cathartic to laugh through all of that pain with her. And by seeing how Anita clings to bitterness, how she cannot let go of humiliating Mitchell, how she cannot move on in her life, she actually inspires us to… do the opposite. What she cannot do, we MUST do.

I have to hand it to her. She’s sharp. She’s the reigning Queen of Subtext in Comedy. In fact, she just posted on her website a video clip from one of her recent shows called
Turn Off Your Cell Phones. What makes this improvisational moment funny is the subtext because she never says the words and tells the audience to “turn off your cell phones.”

If her clip were to be scripted, it might look something like this…



Audience laughs and applauds.

Thank you. My next poem is called...

A cell phone rings in the audience. A look of horror on Anita’s face.

(mock phone call)
Hello? Who's this? No... No, I'm
actually at the theatre... No...
Well, yeah, I guess I could take a
picture of her for you. Okay, hold

She poses. Everyone laughs.

Okay, I'll send it to you... Don't
call me. I told you not to call
me... All right, I'll talk to you
later... Really? Okay, all
right... Bye. No, seriously, BYE.

Everyone applauds.

I don't mean to humiliate anyone I
haven't slept with...

By the way, she has a new book out, too, called How to Stay Bitter Through The Happiest Times of Your Life.


Hope this proves helpful. Keep 'em coming!


Anita Liberty said...

Oh my god. I feel like all that dedicated ego-surfing I do to avoid writing just paid off...BIG-TIME. You get me. I feel finally gotten. I love being gotten by you. And if I weren't already married, I think I'd ask you to marry me. Or at least be my publicist. *Sigh.* P.S. Absolutely no subtext to be found in this post. Just love, love and more love.
Yours (and I mean that),
Anita Liberty

Mystery Man said...

And I love you too, Anita. I really do!