We talked a good deal about how to write convincing conversations, and about the general awkwardness surrounding our attempts to discuss serious issues.
Often serious conversations take place through an indirect method, such as in these videos (shown in class):
These, and also the question list handed out in class, made me think of an article I read in an old Reader’s Digest (a weird thing about my childhood is that I read all my grandmother’s back-issues of RD from 1973-2003: I was a lonely kid). The author writes about how being placed on voice-rest and having to communicate by notepad transformed the conversations she had with her family, and led her to develop The Ungame, a boardgame to stimulate the important conversations needed for full understanding of loved ones:
Another RD article (which I couldn’t find online) talked about how a daughter used to leave notes for her mother, explaining the reasons why she wanted permission for different things – “the power of the written word,” the mother termed it, as the calm explanation instead of a screaming match meant she nearly always gave in to her daughter. Sometimes communication is easier when it is indirect in this way – when a tool is used to cut through the emotion and leave the bare statements.
The Birds&Bees episode of This American life is great for its focus on tough conversations with young people. In Some Like it Not the host sits in on a college sexual consent workshop, to hear the kind of questions and anxieties attendees have about the issue.
About That Farm Upstate, then, focused on a children’s grief counselling centre, The Sharing Place.
On the other hand, conversation failures in all their awkwardness are the bedrock of comedy. King of the “excruciating conversation”sitcom is Coupling, a Friends-style sitcom from early 2000s (written by Steven Moffat):
I enormously enjoyed the Nina Conti video we watched in class, where the ventriloquist comedian literally puts words in her volunteers mouth:
Watching the unfortunate participant is fascinating: they go from embarrassed puppet to active participant in the skit. As their freedom of speech and identity is taken away from them they paradoxically seem to find some kind of liberation in the ordeal.
Dara O’Brian is incredible in his ability to engage with audience members for comedy, twisting their answers into whimsical improvised scenarios:
Bo Burnham, though he doesn’t engage with audience participants in the same way, has discussed how he tried to create space for “listening” on stage in his act, which is one of the main things he misses about straight theatre.
The result is something very different from traditional comedy sets, but certainly funny: