The comedic brilliance of romantic self-degradation
At the end of a long weekday, my wife and I usually unwind by watching an episode (or two) of the latest television/streaming series (or two) we’ve gotten into. I’ve recommended a few of them in my newsletter.
Last month, we actually re-watched one from a few years ago, that I had kind of forgotten about until it popped up on our HBO Max menu as a suggested series. I’m talking about “Hello Ladies” with Stephen Merchant.
For those unfamiliar with Merchant, he’s a British actor, comedian, and comedic writer who’s done a lot of work with Ricky Gervais over the years. “Hello Ladies” (which originally aired on HBO) was pretty much his baby. He created the series based on his stand-up show of the same name. He also directed it, wrote for it, and starred in it.
Merchant plays a socially-awkward Englishman named Stuart who owns a successful website development company that he runs out of his Los Angeles home. He moved to L.A. to find the woman of his dreams, but his insecurities and desperation to do so often result in him making a fool of himself… in public… usually in front of a woman he’s interested in… who’s typically far out of his league to begin with.
Here’s the opening scene of the first episode, which should give you an idea of what I’m talking about:
I think the show (which unfortunately only lasted one season, with a TV movie that followed) is absolutely hysterical. A lot of its appeal has to do with the aforementioned social awkwardness, and frequent violation of social taboos involving sensitive topics (like race and sexuality). But the show also carried the mantle of perhaps my all-time favorite comedic precept: an over-eager guy humiliating himself in his attempts to impress a woman.
If done right, it’s comedy gold.
I suppose that’s a big reason why I’ve always loved Three’s Company. John Ritter, in his classic portrayal of Jack Tripper, pretty much perfected the formula. He did it again, year’s later, in the Blake Edwards film, Skin Deep.
Chevy Chase has a pretty good track record as well, with his role as Clark Griswold (most notably opposite Christie Brinkley) in the Vacation films.
And unsurprisingly, my favorite scene from 1996’s Swingers is Jon Favreau’s prolonged duel with a new love interest’s answering machine:
I’ve toyed with this brand of humor in my thriller novels, specifically in regard to Sean Coleman. Sean isn’t exactly an eloquent individual, and it’s fair to say he’s uncomfortable in social situations. So, what little I describe of his love life does include a fair amount of self-degradation.
Here’s an excerpt from From a Dead Sleep, where Sean is recalling the last date he went on:
By the end of their date, Sean had accidentally laughed at a sentimental story she had told him of her grandmother’s funeral, got caught in a lie about being co-owner of his uncle’s business, and spilt hot coffee across her lap during the loud and animated retelling of a memorable football play from his glory days.
It was possible that something could have still been salvaged from the night if he hadn’t wrapped a headlock around a man in the restaurant parking lot after watching him back his car into the Nova’s bumper.
And this is from Blood Trade, where Sean is approaching a woman, in a snowy parking lot, who he’s developed feelings for:
“Jessica!” Sean shouted.
Her head spun toward him, her face blank. She was probably expecting to find a co-worker who was on the way inside as well. Instead, she found a tall, large man who raised his hand in a timid greeting.
It seemed she had trouble recognizing him at first. She raised her hand to her forehead, using it as a visor to marginalize the bright glare of the sun, which Sean’s large frame was partially eclipsing. Her scrutinizing eyes appeared to be tracing the outline of his body. He knew that at any second she would realize who he was.
When he was within only a few yards, he opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was a loud yelp when he felt his foot catch a patch of ice under the snow. He lunged forward to solidly plant his other foot and keep his balance, but it found ice as well.
As he crashed down to the unforgiving asphalt, he caught an image out of the corner of his eye of Jessica instinctively reaching out her hand to try and grab his. She was unsuccessful, only managing to lose her sunglasses when they fell from her face.
Sean lay there for a moment, sprawled out along the snow-covered blacktop and digesting the bitter sting of embarrassment, before climbing to his feet.
Such scenes are fun to write, and I’ve got one coming up in Restitution that’s a bit more involved.
I think this stuff resonates with me as much as it does, because there’s an inherent honesty and familiarity in it. Growing up, and as a young adult, I watched a lot of friends make complete fools of themselves in their usually futile attempts to attract women. It was wildly amusing. The harder they tried, the worse and more clumsy the outcome.
And believe me, I was guilty of the same — not so much in the player sense, but definitely in the ‘awkward’ department. A younger, insecure, single John Daly degraded himself more than a few times in his pursuits of romance. When I look back at those times now, I can thankfully shake my head and chuckle. Still, I much prefer the imagery coming at someone else’s expense:
Some of the oldest and most well-known dating advice I can think of was always the best (though few guys seem to actually follow it until they’re older): Just be yourself.
When you are yourself, a lot of other issues tend to work themselves out on their own. The results just aren’t as funny.
Anyway, if you’ve never seen “Hello Ladies,” make sure you check it out. It’s brilliant.
Is there a comedic premise or formula that you’re particularly fond of? Let me know what it is.
The Reason for the ‘A’
In case any of you have ever wondered why I use my middle initial for my books, it’s to differentiate myself from a rather famous (and colorful) pro golfer, who happens to share my name, and also has a number of books on the market.
It’s particularly helpful whenever he trends on social media for saying or doing something bizarre, as he did on Fox News over the weekend. Still, I manage to have a little fun with it.
Goth Henry Rollins ⚰🪦 @G0thHenryRollnsJohn Daly should really avoid saying words. I've never known a single one he uttered to be smart. https://t.co/CyqNAALjEh
David Pakman @dpakmanWhat on earth is John Daly talking about? https://t.co/FDfgTwHmR1
Obligatory Dog Shot
The Easter chew-toy made it about 24 hours.
I’ve heard from a number of people who really enjoyed my story last week about the rock group, Sugartooth. I’m glad the piece was well received, and I certainly had fun writing it. I also passed it along to Josh and Marc of the band. Marc (I assume after noticing that I write a weekly vinyl feature for my newsletter) asked if I ever picked up the band’s “Leave My Soul to Rest” single on vinyl.
This was my reaction:
I didn’t know there was anything by Sugartooth on vinyl. Turns out, the band self-released it in 1993, prior to signing with Geffen. Naturally, I had to have it. Marc pointed me in the right direction, I ordered myself a copy, and it arrived in the mail just a couple days ago.
It’s safe to say the jacket art is fairly satanic, but I assure you that the record itself is as advertised, featuring older (and rather innocent) recordings of “Leave My Soul to Rest” and “Shine Boy.” (Then again, I haven’t actually tried to play the thing backwards… 👿).
It’s a cool listen, offering a rare and raw glimpse into the band’s early sound.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!