Second City, Take 2: Four Noble Truths at the Newark Airport

I’m a writer. I teach writing. Once in a while, I think of myself as kinda funny.

But now that I’m taking comedy writing classes at Second City, I feel like I’ve just been taught this secret side language I never knew. A formula for sketch comedy using a few simple techniques that, as I think about them, were so obvious as to be slightly embarrassing I didn’t already know and use them for my travel and journalistic writing. Profound, but simple.

Here is the basic premise for a comedy sketch: Find a character or two. Maybe more. Give them each an external want, an internal need, and/or a goal. (This is important: Everyone on stage needs a tangible goal.) Then put obstacles and conflicts in their way.

And, the piece de resistance: Heighten a few of the conflicts. Add some absurdity. Make people think.

And then, use your voice to make it yours. For me, I think about Deep Shit, all the time, no matter the situation. I can’t turn it off, even if I wanted to. I’m picking up The Finn from the airport and a guy is handing out parking tickets. Parking enforcement officer is a funny job. How could I delve into how funny of a job that really is? By turning it on its head: What if that enforcement officer was a Buddhist monk who liked to give tickets as he was spouting dharma truths from the eightfold path.

http://www.arcticnomad.com/2011/10/10/bowling-in-luang-prabang/
Walking to parking enforcement officer gig.

Here’s what I didn’t get until the follow-up class homework: Both characters needed to have a purpose. As our teacher says in class, if you don’t have a goal, get off the stage. From the first draft to this, I changed almost nothing except to give the monk a goal at the very last moment in the sketch. And, to me, that made all the difference.

Four Noble Truths at the Newark Airport

CAST

Rinpoche – Buddhist monk, ageless (but prob late 30s), bald, orange robe

Chelsea – 20’s

(Airport loading zone)

CHELSEA

(running towards car, not looking at Rinpoche)

Wait, wait, officer! I was about to move my car! Don’t give me a ticket!

(muttering to self)

Fucking hell. This is my fourth parking ticket this month. My car is going to get impounded if I get another one. Goddamnit. These parking enforcement assholes …

RINPOCHE

(steps out from behind car; audience sees for first time)

Oh, heh heh heh. I am so sorry, my child. But you were not here in the moment.

CHELSEA

(grabbing keys from purse, still not seeing Rinpoche)

But I’m here now! Don’t give me a goddamn ticket! Jesus, Mary and Joseph, you fucking parking control officers are all the same, with your goddamn power tri—

(Chelsea notices parking officer is a Buddhist monk, in full robes)

CHELSEA

What the f–? Wha? What’s going on? Who are you?!!

RINPOCHE

I am Rinpoche Nayendra Tengan Lama … the Sixteenth.

CHELSEA

But … I mean, why are you handing out parking tickets at the Newark, New Jersey airport?

RINPOCHE

(smiling and rubbing his belly)

You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself.

CHELSEA

(pauses, confused)

You … you mean the New Jersey Turnpike?

RINPOCHE

Ho, ho, ho. Well, my dear. We say that all life is suffering.

CHELSEA

Uh, duh. I learned that in yoga class. But you’re supposed to be on some sort of mountaintop, meditating and shit. You know, instead of handing out bullshit parking tickets at the airport. Wait, am I allowed to curse in front of you?

RINPOCHE

(looking at peace and still smiling, deep in thought)

Mmm. The tongue, like a sharp knife, kills without drawing blood.

CHELSEA

Oh, great. Now you’re threatening me. I’m gonna call the Transit Authority if you don’t calm the hell down, buddy.

RINPOCHE

Peace comes from within, do not seek it without.

CHELSEA

(looks inside car)

Do you mean, like, within my car?

RINPOCHE

Yes. Yes, I do mean within your car. What do you see?

CHELSEA

Nothing.

RINPOCHE

Exactly. Here, here is your ticket.

(hands Chelsea ticket)

CHELSEA

But it’s empty!

RINPOCHE

All phenomena in their own-being are empty, my little one.

CHELSEA

Empty? One? What? As in nothing? … Nothingness. … Oneness. …(very long pause) Oh, oh, oh! I get it now! All has become clear. Ohhmmmm. Praise be to the Great Buddha.

(CHELSEA and RINPOCHE bow to each other and start to walk away; RINPOCHE looks down)

RINPOCHE

Oh, I am so sorry, my dear. That was the wrong ticket. Here is the correct one.

(hands her another piece of paper)

CHELSEA

Wait! This is a parking ticket for $140!

RINPOCHE

Yes. Yes it is.

CHELSEA

But but but … I attained enlightenment! Shouldn’t this mean I don’t get a ticket?

RINPOCHE

(said in New Jersey accent)

I got a fucking quota to meet, lady. Move along.

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4 thoughts on “Second City, Take 2: Four Noble Truths at the Newark Airport

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