Comedy PTSD

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  • Comedy PTSD

    I talked last week about comic judgment, which leads me to one of my most terrifying nights as a comedy writer. I still have a little PTSD so you'll excuse me if the writing of this post seems a little stilted. I have to stop every few sentences and take a break.

    It was 1982. I went to the Fox Village Theater to see this new movie, VICTOR VICTORIA. It was directed by Blake Edwards, a very nimble comedy director. Among his credits are the first few PINK PANTHER movies and THE GREAT RACE (starring Natalie Wood so I've seen it twenty times). VICTOR VICTORIA had a stellar cast. Julie Andrews (Mrs. Blake Edwards), James Garner, Robert Preston, even funnyman Alex Karras.

    It's a remake of a 1933 German film, and who knows more about funny than the Germans?

    The theater was full, the audience was roaring, and I was having a panic attack.

    Why?

    Because I didn't find the movie remotely funny.

    Now normally you'd think, "So what? That's what makes a horse race.-

    EXCEPT...

    It's my JOB to know what is funny. It's my JOB to know what makes an audience laugh. And if they're roaring and knee slapping and I have no idea why, even with over twenty-years experience, then my career is over. I'm a musician who is suddenly tone deaf.

    I looked up VICTOR VICTORIA on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics score: 97%, audience score: 86%. Vincent Canby in the New York Times said: "Victor/Victoria is so good, so exhilarating, that the only depressing thing about it is the suspicion that Mr. Edwards is going to have a terrible time trying to top it.-

    You probably saw it and laughed your ass off.

    Similar material and subject matter was explored in LA CAGE AUX FAUX and was released before VICTOR VICTORIA and I thought it was hilarious. And that was with subtitles! So it's not that the subject matter is one I don't find amusing. I loved BIRDCAGE, the American remake of LA CAGE AUX FAUX and even the musical.

    I see VV pop up on TCM from time to time and wonder if I should take another look. Would another 38 years give me a different perspective? Might I finally see what everybody was laughing at. However, my fear is: what if I still don't find it funny and have a repeat panic attack? So I've never seen it again.

    Seriously, this movie occupied several sessions of therapy. If you're a comedy writer and you start doubting your judgment, you're in trouble.

    So how did I shake it? Eventually I just said, they're still paying me to do this. I must either know enough or am doing a good enough job fooling them. And I finally moved on.

    But since then I can never go to horror movies.

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