Forget the Setup, Eddie

What’s the difference between a gorilla and a pound of oranges?

Once, in a galaxy far, far, etc., I had my first novel roll across an editor’s desk at Random House. The editor liked the book, but suggested a small gaggle of changes before they would sign it.

You’re a writer, you know how it goes. You work you brains out to produce the ideal book, that neither says more nor less than it should, and the editor says “lose this, add that, and shouldn’t there be a girl?”

If you know about sitcom writing, the jokes are all in threes (Netflix’s  Kominsky Method notwithstanding. There, the jokes either come with no setup, or as three-part setups that span a couple of episodes).

But old sitcoms – we’ve been watching Frasier again because the writing is so, so tight.  The characters are clean and consistent, and the scripts are intelligent.

That being said, the episode I watched last night featured a joke where the character Niles, distraught over something, began to sit on the couch, unaware that Eddie the dog was already on the couch. This is good stuff, see, and it was obvious Niles was going to sit on him.

Ah-hah! Niles, just an inch away from the dog, stands back up with another idea. No, the dad character says, that won’t work. With a sigh, Niles begins to sit down again… oh no, poor Eddie! Wait, Niles says, I have a solution, and stands up again.

By now we’ve seen the deal with the dog twice, so we settle in for the joke that’s about to hit.

Except that Niles leaves the room, and we cut to another scene. What? Wait, what?!? Where’s the punchline? What funny in that? Hey, WHERE’S MY JOKE?

I rewrote my book for Random House – by the end of the month that it took to work it, the editor had moved on, and someone new was at his desk, someone who couldn’t see the promise in the book.

What happened to Eddie’s joke was that it got cut out in the final edit of the show – whatever the punchline was, it didn’t fit some aspect of the storyline. I’m certain they shot the joke – Niles sat on the dog, or the dog bit him, or the dad made some snarky remark – but they truncated it before it panned out. The audience was left to fill in the missing piece.

You know how it is when you write a lengthy piece – you have crossover storylines in your head. When an editor, even you, decides that a major structural change is in order, what becomes of all those storylines?

Are they like poor little Eddie, whose joke never got told? I work with a bunch of engineers who see the world through their engineering eyes, and can’t understand why I have to translate their ideas for them.  Because, I tell them, you’re too close to your work.

If you are super close to your work, and we all are, I wonder if we can see those places where our characters’ roads were switched, so that they’d never go to Jamaica, they’d never meet Donna, they’d never have gotten that phone call.  It makes you wonder if your reader can see the Frankenstein seams where the roads were switched.  It’s obvious to you – but to the reader…. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

I pulled out a major character from Marigold’s End. I added her for the Random House fellow, but I never liked her. She’ll show up in the next book, but, for this one, she just stretched the story I was trying to tell until it didn’t make sense. I’m still concerned that I haven’t eradicated her traces, however. Like a perfume, lingering long after the lady has gone.

As a humorist, I am thoroughly ticked off at the director of that episode, because he left me hanging. Wasted a nice piece of slapstick. Wasted.

It’s almost the same as if I didn’t tell you the punchline of the joke at the beginning of this post. It’s cruel. It’s sadistic.

I can’t do it.

The punchline: what’s the difference between a gorilla and a pound of oranges? That’s the last time I send YOU to the supermarket!

What’s the difference between a gorilla and a pound of oranges?

Once, in a galaxy far, far, etc., I had my first novel roll across an editor’s desk at Random House. The editor liked the book, but suggested a small gaggle of changes before they would sign it.

You’re a writer, you know how it goes. You work you brains out to produce the ideal book, that neither says more nor less than it should, and the editor says “lose this, add that, and shouldn’t there be a girl?”

If you know about sitcom writing, the jokes are all in threes (Netflix’s  Kominsky Method notwithstanding. There, the jokes either come with no setup, or as three-part setups that span a couple of episodes).

But old sitcoms – we’ve been watching Frasier again because the writing is so, so tight.  The characters are clean and consistent, and the scripts are intelligent.

That being said, the episode I watched last night featured a joke where the character Niles, distraught over something, began to sit on the couch, unaware that Eddie the dog was already on the couch. This is good stuff, see, and it was obvious Niles was going to sit on him.

Ah-hah! Niles, just an inch away from the dog, stands back up with another idea. No, the dad character says, that won’t work. With a sigh, Niles begins to sit down again… oh no, poor Eddie! Wait, Niles says, I have a solution, and stands up again.

By now we’ve seen the deal with the dog twice, so we settle in for the joke that’s about to hit.

Except that Niles leaves the room, and we cut to another scene. What? Wait, what?!? Where’s the punchline? What funny in that? Hey, WHERE’S MY JOKE?

I rewrote my book for Random House – by the end of the month that it took to work it, the editor had moved on, and someone new was at his desk, someone who couldn’t see the promise in the book.

What happened to Eddie’s joke was that it got cut out in the final edit of the show – whatever the punchline was, it didn’t fit some aspect of the storyline. I’m certain they shot the joke – Niles sat on the dog, or the dog bit him, or the dad made some snarky remark – but they truncated it before it panned out. The audience was left to fill in the missing piece.

You know how it is when you write a lengthy piece – you have crossover storylines in your head. When an editor, even you, decides that a major structural change is in order, what becomes of all those storylines?

Are they like poor little Eddie, whose joke never got told? I work with a bunch of engineers who see the world through their engineering eyes, and can’t understand why I have to translate their ideas for them.  Because, I tell them, you’re too close to your work.

If you are super close to your work, and we all are, I wonder if we can see those places where our characters’ roads were switched, so that they’d never go to Jamaica, they’d never meet Donna, they’d never have gotten that phone call.  It makes you wonder if your reader can see the Frankenstein seams where the roads were switched.  It’s obvious to you – but to the reader…. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

I pulled out a major character from Marigold’s End. I added her for the Random House fellow, but I never liked her. She’ll show up in the next book, but, for this one, she just stretched the story I was trying to tell until it didn’t make sense. I’m still concerned that I haven’t eradicated her traces, however. Like a perfume, lingering long after the lady has gone.

As a humorist, I am thoroughly ticked off at the director of that episode, because he left me hanging. Wasted a nice piece of slapstick. Wasted.

It’s almost the same as if I didn’t tell you the punchline of the joke at the beginning of this post. It’s cruel. It’s sadistic.

I can’t do it.

The punchline: what’s the difference between a gorilla and a pound of oranges? That’s the last time I send YOU to the supermarket!

Author: John D Reinhart

Author, technical writer, videographer, actor, and naval historian John D Reinhart is a very busy guy. You can find his novels as Smashwords.com.

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