GET YOURSELF OUT OF A CREATIVE RUT TODAY
Or How The TV Series Hacks Can Inspire You To Re-Invent Yourself
Call yourself a writer?
Then there are two things you must do.
Write a lot.
I try and do both as much as I can. But between writing and reading, I do indulge in the occasional guilty pleasure of watching television and films. I particularly like well-written comedy-dramas. A good comedy-drama does three things for me. It makes me laugh, allowing me to put aside any baggage of work-related stress I may have lugged back home. It allows me to subconsciously absorb the rhythms of good dialogue in the banter, comebacks and sharp retorts exchanged between the characters. And if I’m lucky, it inspires me to do better as an artist and a human being.
I found such a show in Hacks, an American comedy-drama series created by Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky that premiered on May 13, 2021, on HBO Max.
Hacks centers on the professional relationship between a young comedy writer and a legendary stand-up comedienne, Deborah Vance, who is the soul of the series.
Deborah Vance, played by Jean Smart, used to be a legend in Vegas. She almost had a sitcom show of her own and if she had succeeded, she would have been the first woman to headline her own show.
But a messy divorce ruined her ambition.
Now she performs in a casino. To cater to a younger crowd, the head of the casino wants to give some of her performance dates to newer stand-up acts. Deborah Vance could deny all she wants, but the truth is undeniable. She will be reduced to a footnote if she does not re-invent herself and find fresh material for her comedy.
She could choose to retire because she has made tons of money from her act. But Deborah is not the sort of person who retires, just because Life tells her so.
So Deborah fights back.
And that’s why she inspires me.
Why I like Deborah Vance
She’s not perfect.
She’s rude, sarcastic, and vindictive, but once you get to know her, you realize that a lifetime of working in a profession dominated by men and having to fight to get your spot in the spotlight, does tend to add some abrasive edges to your personality. You do not want to be on the receiving end of her put-downs. Show any weakness or the slightest sign of stupidity in front of her and you will be shredded. This makes her a very entertaining character to watch but after a while, it can be tiresome. A continual barrage of put-me-downs would have rendered the character a self-entitled bitch if you did not know where it is all coming from. Here, the writers were careful to portray her as someone whose success was not handed to her on a silver platter. Success, every molecule of it, was hard-earned. Fought for, torn, and ripped from the hands of those who would put her down, malign her, or simply find ways to trip her up. You see Deborah Vance as someone who has endured the hardest knocks that life meted out to her. But just like Ip Man in all three movies, she raised herself from the floor and put up her fists for another round of battle.
That steel in her character is something I find admirable. And it’s something that a creative artist should continually forge in the smithy of his character. But it isn’t just the steel in her that makes her so admirable.
It is also her dedication to her work.
You can tell that she appreciates a good joke, even if it is made at her expense. Especially if it was made at her expense. She takes pleasure in the craft. The rhythm of the joke. Which word she should hit. How nuanced should she be? She may have projected an image of someone who was doing stand-up just for the money, but the craft matters to her.
As it should matter to all writers.
Steel in your character, and a commitment to your craft.
It is a reminder to all who dabble in the creative arts. Sometimes writers have to be warrior poets, like Braveheart. Sometimes a line you write would turn out to be a clunker. That episode you thought was the best thing you ever wrote, would turn out to elicit nothing more than a shrug from an audience. It happens. What we should do is abide by Samuel Beckett’s mantra to try again, fail again, fail better. Be always working at your craft. Maybe it is time you look inside yourself. Maybe it is time to re-invent yourself. Write new material. Stop going back to your usual hacks. Storytellers are used to putting their characters through a grueling cycle of obstacles so that the characters would transform into stronger versions of themselves.
As writers, directors or dancers, or anyone who does anything in the creative arts, we should do the same.
In this Story we call Life, we are the Protagonists.
Sometimes the greatest act of transformation begins with yourself.