My friend Ida and I are working on a show about friendship.
I did some research into the history of friendship, and what I found is that most philosophers especially the ancient ones, like Plato and Aristotle agree that friendship is the most virtuous thing in life. It’s the best thing there is. You might think that love is the most important thing, but love gets so tangled up in sex and lust that it’s not as pure as a true friendship, which can be about nothing but good feelings and genuine respect. That’s the idea anyway.
So everyone agrees that friendship is the most beautiful thing in the world, but this is not reflected in the media. There are almost no adult movies about friendship. There are a lot of movies for children about friendship: Toy Story, Harry Potter, Stand By Me, The Cheetah Girls. The main relationships in those movies are friendships.
There are barely any friendship movies for adults. You’ve got Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Thelma and Louise, and in all those movies the main friends end up dead.
You options get even slimmer when you talk about a friendship that crosses gender lines. The most famous movie about a friendship between a man and a woman is When Harry Met Sally and the whole point of that movie is that those kinds of friendships can’t exist without the two friends fucking each other eventually.
So how does this happen? How is it that everyone seems to agree that friendship is the most important and beautiful thing you can have in your life, and yet no one is making art about friendship.
Well, as Ida and I have tried to write this play, we have discovered the answer: friendship is fucking boring.
To demonstrate I have created this very professional graph (Hal takes out a hand-drawn pen and ink graph on notebook paper)
Strangely enough, I met my best friend, Ida, and my first girlfriend, and only serious romantic partner I have ever had, S, at the exact same moment, which is a very convenient starting point.
(Hal indicates on his very professional graph) See, this line represents my relationship with S.
Here’s how we met.
Right here is where we had sex for the first time. I was at her house watching a movie with her and her roommates, and she was like “Well, I’m going to bed” and then as she walked around the couch, she pinched me on the shoulder. I told her roommates that happened and they were like “She wants you to go up there with her” but I was too scared, so her roommate had to go get her, and she came back out and pointed at me and was like “You. Come here.”
And then right here is where we got into our first fight because I wasn’t as blown away by her horrible confession of having anorexia as she thought I should be. She told me about it, and I thought the move to make was to not make a big deal about it, and act like it was normal and it didn’t really bother me. But I guess that’s not what she wanted.
And then here is where I got strep throat and spent three days recovering on her couch.
And here is where she moved back to Ohio.
And here is where she came to visit me for Valentine’s Day, and she told me about having sex with her ex-boyfriend Colin, and how she likes it when he is mean to her in bed, and asks me if maybe I could be mean to her in bed too, and I say that I don’t want to do that, because I love her too much. And I start to think to myself, that maybe this relationship is on the downswing.
and then denial, denial, denial.
And then here is where I went to visit her in Oberlin and we finally broke up in a Middle Eastern Restaurant named Aladdin’s. And I couldn’t eat a bite, and right when I was about to start crying, the waitress came over and was like “is everything OK?” meaning the food. And I was about to scream NO EVERYTHING IS NOT OK, but then I just started laughing like a psycho.
And here is where its over.
If I was going to write that as a story, it would be easy. There are literally hundreds of emotionally charged moments, which I remember very well and can draw from. There’s a clear beginning, middle, and end, fairly high stakes, and both Sophie and I changed a lot over the course of the relationship. I’m a different person here than I was here or here or here and the relationship was a direct cause of that. The natural arc of the relationship follows a typical story arc.
Meanwhile, at the same time, this line represents my friendship with Ida.
Here is where we met.
Then this is when we went to taco fest, and, by the time we had gotten there, they had run out of tacos, so we just went to a Mexican restaurant nearby, and I ordered a horchata and they forgot about it, but I was too nervous to bring it up, and so I never got my horchata.
And then at some point we were roommates. And then a lot of stuff happened, and we were friends, and a few weeks ago we went to this restaurant called “The Crazy Crab” which was pretty wacky, and we’re still friends, so the line just keeps going.
If a romantic relationship is like your house catching on fire, a friendship is like a pair of sweatpants. Friendship isn’t about high stakes and conflict. It’s about comfort and caring and mostly just hanging out. Friendship is the background hum of your life. Or the foundation on which you build things. Whatever metaphor you want. Friendship is necessary and so important but it’s rarely exciting. Which is great for life, but not so great when you are trying to right a show with a compelling emotional arch.
The most compelling stories of friendship are when one of the friends dies prematurely, which luckily has not happened yet with Ida or I, or if the friends are particularly mismatched, like Max Schelling and Joe Lewis. Max Schelling was a nazi boxer, and Joe Lewis was the first black man to be nationally recognized as a hero in the US. They fought each other twice and, afterwards, became friends. Pretty crazy. But Ida and I are both white, Jewish, artist people so there’s not a lot of millage to be gained there.
I feel like Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation.
In the movie, which was written by Charlie Kaufman as an adaptation of the book The Orchid Thief, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is trying to adapt a book called The Orchid Thief, and in an and in an early scene he talks about how he doesn’t want to inject a bunch of Hollywood bullshit, like a love story between the writer of the book and the orchid thief she is writing about, or a drug angle where the orchids have some kind of powder in them, and that’s why they’re so valuable. Or any shot-outs or chase scenes. He just wants it to be a simple movie about how beautiful orchids are.
The (SPOILER ALERT) as a character Charlie Kaufman becomes increasingly frustrated by this, all those Hollywood bullshit things start to happen. He tracks down the writer of the book and catches her in a cabin with the orchid thief sniffing orchid powder, and then there is a dramatic shot-out, and a chase through the swamp that ends with a deus ex machina saving the protagonist. The real writer Charlie Kaufman put all of the Hollywood stuff into his movie about the fake Charlie Kaufman who refused to do so. It’s very clever. And let’s real Charlie Kaufman have his cake and eat it too.
But that’s not an option for me, because this play is not fictional like that. I can’t have one of us die or make Ida into a Nazi boxer.
(Hal then goes on to explain, in compelling and unrecorded detail, how television's episodic form lends itself to the exploration of friendship)