Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Absence of the Joke

I know this is odd. But I'm going to miss the strike. Yes, I know. Strikes are not good. They wreak havoc on what is already an unstable industry. They cause dire financial straits for thousands of people both in and out of the entertainment community. But I have to confess that when you work in an industry whose unshakable motto is "the show must go on" (and you have seen this motto used as justification for all manner of shitty behavior) it felt sort of nice to finally say "Due to management's complete and utter refusal to negotiate fairly, tonight's show will not be going on after all."

It was also nice to get outside a little more. I can honestly say that prior to the WGA strike, I had never seen the sun rise over Paramount. It was breathtaking. And it was good to meet other writers. I met more writers in the last 90 days than I have in the last 15 years. And we had some terrific conversations out there; dissecting the latest developments with the AMPTP, talking shop, Hillary, Obama, religion, race, sex, you name it. Granted it might have been more fun to have had those conversations sitting in some cozy Coffee Bean instead of walking around in a circle with a stick in your hand, but we were out there for a reason – to reestablish in everyone's head (including our own) that writing has value – great value. There are no terrific TV shows, no iconic films, no stunning directorial debuts and no award-winning performances without great scripts. Scripts matter. And they don't grow on trees. They are written. By writers. Like us.

It was also good for us to have our guts hated a little. Most bad things said about writers are said behind our backs. It was sort of refreshing to have passing drivers give us the finger or scream "Get the fuck back to work!" My all-time favorite epithet was hurled by the guy who sped past the NBC gate one morning and simply screamed "Fuck you, Jews!" (proving yet again that brevity is the soul of wit). It made me want to grab one of those blank signs and write on it "Comedy Writing: It's Not Just for Jews Anymore."

Yes, I'll definitely miss hanging out with such smart (and oddball) people on a daily basis. It reminded me that I'm lucky to be in a business that despite its many headaches is often pretty damn fun. On the last day I picketed at Disney, I saw one of my favorite strike signs. It was one of those blank ones that allowed the writer to express something personal on it. This writer had simply printed two words on his sign: "Something Witty." I instantly laughed. But I wasn't laughing at the joke. There wasn't one. I laughed at the absence of the joke – which was actually funnier. And I felt sort of happy to be one of the 12, 000 WGA members who create all the funny, dramatic, scary, brilliant and mediocre material that keeps America (and the world) entertained day after day, year after year. I know, I know. We can often be a huge pain in the ass, but you gotta admit we do help keep things in balance. We are the ones who keep our eyes open. We know when to make the joke and when not to. And we remind people of the hard, nagging truth that things could always be better. And I think the industry has missed us. Writing is a job, but it's also a calling and it actually has value far beyond anything the AMPTP will ever be able to compensate us for. . Who knows? Maybe someday, the world will recognize its true worth.

Copyright 2008 David Dean Bottrell


Michelle said...

I am glad that the strike is over but it did provide a crash course in the workings of the entertainment business for us future WGA members. There was tons of information on the strike, the history of various relationships, and how it's not all shiny and pretty in the world of movie making. It was also fun to see all the videos the writers came up with(my favorite being WGA Boy)since they had all this free time on their hands. It is clear why you guys are the brains behind the operations.

I hope all those that were financially impacted by the strike recover and that the writers continue to receive the respect and compensation that you deserve.


Purple Writer said...

Jeeze. I thought I would be the first to comment. Whenever you're the first, anything you say is thought to be original.

It's good you have your own blog. I expressed similar sentiments about missing the picketing sunrise and camaraderie to some TV journalists at La Bruschetta yesterday.

Does the word "left lying on the editing floor" mean anything to ya.

Oh well, such is the life of the writer.

Looking forward to more fun unedited reads on your new blog.

Skye Knight Dent
aka Skye's The Limit Dent

Theo Greene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Theo Greene said...

I support the WGA and stood in solidarity as a SAG member.

JD said...

"Granted it might have been more fun to have had those conversations sitting in some cozy Coffee Bean instead of walking around in a circle with a stick in your hand." Unbelievable. It never occurred to me how silly that seems. When we were out there discussing death, comics, movies, literature and relationships it just felt like life.
Now that the strike is done, it almost feels like a dream... and I'm ashamed to admit that in some ways I wish I was still asleep.
It's important that the strike is over. It's absurd that I feel the need to be "pc" and express that. Even with all the unexpected joys that accompanied it, it would be terrible to have another in five years, so let's hope that you writer's made some giant leaps forward in an industry too quick to belittle your worth.

John Cox said...

Great post, David. I share many of the same feelings about the strike.

Congrats on starting this blog. You have been bookmarked. :)