Working Title: Dark Comedy and Skeletons!

This week Will Leschber takes a walk on the dark side of comedy.

As you may have noticed, here at Theater Pub, September is a month of comedy!

Looking for live comedy? Check out great suggestions by Allison Page.

Looking to laugh at someone else’s life? Check out Claire Rice’s “Comedy of Personal Errors.”

But if you are looking for something a little on the darker side of comedy, read on. Sad clowns are my favorite. It’s possibly more accurate to say that there’s something about the sad clown juxtaposition that has a greater draw and hits closer to home. The sound of sad clowns and dark comedy seems to me a resonating indigo bell. Maybe it comes down to the fusion of two spectrums of theater, or life in general for that matter. Comedy, tragedy, light and dark all at once. That is closer to my experience.

sad_clown_by_brandongroce123-d5uuwzy copy

We get everything all at once and have to juggle the mirth and the struggle simultaneously. Laughing around a hospital bed as you share old stories about a fading friend. Celebrating an anniversary while a close friend disintegrates towards divorce. Proudly graduating and then being forced to recon with uncertain futures. Moving away from home. Leaving a secure, steady job that you hate. Marveling at a beautiful sunset with no one to share it with. Experience is layered. Great comedy deals with bigger things than just getting a laugh. The best dark comedies may have an easier time straddling line because we give them room to grow beyond the mere joke. Fight Club, Fargo, Barton Fink, In Bruges, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Death to Smoochy, American Psycho… All these films are concerned with a layer of topics and still remain brazenly funny. They wrestle with Identity, finding your place in the world, materialism, the cost of creativity, definitions of success, commercialism, the meaning of repentance and also unconventional humor.

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One of the best dark comedies of 2014 is in theaters now. The Skeleton Twins stars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as troubled siblings who reconnect after a ten-year estrangement when one of them attempts suicide. Sounds dark, right? Well, it is. Darker than I expected after hearing the buzz and seeing the trailer. But the film also contains some of the funniest scenes of the year. I laughed so hard and so long at a sequence in which Hader’s character Milo attempts to cheer up his sister by lip-syncing Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” It may be the funniest 5 minutes of film this year. This is bookended with the lives of these characters falling apart. It’s a marvel of balancing tone. Moreover, the two lead performers are the what allow this film to elevate to a higher level. We seen comedic actors given the chance to do dramatic work before and when its done as well as this you should pay attention.

Everything Is Already Something Week 20: Actors Who Write

Allison Page is the new James Franco. 

It’s three years ago or so, and I’ve just finished a reading of several episodes of a web series I wrote. We’ve all been milling about the theater chatting, having snacks, and discussing the episodes. I’m scratching down a bunch of notes for myself – things I want to change, things I really liked, changes inspired by the way a person read the character, all the regular stuff. A guy walks up to me, and says completely seriously, “That was pretty good writing, for an actor.” He smiles and leaves.

I would argue that I’ve been an actor since I’ve been a talker – possibly before that. It’s never not been a part of my life, and every time I’ve made an attempt to cut it out, I just can’t. But the last three years especially have been co-focused on writing. I make my living writing allllllll day. And yet, I have this chip on my shoulder that I’m always going to be seen as an actor first, and a writer second. Or that somehow I can never really be a writer because I was an actor…which, when you say it that way, sounds really stupid. Generally, no one cares what you focused on before you started focusing on whatever you’re doing now. There are probably people in the NFL who used to work at Best Buy. I doubt anyone’s watching the game saying, “Yeah, he’s okay, but shouldn’t he be selling TVs? I just can’t see him doing anything else, ya know? He’ll always be Best Buy Brian to me.” Which isn’t to say that acting is as important to me as selling TVs, but the point is that most of the time, no one cares about that. But the actor/writer combo feels like it has a weird little stigma. Or maybe it’s because I am doing both of those things, and not giving up one for the other. If anything I’m using them to inform each other – something that I imagine and hope other actor/writer hybrid monsterbots are doing. I’m pretty happy with that, but every once in a while someone will say something like “That was pretty good writing, for an actor.” And after I’m done mocking his hairline, which is not so much receding as it is just running away, to make myself feel better – I get to thinking about the various reasons he might have said that.

Actor/writer is definitely an interesting combo if you look plainly at stereotypes. Actors: flighty, demanding, vain, difficult, extroverted, emotional, possibly dumb, probably-loves-swimming-with-attractive-people. Example: Marilyn Monroe

I'm carefree because I don't have to think...WHERE ARE MY BLUE M&Ms?!

I’m carefree because I don’t have to think…WHERE ARE MY BLUE M&Ms?!

Writers: brainy, quiet, meditative, introverted, probably-shut-themselves-up-in-a-cabin-for-months. Example: Ernest Hemingway.

This is my writing beard. Do I look smart yet?

This is my writing beard. Do I look smart yet?

Putting those two things together seems impossible. But those are also just stereotypes and don’t hold a lot of water in real life, but just because they’re not true doesn’t mean that the idea of them doesn’t still exist.

I’m aware of other actors who have started to write and don’t even wait for someone else to put the burden on them, they just do it themselves. Putting themselves down for having been an actor first and discounting their own writing because of it. Congratulations for getting to it before your nay-sayers did…but now you’re your own nay-sayer! For me (and I’ve said it before) one of the best things about the bay area is that you can do nearly anything. It’s a big beautiful testing ground on which to spill your artistic guts. There are so many outlets for you, if you look for them.

Last night I took a Lyft home, as I am like to do. I had just come from Write Club SF, an event which describes itself as “Literature as blood sport”. Naturally I was a couple of beers in (when you become a writer, you get to drink more. BONUS.) and got to talking to the driver about the event. I won my bout that night and have a tiny trophy to prove it. He told me, somewhat sheepishly, that he’s always wanted to be a writer. “So be one.” I said. “I don’t know” he told me, shaking his head. “I just feel like I don’t have the education, and I can’t afford it.” Naturally, I pish-poshed at that. I told him my whole rambling story, (you can check out my previous blog “Sorry I Didn’t Go To College” if you want to find out how I got here.) He’d been wanting to write for years. He’s started writing several novels but hasn’t finished them because he doesn’t feel like he’s really allowed to. After all, what right does he have to join the ranks of the elite alcoholism and snobbery of writing…right? My advice to him was that if he wants to do it, he should do it. The best thing about writing is that you barely need anything. If you have a laptop – great – if you don’t, paper and a pencil are damn cheap. I told him about a ton of free events that can help get him started. He ended the ride saying he thought it was fate that brought me to his car to encourage him to go after his dream. I won’t put quite that much weight in it, but I’m glad he felt inspired. I’m no Hemingway, but I do what makes me happy without regard for the opinions of people who don’t have the right to set the standard for me, because I don’t let them.

Tonight I have a short play in the SF Olympians Festival. It’s my first time writing for it after having acted the last couple of years. One of the many things I love about this festival is its dedication to not giving a fuck who you are. You send in a proposal. If your proposal is chosen you have a year to write a play. Then a staged reading of that play is produced. There are first time writers, long time writers, sometime writers and everything in between. There are, like me, other actors who are writing for the festival. There’s a drama critic writing for the festival. People from the fanciest of colleges, and people who barely graduated from high school writing for the festival. Unemployed people, authors, mothers, teachers, grad school students, tech people, and directors writing for the festival. And the best part is that we are all on an even playing field. Sure, the quality of each individual play is up to the writer, but we all have the same resources. We all get a director, actors, a theater, and even a piece of artwork representing our plays, regardless of background, experience or education. We’re pretty well supported by the festival and each other. I personally have missed only 2 plays, and have seen 22 in the last 2 weeks. And at no point has anyone mentioned that I’m just an actor who writes.

I try to work really hard at what I do to get that cozy “I earned this.”, feeling. But I’m also sure not to get down on myself just because I’m not Pynchon or Poe or some other writer with a P name. I’m actually happy to be both an actor and a writer. It’s satisfying for me; otherwise I wouldn’t do it. In the end I don’t think of myself as an actor who writes or a writer who acts – I’m an actor and I’m a writer and a bunch of other stuff too. I don’t think I know anybody who boils down to only one thing.

And for good measure, here are some people who did both, in no particular order and including playwrights, screenwriters and authors. (Don’t worry, I won’t mention James Franco):

Sam Shepard

Tina Fey

Bob Newhart

Mary Pickford

Wallace Shawn

Molière

Mindy Kaling

Christopher Durang

Kristen Wiig

Jerry Seinfeld

Marion Davies

Larry David

William Shakespeare

Carol Burnett

Steve Martin

Amy Sedaris

Harvey Fierstein

John Cleese

Gilda Radner

The Marx Brothers

Paddy Considine

Woody Allen

Mary Tyler Moore

Christopher Guest

Jon Favreau

Jennifer Westfeldt

Kenneth Branagh

……JAMES FRANCO. (gotcha)

This smile never needs a caption.

This smile never needs a caption.

See Writer Allison’s play The Golden Apple of Discord TONIGHT (November 20th) at 8pm at the Exit Theatre along with other short plays based on the Trojan War. You can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.