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Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Life as a Comedy

by PJ McIlvaine

People say to me that I’m funny. Honestly, I don’t know where they get that idea. I don’t think I’m funny. Not really. Yes, it’s true that I have a sense of humor that borders on the absurd (love FAWLTY TOWERS, Monty Python, Mr. Bean). I can come up with a biting quip, a snappy comeback, a sarcastic retort faster than Kim Cattrall can shuck her clothes. However, people who know me, and who know what I’ve gone through the past couple of years, well, they know that I haven’t had much to laugh about.

But writing comedy… whoa! See, the most amusing thing about this is that I don’t see myself as a comedy writer, per se. I’m a writer, period. If the things I write make people laugh, great. But it’s not like I wake up in the morning, jump in the shower, turn the hot water on and all of a sudden I’m overtaken with side splitting, slap stick scenes or gut busting dialog. I just write them as I see them and if they amuse, who am I to say otherwise? I didn’t mean to rob that bank, Judge, but the teller was so nice and it seemed like she had enough money to spare…
My first foray into screenwriting was a post Vietnam family in crisis drama; it had some funny bits, but overall, not a laugh riot. Uh-uh. Next was a family rom-com ; again, some light touches, but no big set pieces revolving around inanimate objects, Colostomy bags or sex with groundhogs. After that came another rom-com with some broader comedic touches; still no smash in your face pie moments. Clearly I was feeling my way around this screenwriting thing like teens fumbling in the back seat of a Dodge. One more family coming of age a la TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (a classic which still gets to me every time, didn’t we all want Gregory Peck to our Dad?), then back to the lighter side with a (dare I say it, yeah) a fun family adventure in the GOONIES vein.

And then out of nowhere came MY HORRIBLE YEAR, and it was like the Hoover Dam breaking. I just went for broke, incorporating my kids and their small petty travails which to them were not small or petty. In the first few pages I had the Queen of England, Princess Di, dancing poodles, vintage airplanes crashing, fertility triplets, a guy in a kilt with needles in his eyebrows, and people running around in tights beating the crap out of each other (wrestling). It took me shy of a month to write it, and when I finished it, I put it away, too embarrassed to show it to anyone. Months later, I hooked up with a manager, she asked me what I had, I told her, she read the script, and suddenly the script that I was loathe to show anyone, well, Mimi Rogers didn’t think it was so bad. So maybe I do have a comedic funny bone. Somewhat.

Still, that always doesn’t translate into guffaws. Sometimes I’ll come up with something that I think is totally off the wall, flat out funny, and no one else gets it. Sometimes I write something that I don’t think is particularly amusing, but others think is hilarious. Other times, I’m not trying to be funny, not consciously, but it comes out funny anyway.

I grew up on the Three Stooges (pokes in eyes and tossing cream pies as high art), Laugh-In (the devil made me do it), The Smothers Brothers (variety shows, a lost breed), All In The Family (great comedic sitcoms, the kind they don’t make anymore). Much of that comedy was more subtle, ironic, political, and sardonic. What passes for comedy nowadays are pee pee jokes, a never ending supply of Depends, and slipping unsuspecting folks laxatives. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I like a good (I mean GOOD) gross out joke as much as the next bozo, but a little of this goes a long way. Like Ex-Lax.

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Anonymous said...


Nice. You got the goods. Your big day will come.

Side comment,
There's rumor that one day some hot shot director from Australia will make the The Three Stooges movie. You ever heard of this rumor.

PJ McIlvaine said...

Thank you for the nice comments.
No, hadn't heard that, but it's said that Mel Gibson is a big fan of the Three Stooges.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, PJ, Mel is the forgotten Stooge, aka the drunk, bigoted, Stooge--not even Shemp wants to be around him.

PJ McIlvaine said...


Anonymous said...

Mel Gibson is a brilliant director.

I wish he would make The Three Stooges movie one day.

Here's an idea.

He directs and PJ Mcilvaine would write the script.

PJ Mcilvaine,
just curious, if you were given an outline and asked to write a draft for The Three Stooges movie, how long would take you to do it?

PJ McIlvaine said...

Oh boy. Well, if I was "in the zone"...probably 7-10 days. I've written three scripts so far this year in that time frame and let me tell you, after I was done, I felt like Shemp. Looked like him too.