Putting on a Show – Week 10: Funny – what is it and how do we? (Part 2)

We had a read/singthrough of the whole play at the weekend. It’s all very exciting. And now, the second part of William Breden’s article on the funny. WARNING: contains many swears.

Part 2: Lowering the tone – rude words are big and clever

music screenshot

Last week I focused on a specific joke and used it to show something about the play as a whole. This time around I want to be a bit broader and talk about tone.

The tone for the original 5-10 minute version of Nando’s was pretty straightforward: silly. Because it was over a short space of time there was no desperate need for character development and/or a narrative arc. It started silly and got sillier. It was funny. All good.

Once the decision to go to an hour was reached then tone became a bit more of an issue. One level, one note of emotion, over such a period would be stupid and it would be boring. Boring is bad.

So instead there are ups and downs, laughs and sads, anger and calm. We achieve this through dialogue and song, and also through swearing.

The first act is actually devoid of swearing (well, except piss and slash, but they hardly count). It’s the ‘happy’ act, or at least the calmer act. No one wants to kill each other much yet, the language is restrained. Things get a bit more sweary later on though. Caroline starts it off with a charming description of Melvin:

CAROLINE

He’s a twat you can set your watch to

Soon everyone’s joining in:

MELVIN

Oh shit, does she know? Oh my deary shit. Oh fuckity bollockingy shit. I’m fucked. I’m fucked.

Well, I say everyone, but that’s not quite true. Rubber actually only swears twice throughout, but her outbursts are all the more effective because of this. She allows everyone else to swear (and be funny) because she doesn’t.

But why swear at all? Well, I swear a lot in daily life (he fucking does -jdw), I’m sure you do too. Most of us do. To make a musical set in 2013 without swearing would be odd I think. And not odd in a good way.

As Stephen Fry remarked, “Swearing is a really important part of one’s life. It would be impossible to imagine going through life without swearing, and without enjoying swearing. The people I know who swear the most tend to have the widest vocabularies. Things not being necessary is what makes life interesting. The little extras in life.”

So that’s why they characters swear, and why it’s cool.

Because we’re cooler than cool (ice cold! -jdw), James and I have chatted before about the use of contemporary phrases (see his blog post on this very subject here). Normally I shy away from them but Nando’s is so clearly a ‘now’ thing that it would be ridiculous for the language not to reflect this. These are twenty-somethings, intelligent and sarcastic, witty and abusive. They swear and they make pop-culture references. It would be odd if they didn’t.

The song ‘First I’ll Kill Him, Then I’ll Make Him Pay’ is a good example of this:

CAROLINE

(singing)

I’ll post it on Reddit, on Twitter as well
@Melvin you bastard #rotinhell

Now that line might not last the ages, but the impact now is good. It is pretty much 2013 in song. Swearing as well, you’ll notice. It has it all this play.

So the characters swear, they talk about everyday things, they have little problems and they sing about them. They haunt the Internet.  They revert to low humour and abuse each other at the drop of a hat. They love easily but ineptly. They’re, like, so now that pretty soon Miley’s going to twerk them (this joke may be old by the time of publication).

If you want tone, this is it, not so much a mirror held up to society as a webcam.

Sometimes funny is a four letter word (and James Bloomfield dancing).

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