Not your show of shows, but a show of shows

I don't feel prepared to assess the career and ouvre of Neil Simon. I think his reputation, which has pretty much plummetted over the last ten years, will continue to slide for another thirty or fifty, and then it wouldn't surprise me if it went much higher. I mean, I'll probably be beyond surprise at that point, but still. In the end, I think the misogyny and rape culture that permeate his work will be seen as reflecting the culture, more than as personal failings. Still.

What I really want, though, is not an assessment of Neil Simon's actual career, but an alternate-history story about Your Show of Shows (and its successors) where instead of the writers' room being nine guys and one woman who went on to dominate the American comedy scene for fifty years, it was nine women and one dude. I don't know exactly who would replace Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner and Joseph Stein—Selma Diamond would still be there, of course, and Gertrude Berg as the head writer, and maybe Rose Marie and Elaine Stritch and... Adele Styler? Patricia Highsmith? Stella Adler? I mean, obviously, there were very few women writing comedy (or plays) in the real 1950s and 1960s in America, so the alternate-history would need to make some up, or lure some in from other fields. If the work that was lucrative was joke-writing for variety shows, would Flannery O'Connor have written jokes for variety shows?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

6 thoughts on “Not your show of shows, but a show of shows

  1. Chris Cobb

    Lorraine Hansberry. She wasn’t writing comedy, but she was one of the era’s great playwrights, and her plays have plenty of wit and local humor, even though their larger arcs are intensely serious. If we posit a society with very different gender dynamics, we could also posit a society with very different racial dynamics, which would both given Hansberry an opportunity to be in the room and enabled her to articulate her vision in the terms of comedy.

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      Absolutely Lorraine Hansberry! An excellent addition to the cast—One of the things I would enjoy about (somebody else writing) this alternate universe would be the ways that the various writers moved on in different directions, and how they influenced other writers in the next generation, as that group in our world did, and I can easily imagine Ms. Hansberry, with comic chops sharpened by a few years in TV variety, becoming an influential satirist, or inventing the ‘dramedy’ form on television.

  2. Vardibidian Post author

    I forgot Elaine May! And Anne Meara, and possibly Jane Alexander? I don’t think Viola Spolin would have been at all interested in television, but I can easily imagine Gertrude Berg poaching her funniest students.


  3. Jacob

    How about Cynthia Ozick?

    I wonder if, in your alternate reality, some of the women who got political might have felt they didn’t need to, so your writers room could include Betty Friedan or Judith Malina.

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      I love the idea of Betty Friedan being able to find rewarding work writing jokes for a variety-sketch show, and then becoming an influential political comic along the Mort Sahl lines. I can easily imagine disputes between the writers who wanted a more topical edge versus those who wanted domestic gags, cultural gags or more surreal stuff. And it’s entertaining (to me) to imagine, in a world where women were admitted to be funny enough to dominate such a show, who would have honed that part of their persona… Helen Thomas? What about people who didn’t go into writing in our world at all? Debbie Reynolds? Was Elaine de Kooning funny? How would we know?

      1. Jacob

        Anne Bancroft? Thelma Ritter? Joanne Woodward?

        Love the suggestion of Helen Thomas.

        Joan Didion? Susan Sontag?


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