Critical Thought: Funny

It may sound precious, but sometimes characters really do sneak up on writers and begin to speak. So we listen and commiserate and document it. When writing or reading fiction, I anticipate, and prize, the rare slivers of time when a character’s voice has that immediacy, and his or her triumphs and troubles become my own.

Victoria Large is a Massachusetts native who holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. Her short fiction has appeared in such publications as Blink Ink, Cafe Irreal, Umbrella Factory Magazine, and Wordriver.

Funny

Considering the sitcom is dead, and no one wants canned laughter, and wacky neighbors, and lardass guys making up with their sexy wives, and sickeningly cute kids anymore, we’re doing pretty well. I think we get by because we may be outdated, but if you like what we’re serving up, we’re the only game in town. Last one for miles. Get it while you can. I feel good about our chances. We’ll probably crack a hundred episodes and sell them for syndication, where the real money is.

It’s 3:00 am and I’m awake. My wife is conked out, dreamily shifting on occasion or snuffling into her pillow. When she can’t sleep, she’ll get up and watch TV. That doesn’t help me.

My producer wants us bigger. He doesn’t want to be doing well considering. He wants to be doing well. He wishes the Nielsens still meant something. He remembers when Radar left M*A*S*H and Diane left Cheers, and he hates how there are no Radars and no Dianes nowadays. Families don’t watch shows together. Junior’s playing his Gameboy and eating dinner alone.

My producer wants our show to be part of the collective memory of several generations. He wants it to appeal to everyone from six to one hundred and six. He asked his six-year-old what’s funny, and the kid said ladies’ underwear.

Now the boss wants five story ideas about ladies’ underwear by the end of the week. That’s it, he’s surely thinking. That’s the secret to success.

I can feel the mattress under my back and I wish it were softer, because somehow it isn’t doing anything for the pain near my shoulder, a knot that I’m having trouble ignoring. I sometimes wonder, when my eyes refuse to stay closed and my brain just keeps yakking away: what path could I have chosen to avoid this? What could have kept me sleeping soundly, dreaming of going fishing up in Maine? Other people do this. But I usually conclude that it isn’t my choices. It’s me. I would find a reason to worry. I could have any career and still find a reason to worry.

My parents didn’t want me to go into comedy. I don’t know if it’s because they wanted me to find something with steadier prospects or because they didn’t think I was funny. I think they sometimes worry that all comedians are mental messes working out their bad childhoods. I think they’re afraid that they did something wrong, that I’m the stereotypical Sad Clown and I cry inside because of what they did to me. My mom has a habit of cutting out articles about comedians with bad lives who OD on cocaine, surrounded by hookers who then sell their stories to tabloids. She cuts the articles out and leaves them around when I visit. I swear to this. I wonder if she knows that my late nights are spent alone, listening to my wife breathe and sometimes laugh, softly, at some dream person who probably isn’t me.

I’m thinking about ladies’ underwear and the possible settings for the story. I think about lingerie stores and laundromats, gym locker rooms and outdoor clotheslines. There are possibilities; it’s true. Panties getting snatched, or mixed up, or blown away. Hell, there are possibilities for this kind of thing right at home.

I don’t get up, but I imagine what it would be like to rifle through my wife’s underwear drawer. A few lacy things and a lot of colored cotton, and a pair of mannish white briefs with a high waistband. (Where and why did she buy them?) The scent of detergent and a fading lavender sachet. I imagine touching them, looking closely at them for inspiration, trying to find answers in their too-cute patterns, swirls and polka dots. I imagine my wife putting on the light, me struggling for an explanation, picture of the bumbling sitcom husband. I try to imagine the laughter.

by Victoria Large