CS: I was discussing a comedy script once, and I proposed a much more over the top scene where the main character would embarrass himself. They felt they had to "honor the character," which I took to mean not having the main character look too bad. Is that important, do you think?
ES: Well, you definitely have to protect
your character. Ray [on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND] was really good at this. He really knew who his persona was. And he was very careful going over the scripts not to let comic situations go past a line where he felt it was too far out of the realm of possibility, where it didn't come from a real place.
CS: But in a comedy, you do want your character to make a fool of himself?
ES: You want your lead to have a flaw and get himself into trouble that's his own mistake. Take Grace in WILL AND GRACE. She's always charming and delightful, but so often wrongheaded and made huge gaffes. Or to go to the classics, Lucy is always totally committed to what she's doing. If you tried to protect her from looking bad, you wouldn't have an engaging character. The line you're drawing is, can the character commit believably. Take CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. Larry is committed to what he understands as the logic of what he's doing, no matter how offensive he is. His character believes he's doing the right thing.
CS: What do you do if you're on a show where you disagree with your boss?
ES: If your boss is headed over Niagara Falls, is it your job to tell him? Or is it your job to row faster? And the answer is, row faster.
But wear a life jacket.
CS: Should you ever say, "I think this is a mistake?"
ES: I don't think it's wise to use the word "mistake". What you should do is offer an alternative. You can say, "What if we did this?" And the showrunner can say yes, that's good, or, No, I don't want to. It's your job to come up with alternatives. If the showrunner says, "I don't think this is working," you don't even have to agree. You just come up with alternatives.
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