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.