One of the humorist's greatest tools is exaggeration. 'The President has slightly out-sized ears,' thinks the political cartoonist. 'I'll make them look like an elephant's!' Or the stand-up comedian's mother likes to stay on the phone, and the comedian says, 'So, I fall asleep on the couch with her talking to me, wake up eight hours later, and she's still discussing breakfast!' In two of my recent plays, 'Marcy and the Sandwich' and 'Reality Check,' I take some rather small objections I have to current society and use hyperbole (that fancy English-teacher word for exaggeration) to make my point in (I hope) a humorous way.
The little irritation that sparked 'Marcy and the Sandwich': how people tend to get overly excited about small decisions. Of course, this tendency is the stock-in-trade of the entire reality show industry, which, in turn, may be encouraging the very phenomenon that irks me. That's a whole other play. In 'Marcy,' I took the most innocuous choice I could think of and treat it as if it were a life-altering decision. People gasp, scream, make bets, almost come to blows in the cafeteria just because Marcy has announced that she might bite her sandwich. Ridiculous, of course, but I find that, once the exaggeration gets things going, other fun develops. What happens when Marcy's boyfriend finds out? Or when the aspiring class president gets wind of the conflict? Or when the press shows up? Meanwhile, the audience listens to the language of the characters in conflict and starts to think of actual momentous decisions, so the comedy provokes thought as well as laughter...the double whammy of satire.
I get a bit darker in 'Reality Check'...still going for laughs, but more nervous ones, perhaps accompanied by sidewards glances that say, 'Is this supposed to be funny or scary?' That effect is appropriate given that the societal trend I'm exaggerating in this play is more frightening than the seed that sprouted 'Marcy and the Sandwich.' As a high school teacher, I'm hearing more and more the language of results; rubrics, tests, metrics, progress charts...applied to both my students and to me. Seeking results is not a bad trend, but emphasizing results over process can be dangerous. In 'Reality Check,' I deliberately create an unbalanced school that hires 'The R.C.C.' (Reality Check Commission) to determine if students might be engaging in activities that will ultimately not lead to positive, quantifiable results. A budding romance, an aspiring club, studying students-the R.C.C. evaluates all aspects of the school. If they determine that the expended efforts will lead to failure, they shut them down. Of course, the Reality Check Commission does not recognize that even doomed pursuits can build such hard-to-quantify elements as character, self-esteem and resilience. While still a comedy, 'Reality Check' tinges the humor with warning.
I would write more, but I've got a ton of things to work on, a billion ideas to be turned into plays, not to mention I'm starving to death and have to get something to eat before I shrivel up and die, just one more desiccated playwright sacrificed to the demanding demon of his art. (Forgive my exaggeration.)