Neil Simon, “Rapid-fire Jokes and Wisecracks”

“If you can go through life without ever experiencing pain you probably haven’t been born yet. And if you’ve gone through pain and think you know exactly why, you haven’t examined all the options”.  Neil Simon

Neil Simon (born July 4, 1927) is an American playwright and screenwriter. He has written over thirty plays and nearly the same number of movie screenplays, most adapted from his plays.

Simon’s childhood was difficult and mostly unhappy due to his parents’ “tempestuous marriage,” and ongoing financial hardship caused by the Depression. His father often abandoned the family for months at a time, causing them further financial and emotional hardship. As a result, Simon and his brother Danny were sometimes forced to live with relatives, or else their parents took in boarders for some income. Simon recalls this period:

“The horror of those years was that I didn’t come from one broken home but five. It got so bad at one point that we took in a couple of butchers who paid their rent in lamb chops”. Neil Simon

He often took refuge in movie theaters where he enjoyed watching the early comedians like Charlie Chaplin, which inspired him to become a comedy writer.

“I think part of what made me a comedy writer is the blocking out of some of the really ugly, painful things in my childhood and covering it up with a humorous attitude…. do something to laugh until I was able to forget what was hurting.”
Neil Simon

During 1961, Simon’s first Broadway play, Come Blow Your Horn, ran for 678 performances at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Simon took three years to write that first play, partly because he was also working on writing television scripts at the same time. He rewrote the play at least twenty times, “And I mean from beginning to end,”

It was the lack of belief in myself. I said, ‘This isn’t good enough. It’s not right.’ That doesn’t mean I could make it better, but I felt I had to try…. It was the equivalent of three years of college.”That play, besides being a “monumental effort” for Simon, was a turning point in his career:

After Barefoot in the Park (1963) and The Odd Couple (1965), for which he won a Tony Award, he became a national celebrity and was considered “the hottest new playwright on Broadway,”

“Those successful productions were followed by others, including The Good Doctor, God’s Favorite, Chapter Two, They’re Playing Our Song, I Ought to Be in Pictures, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound, Jake’s Women, The Goodbye Girl, and Laughter on the 23rd Floor. His subjects ranged from serious to romantic comedy to more serious drama and less humor. Overall, he has garnered seventeen Tony nominations and won three”. Susan Koprince

“My view is “how sad and funny life is.” I can’t think of a humorous situation that does not involve some pain. I used to ask, “What is a funny situation?” Now I ask, “What is a sad situation and how can I tell it humorously?” Neil Simon

“His plays are often brilliantly funny, his “flair for rapid-fire jokes and wisecracks is unparalleled”. Koprince

“Simon’s comic form “provides a means to present serious subjects so that audiences may laugh to avoid weeping.” McGovern

Simon’s plays are generally semi-autobiographical, often portraying aspects of his troubled childhood and first marriages – “I suppose you could practically trace my life through my plays.” Neil Simon

One of Simon’s “hallmarks” is his “great compassion for his fellow human beings:
“He shows a preference for conventional moral behavior; however, he has great tolerance for moral fallibility. He suggests mutual concession in personal relationships; however, he never “punishes” those who persist in extreme modes of behavior”.


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