Some people are part of a well-written novel adaptation, full of the deep, rich colors of humanity, each chapter bringing tribulations and transformation.
Others try their best to untangle the plot lines of their drama, struggling from episode to episode, with the occasional sex scene or the stressful cliffhanger. Soap operas are a common medium, with all of their family problems, sprinkled throughout hundreds of bland, unimaginative episodes. Its protagonists sometimes mature into serious award-winning dramas, others degrade it to reality shows. I, for one, feel like I’m trapped in a sitcom.
I feel it in each and every word I say and hear. I find the tiniest details and coincidences of my life are infused with a sense of humor and an acute sense of irony. Sometimes it’s only funny retrospectively, like the deep, soul-searching questions of my doctor, or even better, when I learned my dad had Covid right on the middle of a date.
It’s kind of a joke, really, how much of my life revolves around comedy, without me being a comedian of any kind. By now, I’m almost certain my days are dreamt up by a team of sadistic writers, putting ink to paper between mountains of discarded take-away boxes and coffee cups, laughing hysterically, writing me into strange situations to see how funnily I can fail at them.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve always been a fan of comedy. I love it on all its forms. Whenever I feel like it, some stand-up is playing on the background of my computer, and I frequently laugh at a comedian’s take on life while I’m working. Stand-up is a fascinating medium, which never ceases to amaze me.
“There is no other art form of any kind, so closely connected to the recipients of the art and the artist himself (…) there is a very short wire between the end of the joke and laugh. It almost doesn’t exist.”
That was Jerry Seinfeld, who also said stand-up and sitcom work are on two extremes of the scale: stand-up is the least collaborative of the art forms, with one individual being in total control, and sitcom is the most collaborative, with an army of people being involved on any given week of a show.
A sitcom like Seinfeld is a case study. Larry David, its mythical co-creator and hands-on leader right up to the seventh season finale, was a master craftsman. He and Seinfeld painstakingly steered the show to quality, week after week. On any given day on set, nothing was more important than the script. It was always being worked on, and its life essence — its blood — were the jokes.
Jokes on Seinfeld didn’t have it easy. A single joke had to survive an endless obstacle course: from the original funny idea to an outline, a first script, a read-through with the cast and crew, a rewrite, a rehearsal, another rewrite, another rehearsal, to the shoot night with a live studio audience, and finally, the editing process, where a lot could be cut out of the show.
For its age, Seinfeld was the evolutionary next step on the sitcom’s natural history, its characters free of the end-of-episode wholesome lessons for the entire family. These adults were childish, cynical, petty, never learned compassion or showed any hint of remorse. “No hugs, no learning”, said David: no sentimentality allowed.
“Why do you feel the need of turning everything into a stand-up routine?”, my therapist asked me.
I thought about the question as hard as I’m mentally equipped to. Then my team of writers answered it for me.