I recently came across the one question interview that Film Crit Hulk did with comedian Patton Oswalt. Since I read it, Patton’s answer has been taking up an inordinate amount of mental real estate, and I think I’m only now coming to understand how brilliant it is.
You can click on the link above for the entire thing – and you should, because it’s very short – but here’s the even shorter synopsis: Film Crit Hulk asked Patton about whether stand-up comedians should operate more as creators or critics, and which one drives to the true intention of stand-up. This was Patton’s answer:
Beyond the push-pull of creator vs. critic, there is a further zenith for every comedian, and it’s often achieved by accident:
Unveil an actuality.
This isn’t just about stand-up. The more I think about it and the more I look back on the stories and music and events that really resonate with me, the more I find it’s the ones that unveil an actuality – that expose and explore a truth – that truly endure.
Harry Potter let us believe that wizards walked among us, and that this world of ours – this world right now – is more fantastic than we think.
Shingeki no Kyojin hit upon the helplessness we feel in the face of frightening monsters we do not understand, even if our own monsters aren’t nearly as obvious as the titans. That’s part of the draw too.
The Hangover (the original) took the bachelor party and gave us the one we all wish we had.
The Office worked so well in so many countries because the idea of a bumbling boss and a bunch of eccentric coworkers is, even if nothing else is, truly universal.
Louis C.K. can talk about why farts are funny and strike upon the truth of the thing in a way that turns the mundane into the hilarious.
Even this story, which probably isn’t actually true (in that it actually happened), hits upon something so perfect that I can’t help but smile every time I read it.
And music, oh my music. Have you ever heard a song and just thought wow, how did no one ever think of this before now? Some ideas are so elemental that as soon as you hear them, it’s like a lightning strike.
The best creation – and this includes criticism, reporting, marketing, fan works, viral videos, and anything that has the chance to resonate – excels because it hits upon something fundamentally true. It isn’t just fun or hilarious or exciting, it speaks to something deeper, something that makes it stick in our heads and never quite lets go.
It unveils an actuality.
Look for this in the stories that really thrill you, because when you find one that you can’t help but love, it’s probably because it embodies a truth.
As for me, now I can only hope that the story I’m writing hits upon an actuality, because let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to identify them whenever the work in question is already successful. From where I sit, I haven’t the faintest whether all of this will work or not. Which is part of what makes it fun.
My combo counter: Editing chain, 7 days. Writing chain, 0 days.