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Home » Archives » December 2006 » A Reason Never to Attempt Dignity
[Previous entry: "Syntaxentuate the Positive!"] [Next entry: "I've Said it Before, I'll Say it Again: Pants."]

12/29/2006: A Reason Never to Attempt Dignity

I once saw a well-dressed man, faced with a sudden downpour, press the button on his expensive high-tech umbrella... which instantly detached from the handle entirely and shot an impressive ten feet down the sidewalk in front of him like a crazed bat making its escape. It really was delightful.

Loss of dignity is hilarious.

The most obvious way to use this fact is to add comedy to a scene. There's a great scene in a Will and Grace episode in which two people have a pretty serious conversation about emotional infidelity while dancing The Chicken Dance. If you've got a scene that you want to leaven with comedy without having the characters crack jokes, this is a really good way to go about it. Give them something undignified to do, or an undignified place to be. Let them have that heart-to-heart on a carnival ride, or while sitting in very small chairs in an elementary school, or while dangling from a cliff-face in groin-pinching harnesses, pathetically awaiting rescue.

Removing dignity is comedic. But the fact that something dignified is made laughable... well, we all know that that can be tragic, too. The kind of humor I've been talking about is just a few degrees skewed from poignancy, a point well understood by anyone who's ever had the misfortune to get very angry while wearing a chipmunk costume. It's funny if you're not the chipmunk, it's terrible if you are.

A sad girl is all the sadder if she's also playing Twister -- a fact that can be played for comedy *or* drama. In other words, drama writers, don't assume that having your couple break up on the wind-swept beach is going to be more powerful than the famous Buffy-Angel break-up which was all the more horrific for taking place in the sewer.

It's easy to get lost in the dialogue of a scene, to think of the scene as being simply the words that are said. But think about the location and the business of the scene as well. A little incongruity might be just what the scene needs.

Lunch: Vietnamese food -- pork and shrimp and noodles with that amazing sweet sauce


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