Ed Wood, Derek Zoolander, Shaggy and Scooby, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Ron Burgundy, Donna Noble, Falstaff, and the holy trinity, Larry, Curly, and Moe. What do these cinematic and literary icons all share? Their ineptitude for logic and common sense. In other words, they’re fools.
I’ve begun work on a new spec scripts (finally) and decided to make the theme of the story centering on the archetypal fool. So in preparation I’ve begun meditating and ruminating. It seems that every comedy has a fool of some sort. In sitcoms, there’s usually the idiot character. Friends had Joey, Seinfeld had George Castanza, and The Simpsons may have the greatest fool of all time, Homer. In film, we’ll watch whole stories about Forrest Gump, Everette McGill, and Don Quixote.
Sometimes they exist to amuse us and make us feel better about ourselves. They dance through life, as random happenstance protects them from danger, completely unaware. (Think Baby’s Day Out)
But sometimes the fool is not so lucky. These ones are trapped by their short comings, doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again. I sympathize with this fool. Their struggle is a reflection of our own wrong headed but continued behavior. Ed Wood is a difficult movie for me to watch for this very aspect. I will point out that this fool is, many times, not a fool at all. But someone who views the world in such a new way, he is rejected. Moneyball‘s Billy Beane is a primary example. And although he is right, it doesn’t make him any less tragic.
Why is the fool a necessary part of our pop culture? Maybe it reaches back to when we were children. We were cruel to the fool in class. The crueler we were to them, the more we distanced ourselves from the possibility we could be one ourselves. We lacked the sympathy and compassion to do otherwise. As we grew older, we viewed our parents as the fools. (In many teen geared sitcoms, the parents are the bumbling idiots, completely out of touch with reality.) And as we graduated into adulthood and came to see the expansiveness of reality, some of us started to view ourselves as the fool. Taking chances we couldn’t possibly guarantee the success of. Or getting ourselves into complicated situations where, in the confrontation of the moment, we acted foolishly. While in retrospect, the wiser choice seemed so obvious.
These two sides, the fanciful fool and the regretful one…I want them to meet. Set them at odds. I want to take the pained lamenting man and have him grab the dancing moron by the shirt collar and demand answers and ask confronting questions. I want these two to hash it out. And at the end I’ll have them reassemble back into one and see if the fool has changed. I honestly don’t know if he will. I’ll have to find out when I write the story. But in the meantime, I want to take a good good look at him and for a second pretend…
The image I see is of a man, hunched over in his bar stool cradling his pint. It’s a rare moment for him, or perhaps only a moment he has when he thinks he’s alone. I’m not sure if he can identify where his life has gone astray. I’m not even sure if he is even aware of it. He is on a path that he cannot change himself. When he notices that you are there, that he is no longer alone, he spins in his bar stool raising his glass. He pats you on the back or maybe playfully punches you in the arm. He tells you something and he’s so excited to tell it to you. To him it seems like an incomprehensible epiphany so profound that it must have been bequeathed by God himself. And you would be happy for him if you’d not heard it a dozen times before. You offer to buy him a drink. He laughs, dismissing your offer in an attempt to hold on to his dignity. You realize it is painful for him to accept your kindness. But he cannot afford not to. He tells you stories with inflated details and unlikely happy endings. He gives you unsolicited advice and improbably business secrets. And when it’s time for you to go he claps your forearm, pleading that it is far too early for a departure.
You want to comfort him but it is too much. The notion being that any help you render will not possibly bring any sort of lasting change. He now knows the time is at its end and release your arm. He gives you a smile and a thanks, then says he’ll get you the next time. You wish him luck. He swirls around in his bar stool another couple of times.
Just some thoughts.