Transylvania Television and Going For the Dead Baby Gags

4 05 2009

My work on Transylvania Television continues. As of January I became head writer for the show, and as such everything filters through me before it gets to the showrunners. It’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of work. Creatively, it’s been going really well (getting hard to dedicated the time, though, but I will press on!), and the script output has increased a lot. We’ve lost some writers, but the team we have now is very talented, and I love their work. it’s a pleasure to do rewrites on it. I’ll have to make a post soon about rewriting a colleague’s work. For now, though, I’d like to revisit an older topic: being offensive.

The toughest thing about writing for TVTV is this edict that we have to be edgy. It was said in the first meeting that we wanted to be an adult show in the vein of South Park. In the year that followed, that didn’t really play out. At least not with me. Edgy is about pushing the envelope on what’s comfortable. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s supposed to “make you think” but it is supposed to make you pause. And being edgy is equal parts of testing people’s sensibilities, and digging on their preconceived notions.

It’s hard to write.

It’s easy to mess up.

Shock is not the same as edgy. Artists make this mistake all the time. They want their audience to feel something, and if they go balls out offensive and illicit shock, then they think they’ve made them feel something. There are two problems with this, however.

One – Shock is the only emotion they ever illicit. They ignore joy, sadness, peace, anger, envy, etc, which are all much better emotions, because those are the ones which have been so dulled with the information age.

Two – Uhh… shock isn’t an emotion, losers. Shock is the lack of emotion. Your brain sees something, overloads, and switches off. Worse yet, is switches the amygdala back to the lizard brain, which turns the viewer into an emotional “fight or flight” personality. I mean, do you get this? Shock actually de-evolves the mind.

I haven’t been writing anything particularly edgy since we’ve started. Oh, I’ll throw in a butt rape reference here or there because it makes me laugh, and that’s fine, but for the most part it’s been all I can do to keep the show from becoming a parody of a sitcom, complete with sitcom cliches.

The reason is because I’m pretty out of practice writing edgy things. Luckily, however, that stuff comes back with practice.

Half the point of a writers meeting is to try to make the other people laugh, even if you’re not scripting, just screwing around. You can tell all the crass and offensive jokes you want around a writers’ table. The easiest way to know if you’re pitching something shocking or something edgy is to gage the reactions. If the immediate gut reaction is uncontrolled laughing, it’s edgy. Put it in a script. If the reaction is nothing, or pensive in some way, shitcan the idea, because you’re not doing any favors.

The main thing, I think, is to explore humor and ideas, and let the filtering be done, by you or someone else, later, because sometimes even edgy isn’t exactly smart.

And, of course, some things aren’t even exactly edgy, they’re just flippin’ funny, like the occasional dead baby gag.

Context is important, though. Dead baby jokes on Friends doesn’t work. Dead baby jokes on South Park are fine. 5/8ths of context is audience expectation.