I’m not sure why this popped into my head, but it did. It’s kind of a rambling story but if you stick it out until the end you’ll learn a bit about where my sense of humor comes from. Unlike most of what I write, this is all true.
Back in ’87 or ’88, when I was in high school, I learned I’d need a fine arts credit if I wanted to graduate. Since staying at Farmington High School for the rest of my life wasn’t high on my list of things I wanted to do, I dug around to see what was offered. I found art (I can’t draw), theater, and speech/debate. Theater didn’t especially appeal to me at the time so I chose what looked like the easiest solution: speech and debate.
I pretty much sucked my first year, but found my footing the second year and got halfway decent at interp. For the uninitiated out there, interp (Humorous/Dramatic interpretation) is basically a one person play that can only last around ten minutes and you can’t move. It was a competitive event, meaning I would show up to a tournament and sit through multiple rounds of other people performing their little one-person plays.
As you can imagine there were some spurious choices for plays people chose to perform. I ran a whack of them over time, but always tried to get something funny; most people went for the horribly dramatic world is going to end and everything sucks plays that are so popular with high schoolers. Among other story lines: cancer, AIDS, children dying of various things. It honestly got so tragic it got kind of funny. Maybe I turned into this guy.
Or maybe it was all just so over the top that you just had to laugh at the silliness. One of the plays that was popular as a piece back in the day was ‘night Mother by Marsha Norman. It won some awards in the mid 80s and was just insane enough that everyone wanted to try their hand at it. Note, this isn’t Vonnegut’s Mother Night, which was actually an amazing story. ‘night Mother was about two women, mother and daughter, and the daughter decides she’s going to kill herself because her life is miserable. They talk, they plead, she shoots herself. Game over.
I saw that a lot when I was competing and it continued on into collegiate competition as well. While all this was going on, I was doing a piece by Ted Tally called Coming Attractions. It was a funny play with a very serious side to it. Coming Attractions is about a small-time criminal who gets an agent so he can become a big-time criminal. At it’s heart, it was about our fascination with criminals and even had a terrorist comedian as a bit character.
“Terrorist comedian enters the stage dressed in loud plaid jacket. A translator with an AK-47 kneels in front of him. The comedian spews a bunch of Arabic sounding words:
Translator: So I was a torturing your American Ambassador last night
Comedian: more Arabic sounding words
Translator: When he looks up at me and asks, ‘What was that ladle you cut me with last night?’
Comedian: more Arabic
Translator: And I said, ‘That was no ladle, that was my knife’.
Comedian: more Arabic
Translator: So he says, ‘Take my life, please!’
Comedian pauses for effect, then says more Arabic sounding words
Translator: He wants to know if you can hear him in the back.”
Amazingly, twenty years later I still remember that section. I competed for many years and came pretty close to breaking into the quarter finals at the national tournament, I was ranked 34th or something like it. It was my brush with greatness.
I saw ‘night Mother a lot. And I grew to hate it.
In college, I minored in Theater. One of the classes was directing. I modified a Woody Allen story for the stage and put it on with two people, one playing the lead and the other playing the rest of the characters. It was great fun. Now, while all this was going on, my buddy and I were sitting together watching the plays and what should come on but ‘night Mother.
I gritted my teeth and tried to stay quiet, but at the end the director had the characters wind up back to back sitting on the floor. The daughter locks the door, the mother pounds on it, desperate to get in. We hear a gunshot and see the daughter slump to the floor next to a chair which was serving as a door. The mother, weeping, slides down and leans against the other side of the chair. While I was watching all this going on this scene popped into my head:
So, I lean over to my buddy and whisper, “Spooocckkk.”
What I failed to realize was he was actually into the story. Not only did my one little bit of MST3K ruin the play for him, but he nearly lost it laughing in the middle of the most important part of that play.
I think he still blames me that for moment.