By Sammy Younan
I call myself a writer, which is such a vague title that it’s a little like calling myself a worker, or a breather, or an eater. I’ve recently learned that the word writer can mean a lot of things, as there are diverse types of writing and numerous things to write about. Some writers write despite any obvious audience, despite any form of payment. The students who create the stage and film sketches for Riot, the annual comedy show organized by radio and television arts students at Ryerson, receive no obvious rewards. But they are supposed to be funny. Funny is something different for everyone, but Riot’s writers and performers will attempt to achieve some sort of universality… hopefully with my help. Thinking I could write funny, I took a false name and went undercover to join Riot’s writers’ group.
First I meet Josh Sager, who has dubbed himself “Grand Chief Writer o’Riot Esquire.” Meaning: “My occupation consists mostly of working on the scriptures for the New Truth (coming soon to your high school curriculum!) I also dabble in comedy writing.” Sure.
Next I learn the Riot meeting room is a secret. I’m blindfolded and Sager grips my hand and leads me around the Roger’s building for several dizzying minutes. When I question him about past Riots he remarks, “Riot has so far been unsuccessful in that none of its members have been ejected from school as a result. This year, my focus is getting thrown out of Ryerson as a direct consequence of that show. While ‘offensive’ is not a new term, I hope to give the word a new meaning.” To which I can add nothing as we’ve found the secret room. Inside I’m introduced to the comedy writers and told where to sit.
I scanned the other writers, four normal guys, and found it hard to tell who is funny by looks alone. Sager informs me “Our writing staff was chosen based on a multiple choice test plus a full physical exam, which I administered.” While I get materials and my only script ready I can feel them scanning me and arriving at the same conclusion: “He doesn’t look funny.” Still I tried to prepare for this writers meeting as best as I could. I picked my funniest jeans, wore my funniest shirt… I wanted to give off the essence of a guy who is funny so that way even if my script sucked I could at least have hope for future works.
I hand out copies of my script about all the “wacky” stuff that happens to a security guard late one night. I cast the writers in their parts and they go through a reading of my script. At first, silence followed the reading. Is that good or bad? Finally one writer concluded: “It needs… something more.”
“Like?” I inquired
“Maybe you could make the security guard more like Andrew Dice Clay.” Andrew Dice Clay? So much for attempting to be funny. I wrote the suggestion down anyways. Then after about 30 seconds the dam broke. People went off like comedic grenades, free associating, coming up with one liners, making relevant jokes, rude jokes, jokes for no reason, pushing extremes. One pointed out you can’t do jokes that were already done on Saturday Night Live while another suggested they blow the entire show’s budget in one spectacular special effect. While this dialogue between the other members continued, I frantically wrote down all these observations because each one seemed funny and useful. By the time the script analysis is completed, the sketch has been taken to a point hardly recognizable from the sketch I brought in. No wonder this chaos is called Riot.
Once the meeting ended I was once again blindfolded and escorted out. But I was told to come back next Monday and to bring more scripts. Sager reminds me in Yoda-like fashion: “Victimless comedy is like sex without pillow talk.” I went home eager to work hard and be funnier.