Thursday, September 29, 2011

Just "go for" the jackass holding this phone

Comedy writing is full of shorthand. Comedy writers love to give their characters traits that you know are meant to indicate this person is a boob, a jackass, a douchebag, without having to spell it out in so many words.

The writers of Just Go With It managed to squeeze two kinds of shorthand into the same sentence in the character of Ian Maxtone-Jones, the supposed inventor of the ipod, played by musician Dave Matthews.

There must, at some point, have been some high-powered executive at some studio somewhere who actually said the words "Go for" and then their name when answering the phone. Just to be funny, I'll use the alliterative name of the director of Just Go With It as my example. Dennis Dugan picks up the phone and says "Go for Dennis Dugan." At which point you know you're dealing with a serious person who has no time for chit chat and social formalities.

But is this real, or is this only something that exists in the world of comedy writing? Or is it used so often in comedy writing that it's something that only exists in the world of comedy writing anymore?

I can't tell you how many movies I've seen where there's a character who fancies himself/herself a big shot, and when he/she answers his/her phone (or maybe, more often now, taps the button on a bluetooth fastened to his/her ear), it's with the words "Go for [character name]."

And although it's such an obnoxious way to answer the phone that it almost feels false, it really does work as a shorthand. It tells you this person has a blunted sense of humanity. It tells you this person is likely to be cruel to underlings. And it tells you this person will make bottom-line decisions at the expense of loyalty/personal feelings.

It does not, however, necessarily make the person a douchebag.

That's what the second half of Maxtone-Jones' phone-answering style in Just Go With It accomplishes:

"Go for the I-Man."

See, people referring to themselves in the third person by a nickname is an unequivocal sign that they are a jackass/douchebag. It takes a particular lack of self-awareness to unironically refer to yourself by your nickname. Only idiots do it in the movies, and I assume, only idiots do it in real life.

So Ian Maxtone-Jones both thinks he's important ("Go for") and is a douchebag ("the I-Man").

The thing is, I don't find the bit very funny. In fact, it seems like really lazy comedy writing.

First off, the whole "Go for" thing is totally played out. Let's just retire it. Let's assume that no one says that, and if they once did, they learned to stop it as soon as they saw a satirical version of themselves on screen maybe 15 years ago.

Then, calling yourself by a nickname is a bit of an easy way to indicate oblivious self-involvement. There should be better ways.

Like, saying the person has a blog.

That's right -- maybe the reason I bristle over these characterizations is that I myself am an example of one of comedy writing's most prominent ways to indicate oblivious self-involvement.

I've seen it numerous times: If a character trumpets his/her blog, it means he/she is an idiot. The example that comes to mind is Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) on 30 Rock. There's no better example of a self-involved boob who is almost always doing the wrong thing, and I'd say Jenna has referenced her own blog on the show at least a handful of times.

Oh well. Sometimes we self-involved boobs can't help ourselves.


Nick Prigge said...

This is mildly related, I think, but Cosmo Kramer of "Seinfeld" at different points during that show answered the phone by merely saying "Go" and had an answering machine message that merely said "Giddy-up." I think this was meant to symbolize, as everything was with Kramer, that he was an eccentric.

In fact, when I roomed briefly at the University of Iowa with my best friend we had an answering message that merely said "Giddy-up." I think it confused people.

Travis McClain said...

Confession: I have never been conscious of the "Go for [name]" phrase in my entire life until I read this. I've been known on occasion to simply answer the phone with, "Speak." It jars the caller, and sometimes I just like throwing people off balance. It was more fun before cell phones, when not everyone had caller ID. In those days, people were stunned that someone would answer a phone that way, without any certainty of who was calling.

I reference my own blog often, but in my defense I don't get out much to socialize with people in person. I consider it the electronic equivalent of, "We were talking about this the other day," which happens often in conversation as a subject arises that has been recently addressed in another conversation. To wit: You may strike up conversation at dinner with friends this weekend and someone brings up the stupidity of "Go for [name]." In that context, I think it entirely appropriate to reply, "I was just discussing this on my blog a couple days ago! Is that not the most played-out, stupid phrase still being used? Can you believe one guy wrote that he'd never heard it?"

If you replaced "on my blog" with "at work" and "wrote" with "said," it's a typical conversation about a subject that has been recently discussed elsewhere, and people do that all the time. Why make an exception that singles out the nature of where that conversation took place?

Vancetastic said...

See Nick, that works for me. "Go" is funny -- it's whimsical. Then again, I can't not know who's saying it when I hear it. Anything Kramer says is funny. Anything Michael Richards says on the other hand ...

Travis, the reason you've never heard of it before is because Bruce Wayne doesn't say "Go for Bruce Wayne" and Charles Xavier doesn't say "Go for Charles Xavier." In fact, I'm not even sure they have cell phones. ;-)

Vancetastic said...

Oh, and I think referencing your own blog is perfectly legit. Especially among other bloggers. ;-)

Travis McClain said...

I'd get defensive, but most of the posts on my blog lately have actually been about comic books. (See what I did there?)

Vancetastic said...

A two-for-one! Brilliant.

Emily said...

What's the origin of "go for" anyway? After hearing it on How I Met Your Mother multiple times and just recently on 30 Rock.. I've been googling for a while and this is the first result that actually talks about it.

J Doe said...

I'm in exactly the same situation as Emily. I'd never heard it anywhere besides How I Met Your Mother before 30 Rock mentioned it. Barney always said it in such a rushed manner that I never understood what he said. I just thought he was trying to mask his name because he was with a girl.

Vancetastic said...

Emily and J Doe,

I really don't know! I think I did the same thing as you before I wrote this -- I googled it to support what I was going to write with some historical context. But I found none.

I do think it is mostly apocryphal. My guess is that a writer thought it would be a funny way to indicate self-importance in a character. Then again, few of us know people who might legitimately answer the phone that in real life, so we have no way of assessing whether it's a real phenomenon or an artificial construct.

Thanks for stopping by! Glad I could be of (some) help!