Friday, March 30, 2012

Who is the Dummy?

I saw Jeff Dunham on the stage Wednesday night. For those of you who just went, “Who?” Well, do you know Achmed the Dead Terrorist? Short video…go ahead, check it out…

Yeah, the guy behind Achmed is Jeff Dunham. The ventriloquist.
Man, my smile muscles will probably hurt for days, I laughed so much. Haven’t had my facial muscles try to cramp like that since my wedding day! (Ohhhhh! I saw that snicker! Shut up! Not that!) (Man, I need to kick some pirate butt!) (Stop it!)

Anyway!

Watching Jeff argue and joke and chatter with himself for two hours, I found myself thinking… Writing is a lot like this…

Firstly, a ventriloquist is probably looking in a mirror one day and suddenly, starts to joke with his razor. Before he knows it, he has a new act with Pepe, the Blade. (Well, I imagine it’s like that!)

A writer? Well, our mirror is a computer monitor/screen and we probably don’t begin with a joke. (Though…) We come up with these people who have a story to tell instead of a joke. (Maybe…or you write with a joke, to each his own!)

Secondly, a ventriloquist is standing on a stage one day, with Pepe on a stool by his side, or on his lap, praying people will ‘get it’ when they start blathering to each other. A writer? Oh, yeah, exactly the same!

Okay, probably not on a lap.

Thirdly, and most importantly, at some point in the act, the ventriloquist must look at his creation and wonder, “Who is in charge here?”

Oh, so been there, done that! Whether it’s the muse I conjured up who is blathering at me or a character suddenly takes off and is running away with the scene… I’m often left looking at something I wrote and wondering who actually came up with that? Was it me? Or was it…the people on the page? Was I channeling an actual event from some other universe? (Okay, that one is probably only me, but the idea is still the same!)

Jeff would occasionally look at the doll next to him and I swear, he blinked as if things had gone totally out of control… (Let me state up front, that in a live show, as compared to a program on Comedy Central, there is a lot of stuff that is totally over the wall and out to sea in the live event! Out of control doesn’t go far enough!)

(And it’s really sweet how he is convinced he is so funny that sometimes he can’t stop laughing at his own jokes. That could be my fourth point, I’m often dazzled by my own prose…)

What about you? Are you the dummy or the figure behind the dummy? Both? At the same time?

19 comments:

quantum said...

Very interesting perspective Maureen.

You are certainly putting words in the mouths of your characters, and they are certainly taking on a life of there own, as when Achmed reacts to the audience in unplanned ways.

I also recognise that feeling of being dazzled by my own prose, though I try not to laugh at my own jokes. Dead pan and serious while joking is more effective I think. So I guess I'm more like Achmed (who never laughs) when trying to be funny. LOL

Are you the dummy or the figure behind the dummy? Both? At the same time?

Deep neuro-biological and psychological issues here.
Books have been written on this ..... But not by me! LOL

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Right now I'm the figure behind the dummy because my characters still need to come alive a little - Hurry up revision stage!

MsHellion said...

Both, definitely both. *LOL* But I have to say: good analogy! :) I think it works! As a comedian, which is what he is, dummy or not, he's a writer--so yeah, we are alike. Stuff comes out of the blue just as often as some great lines take a long time to polish, get right...but we both know if you force it too much, it's probably not that funny (or great) and you move on.

We both do hope people "get it" and come back for more; and I'm frequently wondering who is in charge when I get into a groove. Though I try not to question too much because why lose the groove? Still...I always think of it as the angel taking over. (I'm really vain--I think I'm divinely inspired!) And yes, my favorite prose is usually the parts that are probably least amusing. I always think it's an English major thing, like when we make a good pun. Who likes those really?

TerriOsburn said...

I have days when I feel like I'm in charge and others when I'm just taking dictation. Those are good days. sitting at the dealership while they change my oil. They're WiFi isn't working (I'm on my phone) so it's a good thing I brought my reader. Back to Marn's book.

Maureen said...

Morning, Q! I swear, Jeff tried not to laugh at his own jokes, but...the puppets would make him laugh! It was there joke, not his! Which makes for an interesting thing in the audience. We know it's him, but...we aren't entirely sure...

Sabrina! I look forward to when you hit this rythm and aren't sure whether you wrote that or the characters just showed you what to write!

Hels - Yeah, I'm a little proud of myself for coming up with this one... I figure the depth of imagination it must take to give the power to the dummy to deliver the joke...or maybe that is easier.... If the joke bombs it's the dummy's fault!

I love puns, was my father's favorite form of word humor... ;-)

Maureen said...

Terri - Make sure the change the oil on that laptop... So...what is your favorite, when you're doing the writing or your just watching them put it all together?

Janga said...

It really is a great analogy, Maureen. I think I switch roles. The writing is definitely easier when the characters are in charge and I'm trying to keep up, but I'm enough of a control freak to need the revision stage when I'm the one in charge.

MsHellion said...

I think there is some "safety" in that if the joke bombs, you can blame the doll. *LOL* And there is safety in that if the doll says something completely outrageous and racist or sexist or basically politically incorrect, you can say, "He came up with it, not me, I can't control him."

Maureen said...

Janga, it's interesting...can't have much more control than a hand up someone's back...yet... I swear, he lost control now and then. It must be the best of a split personality working in his favor...

And oh yeah, Hels... often it was him, not me!

P. Kirby said...

I think my best writing happens when I'm the dummy and my characters are using me to get on the page. The writing is more animated; my voice so much stronger. But...in revision, the role definitely reverses, with me stepping in and dealing with all the dry, analytical stuff, like patching plot holes, checking for internal consistency, killing darlings, etc.

So...both?

Maureen said...

Pat - That's probably the right/correct order of hierarchy! Though there are some dummys that would enjoy the killing darlings step... ;-)

Ever look at them and wonder...about who is in charge...are they just letting us think we're in charge?

TerriOsburn said...

I've been a fan of Jeff Dunham for years. Back when he just had Walter, Peanut, and Jalapeno on a Stick. LOL! I'd LOVE to see him live. He's done a morning show here and the DJs said it's weird because you catch yourself talking directly to the dummies instead of Jeff. He's just that good and those dummies seem so alive.

I think the best days are a combination of both. When the characters and I are working together and the words are flowing. Somehow the revision stage doesn't feel that different from the initial writing. It all just feels like part of the process. But that could only be for this book since I had a ball doing the revisions.

Mostly because I love the story. But I've definitely done that thing when you go back and read something you wrote a while ago and think, "Wow, this is good. Who wrote this?!"

Sin said...

I think my best writing happens when I'm the dummy and my characters are using me to get on the page.

I have to agree with P.Kirby. I do my best writing when I'm just the medium. If I put too much thought into it, I ruin the spontaneity of the characters, their actions and the situations they put themselves into. Besides, I just want to hold them back from too much trouble, and they just want to get into it. So whatever will be will be.

Maureen said...

You're right, Terri. When the magic is really flowing, it's a dance with the dummy and it's graceful, perfect and the feet never get tired...

It is torture when they just sit on your lap and stare at you, waiting for you to be brilliant.

Been there, done that!

Maureen said...

Sin, my best moments really are channeled moments. Though even then...I'm still aware that I'm the puppetmaster.

I think maybe I have a touch of megalamania in my personality.

Marnee Bailey said...

Watching Jeff argue and joke and chatter with himself for two hours, I found myself thinking… Writing is a lot like this…

hahahaha!!

So you're saying we basically have different personalities? Or that we're just to lazy to get ourselves the doll? LOL!!

I have no idea which I am. I just know that putting together these stories satisfies something in me. I don't know if it's megalomania or what. Craziness, no doubt.

Maureen said...

Ah, come on Marn! You never want to snatch up a pair of dolls and have them enact a scene you just wrote? ;-)

For me, it's megalomania...because I cackle a lot during the dark spots...

P. Kirby said...

"Mostly because I love the story. But I've definitely done that thing when you go back and read something you wrote a while ago and think, "Wow, this is good. Who wrote this?!""

Oh, hell, yes. In fact, sometimes it's sort of humbling or depressing. Back when I was a GIS Analyst, I had similar moments with my code. I remember going in to tweak a sorting program I had written and thinking, "I wrote this? I don't even understand the algorithms I used anymore. Did I borrow someone smarter's brain?"

Sometimes, you just get cooking and everything falls in to place.

Ah, come on Marn! You never want to snatch up a pair of dolls and have them enact a scene you just wrote? ;-)

And...Barbie and GI Joe get busy. (The dog ate Ken's head, so he's out of the picture.)

Maureen said...

Nasty, nasty, Pat... ;-)