“How do the writer and director of “talking heads” invoke both humour and pathos? Talking heads is a transcript of six monologues. They were originally written to be performed as a series on television. Each one suited the actor and this allowed for humour and pathos to shine throughout. The language that the characters use is appropriate for their social background and this allows for the humour and pathos to be combined. The way in which the writer orders the words allows for a rhythmic flow of words. This makes it much easier and better to listen to.
The humorous way that the characters get themselves into situations, such as Lesley in Her big chance is being serious although the audience is seeing that she is getting herself into something that she doesn’t expect. Also in ‘a cream cracker under the settee’ the old lady, Doris we see that she is in a desperate situation, but she doesn’t want help from society, which makes the audience smile sympathetically. If we look at the monologue Her big chance in greater depth we can see how the humour and pathos are invoked by the writer and director.
In the monologue we meet Lesley who is women who feel that she is a good actress, and believes she is the next best thing. The episode begins with Lesley saying: “I shot a man last week. In the back. I miss it now, it was really interesting. Still, I’m not going to get depressed about it. ” This is an extract of a film she had acted in before and we find this out later as she informs the audience of her career and how she is professional and serious about her work, but she doesn’t get roles which are entirely fit her ‘professionalism’.
She says that her hobby is people, which initially prompt the audience that she is a good socialiser, but in fact she uses a book to communicate with people. We see that she is not such a good people person as her decisions are changed easily when she meets Spud. Lesley is offered the position in a movie, which we know to be a cheap porno as in her first audition she is asked to get into her ‘bra and panties’ however she doesn’t realise. She initially declines but is swayed to partake and ultimately she sleeps with this man, which shows that she is socially inexperienced.
She starts to take her part seriously and debates with the director of the porno that the character she plays ‘Travis’ would not act like it says. She constantly is oblivious to the fact that they only want her for her body, as the producers say she only got the part because of her “38 inch bust”. She does not appear to realise that she is being used as she sleeps with two more of the production team. And when acting in the ‘movie’ she is easily persuaded to take off her clothes and she manages to justify to herself why she would do so:
“The real Travis wouldn’t. But by displaying herself naked in front of her boyfriend’s business associates she is showing her contempt to his whole way of life”. Lesley does not have a sense of humour and this allows her ego to get punctured when she talks to the directors of the movie. She quotes “acting is really just giving”, which we know that she does not offer much at all, but unofficially she ‘gives’ herself to men. It is obvious to us that she is being used and this combines humour and pathos in this monologue.
In A cream cracker under the settee we have Doris who is a severely independent woman, and in the monologue she falls whilst dusting and badly injures herself. She desperately tries to attract help. However, strangely at the end of the episode, she dismisses a policeman who asks if she is need of help, which shows her independence and disrespect towards today’s society, and ultimately that she doesn’t want to be seen as someone who cannot care for herself. Doris is not likeable because of her insensitive attitude and her obsessive ways.
Pathos is created when the audience sympathises towards the death of her husband and how she still talks to him. And it hints that she had a still-born child when it says: “wrapped in paper, as if it were dirty”, and I this could be where her obsession for cleanliness begins. In the monologue it would be hard for Bennett to create humour aimed at the old lady’s misfortune, where she is put in a position which is very desperate – alone, in pain, condemning herself to death. Her language in which she wittingly makes remarks about today’s society does not create humour either.
But what does make the audience laugh is that she does not want help from society and her careless attitude towards society. For example she does not bother to call for help from the young man who enters Doris’ garden to have a pee (“the cheeky monkey. He’s spending a penny”), nor does she from the couple who come to preach the bible. All she does is remarks on how they leave the gate open, and makes a snide comment: “Shouting about Jesus and leaving gates open Love god and close all gates”.
The sympathy she gains at the end when she believes the only way of not going into a nursing home by letting people see her in a position that makes her seem incapable of looking after her, is to ignore the help from the policeman and give up and supposedly die. The humour used in this monologue is very mild as it does not want to over power the pathos felt towards Doris. A chip in the sugar is told by Graham Whittaker who is a single middle aged man who lives alone with his recently widowed mother.
In the story, the director portrays Graham as a “mummy’s boy” who has a gossipy style of speech and very feminine attitude. Graham sounds much like an elderly woman as he speaks, telling the audience that his character is create from being around his mother for so many years, which creates pathos towards him. Graham can be seen as different roles in his mother life. At the beginning we see Graham the ‘husband’ brings Vera the ‘wife’ a cup of tea in bed which misguides us that they are married. But it is when Graham says: “Give us your teeth – I’ll swill them” it informs the audience that Vera is in fact Graham’s mother.
Bennett uses jokes about social class to add humour to the episode. When Graham hears about a man who exposed himself outside Sainsbury’s he is quick to reply: “Outside Tesco’s you could almost understand”. As the instalment progresses we are hinted that Graham has got metal illness. Graham is not fond of Mr Turnbull, as he is changing Graham’s day to day routine which upsets him. When Vera criticises Graham he decides to resort in not saying anything which is very childish behaviour, another hint that he has mental problems.
Also During lunch with Mr Turnbull, when enquired about his job, Graham goes to the toilet ignoring the question. But Vera tells: “He’s between jobs at present. He used to do soft toys for handicapped children. Then he was making paper flowers at one stage”. This is a clue that he is mentally ill, followed by him later being told to take a tablet. By the audience believing that he is mentally unstable, this creates pathos for Graham. He may be arrogant but the fact that he is dependant on his mother makes the viewers pity him.
To conclude I believe that the way in which the characters are shown in the episodes and the way they act, supported by the well scripted monologues in which they are acted from, makes the audience both laugh and feel sorry fro the characters that are in the monologues. The pathos that we give to the characters is not put in front of us, but we get to understand the characters before making a judgement on them, and we realise that many of them will not achieve much during their lifetime, a common theme in the monologues.