A Week of Sketches: Whatever

Hmm… This is actually the last of the sketches I wrote for Madhouse, so calling this “A Week of Sketches” may have been a little bit generous on my part. Oh well…

WHATEVER

The setting: a stage. Major characters include a director, a writer named Barry, and an actor named Todd. Other actors mill about, until the director calls them all together.

DIRECTOR: Gather ’round, everyone. Great to see you all here for our first rehearsal. We’re lucky enough to have the playwright with us today, so I was thinking that, Barry, you might set the scene for us to give Todd a sense of where this whole thing is going.

 WRITER: Right. Well, the play is called A Walk at Sunset. We open on Larry, alone on the stage. He’s just had a fight with his girlfriend of four years. This is the one. He’s on the edge, ready to chuck the whole thing, understand? And the first thing we hear is, “Whatever. I’m going for a walk.” And the whole rest of the play is Larry walking through his old memories. How he met his girlfriend, how they fell in love, what led up to this stupid fight. And at the end, he realizes that, yes, she is the love of his life… In fact, she’s everything to him.

DIRECTOR: Got it, Todd? Okay, then. From the top.

 TODD: “Listen up, babe. I’m out of here.”

DIRECTOR: Nice, nice. I like it. Great attitude.

WRITER: Just—sorry, just a second. The way I have it in the script is, “Whatever. I’m going for a walk.” You see, everything hinges on that “Whatever.” It’s pregnant with all of the character’s exasperation. And all he can think at that point is that he needs to get out of their little apartment and clear his head.

(TODD looks at the DIRECTOR. The DIRECTOR looks back at him and shrugs. They both roll their eyes.)

DIRECTOR: Fair enough. Why don’t we try it Barry’s way and see how it works.

TODD: You’re the director. [Gets into character.] “Whatever, babe. I got shit to do.”

WRITER: Stop. No. It’s “Whatever. I’m going for a walk.”

TODD: I got the “Whatever,” didn’t I? You said everything hinges on “Whatever.”

WRITER: But then there’s the next line. “I’m going for a walk.”

TODD: Sounds kind of lame, don’t you think? I mean, “I’m going for a walk?” Who says that?

WRITER: But that’s… The play… It’s called A Walk at Sunset. So the first line has to be, “Whatever. I’m going for a walk.” It’s the whole point.

DIRECTOR: Okay, Todd. I kind of see where Barry’s going with this. Let’s try it his way one more time.

TODD: You got it, man. I’m a professional. But what if he says something like, “You think I need this shit? You really think I need this shit, bitch?” before we get to the first line? You know, to set the tone.

DIRECTOR: Barry?

WRITER: No. That’s so… That’s just…

DIRECTOR: Not exactly what you’re going for?

WRITER: Not… even… close.

 (The WRITER tenses. The DIRECTOR holds up a hand to calm him down.)

DIRECTOR: Okay, Todd. It’s “Whatever. I’m going for a walk.” Let’s try it again. From the top.

TODD: “Whatever, babe. I’m going out.”

DIRECTOR: Great, Todd.

WRITER: No. It’s not great. It’s not what I wrote.

TODD: Oh, right. The script. [Todd puts air quotes around “the script.”]

WRITER: Yes, the script. What am I even doing here if you’re going to ad lib the whole thing?

TODD: I was wondering the same thing myself.

DIRECTOR: Guys! Fellas! Compadres! I’m sure we can work this out. What’s the problem? What’s the issue we’re having? Talk to me.

WRITER: Have you been here for the past five minutes? This guy’s mangling my words.

TODD: Sorry, man. I just don’t see this character saying that line. I mean, he’s his own boss, right? A man of action. What’s with all this “going for a walk” bullshit? This guy doesn’t back down.

DIRECTOR: Sure, sure. I see what you’re saying.

TODD: I mean, if I can’t get behind this character, how’s the audience supposed to believe in him?

DIRECTOR: Valid point. Barry?

WRITER: You can’t be serious.

TODD: How’s this for an idea? Props.

DIRECTOR: Sure thing, Todd. What did you have in mind?

TODD: I don’t know. Maybe I have a trash bag and I’m taking out the trash. Because that would give me motivation, right? I mean, I need a reason to go out, don’t I?

WRITER: Your reason is that you just had a blowout with your girlfriend.

TODD: Then what if I’m taking the dog for a walk. Everyone loves dogs, right? Maybe we can do a Marley and Me kind of thing?

DIRECTOR: That would be a little tough to manage.

TODD: Right. The poop and all.

DIRECTOR: Exactly. The poop. But maybe he has a bird in a cage.

TODD: I like that. Because this character—Larry, right?—is like a bird in a cage.

DIRECTOR: And how about this? The bird? It’s a mockingbird.

TODD: And it’s mocking Larry. I love it. But does the guy’s name have to be Larry?

DIRECTOR: I don’t know. Barry, what do you think? Does it have to be Larry?

WRITER: Yes, it has to be Larry. That’s the character’s name. And he doesn’t have a bird, and he doesn’t have a dog, and he doesn’t have a bag of trash.

DIRECTOR: Then what does he have?

WRITER: A soul boiling over with turmoil and confusion.

TODD: Kind of hard to show that on stage, don’t you think, big guy?

DIRECTOR: Todd’s right, Barry. But if we give the guy a mockingbird, then the audience gets a visual cue. They know that he sees himself as a caged animal.

TODD: And how about this? At the end of the play, he opens the cage and sets the mockingbird free.

DIRECTOR: Love it, love it, LOVE IT!

TODD: Because at the end, he realizes that he doesn’t need this woman in his life. All he needs is his freedom.

DIRECTOR: Freedom. Exactly. And that’s what this play is all about.

WRITER: No! That’s the opposite of what this play is all about. Have you guys even read the script?

TODD: Of course I did. Well, my people did, anyway, and they tell me it’s the perfect vehicle for me.

DIRECTOR: It is, Todd. It really is. PERFECT! From what I’ve read of it, anyway.

TODD: So I think I know a little something about “A Walk in the Moonlight.”

WRITER: SUNSET! “A WALK AT SUNSET!”

TODD: Whoa! Calm down there, shotgun! What has your panties in a knot?

WRITER: What has my panties in a knot? I’ll tell you. My script is ninety-seven pages long, and the so-called star of the show can’t even get through the first line. That, my aesthetically challenged friend, is what has my panties in a knot. [Turns to director.] And you! I’d be amazed if you could direct traffic on a one-way street, let alone my play.

DIRECTOR: You know what? Let’s all take a deep breath and count to ten.

WRITER: Count to ten? This guy’s lucky if he can get past two.

TODD: I don’t need this shit. Do you know who I am?

WRITER: Yeah. You’re the idiot who’s wrecking my play.

TODD: Whatever. I’m going for a walk.

(Dumbstruck, the WRITER and DIRECTOR watch TODD stalk off the stage.)

WRITER: Wait! That’s it! That’s the line! COME BACK!

END

A Week of Sketches: Holiday Soup

Years ago, I used to watch General Hospital religiously. Not so much for the show itself, but for the ongoing war between Campbell’s soup and Progresso that raged every day during the commercial break. Basically, every commercial made it sound like you were some kind of moral degenerate if you ate the other company’s soup. I’m not sure who won the soup wars, but my suspicion is that they’re still raging to this very day. What follows is my response, which I wrote for the Madhouse Theater Winter Extravaganza. Feel free to film your own version and make yourself into the next  YouTube sensation. Just promise me that when you’re YouTube-famous, you mention my name.

Holiday Soup

Two men are sitting at a table, a bowl of soup in front of each. Between lines of dialogue, they spoon soup into their mouths.

 Progresso: Hi, I’m Progresso soup.

 Campbell’s: And I’m Campbell’s.

 Progresso: This holiday season, we’ve decided to set aside our differences …

 Campbell’s: And simply agree that soup is good food.

 Progresso: That soup is great food.

 Campbell’s: Mmm, mmm, good.

Progresso: Mmm, mmm, better.

 Campbell’s: Mmm, mmm, pretty freakin’ awesome.

Progresso: Mmm, mmm, I slept with your wife.

 Campbell’s: Mmm, mmm… Wait a second. You what?

 Progresso: I slept with your wife!

 Campbell’s (lowering spoon, losing will to live): I… I don’t believe it.

 (Enter Mrs. Campbell’s, carrying a pot of soup as Progresso continues to slurp away.)

 Mrs. Campbell’s (spooning soup into her husband’s bowl): It’s true, honey. I slept with Progresso.

Progresso (appetite still hearty, slurping down his soup): Though I wouldn’t say we did much sleeping, if you know what I mean!

Campbell’s: My God. I… I…

Progresso (noticing that his bowl is empty): Hey, are you going to finish that?

 Campbell’s: I… No… I… No.

Progresso (taking the bowl from Campbell’s): So from all of us here at Progresso….

Mrs. Campbell’s: And Campbell’s.

Progresso & Mrs. Campbell’s: Happy holidays to all!

Campbell’s: I think I’m going to be sick.

End

A Week of Sketches: The Pledge Drive

Last week, my local public radio station launched its latest pledge drive, and it reminded of a comedy sketch I wrote for my friends from the Madhouse Theater group a few years ago. The sketch was called (in case you haven’t guessed) “The Pledge Drive” and was about (predictably enough) a pledge drive. After that, I wrote two more sketches for (and with) Madhouse — one about the soup wars and the other about community theater. Since I’ll be spending the majority of this week grading papers, I thought I’d lighten things up a bit with some humor. So without further ado, I present…

THE PLEDGE DRIVE

Characters: Patrick and Ed

Setting: Pledge central, your local public TV station. Volunteers man a bank of phones in the background.

PATRICK: For those of you just joining us, you’re watching WHAT, viewer supported public television, and this is day 79 of our never-ending pledge drive.  I’m Patrick Cummings, and with me today, as always, is the inimitable Ed Stoner.

ED: As always, Patrick.  And as always, we’re coming to you live to, well, frankly, to beg for money.

PATRICK: But beg is such an ugly word, isn’t Ed?

ED: Absolutely.  That’s why I prefer the term “grovel,” because here at WHAT, you, the viewer, are our life support.

PATRICK: But you know what’s funny, Ed? I don’t hear any telephones ringing, and I think you know what that means.

ED: I certainly do, Patrick! It means our viewers are a bunch of good-for-nothing freeloaders.

PATRICK: Exactly, Ed. In fact, I have to admit that I’m very disappointed in our viewers right now.  Not angry, mind you.  Just disappointed.  But you, the viewer, can redeem yourself right now by phoning in your pledge of support to 1-800-365-WHAT.

ED: That’s right, Patrick.  Because the kind of quality programming you’ll find here on WHAT doesn’t come cheap, and it’s up to viewers like you to keep us on the air.

PATRICK: Viewers like me?

ED: Not you, specifically, Patrick.  No, I’m talking to all of our loyal viewers out there in TV-land who tune into our station regularly and never send us a lousy dime.  Shame on all of you.  And a pox on all of your families if you don’t call right now with your pledge of support!

PATRICK: True that, Ed. Sure, our viewers love to watch shows like Minnesota Bee Keepers, but do they want to pay for it? No-ho-ho!

ED: You’re right, Patrick. They must think these shows grow on trees! That we just go out to a yard sale and pick up a few episodes of Cheese Purveyors so we can put them on the air! WELL LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING, PEOPLE… THESE SHOWS COST MONEY! LOTS AND LOTS OF MONEY!

PATRICK: Hey, Ed, who am I? Gee, I guess I’ll just watch the latest episode of The Knitting Tree and not pay for it!

ED: Hmm… You’re either a heartless sociopath or… Don’t tell me… Don’t tell me… You’re one of our viewers!

PATRICK: Right on both counts, Ed! But guess what… I still don’t hear any telephones ringing.

ED: Okay, people, I’ll say it slow so you understand: Stop jerking us around and send us your money. It’s that easy.

PATRICK: Seriously. Don’t make us come to your house, or you’re looking at a whole world of hurt.

ED: Word! And try this on for size, bee-yotches: If you don’t call with your pledge of support, we won’t return to the Butterfly Junction marathon.

PATRICK: That’s right, Ed. We can keep this up all night if we have to.

ED: All week!

PATRICK: Hell, we can do this all year, and you’ll never see another episode of Uncle Worm as long as you live.

ED: Just hours and hours of fundraising. Two-four-seven, three-six-five.

PATRICK: And how’s this for incentive? If you don’t call right now, I’ll strangle Ed on live television.

ED: That’s right! If you don’t call right now… Wait. What?

PATRICK: His blood will be on your hands, people. You have ten seconds.

ED: Actually, Patrick, that really isn’t funny.

PATRICK: Not meant to be funny, Ed. Five seconds.

ED: Folks, I think he’s serious. If you’re watching, for the love of God, please call.

PATRICK: Okay, Ed, looks like you’re out of time. And it looks like our audience has spoken!

ED: Mom, I know you’re listening! It’s me! Ed! Your son! Please!

(Patrick takes Ed in a choke hold and begins to strangle him.)

ED: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE CALL! Ack…chh…

PATRICK: You people make me sick. Look what you’re making me do! That number again, by the way is… Why don’t you tell them, Ed?

ED (Gasping): 1-800… 365… W… H…

PATRICK: A-T!

(Telephone rings. Patrick releases Ed, answers telephone. Ed is too tired to move.)

ED: Oh, thank God!

PATRICK: Hello? Oh, hello, Mrs. Stoner… You never liked him much anyway? This is your son we’re talking about… Really? That big of a disappointment? But he works in public television… Oh, I see. That’s why you’re so disappointed. I understand completely… So can we hit you up for a small donation? …No? Not even a few dollars to save your son’s life? Okay, well, thanks anyway.

ED: Oh, no.

(Patrick resumes strangling Ed. Ed struggles.)

PATRICK: Last chance, folks… Give me a call or Ed here takes one for the team… No takers? Sorry, Ed. Looks like the people have spoken.

(Ed goes limp.)

END