In the late ’90s and early ’00s, The Second City operated a theater and training center in downtown Cleveland. How could I not take advantage of that? It took a few years, but I finally did, in 2003 enrolled in improv and writing classes and had the time of my life. In the spring of 2004, sadly, SC decided our town didn’t have the Sunday–Thursday evening traffic to support them over the long term, so they turned off the lights and left town. They are truly missed.
Behind the cut, I’m posting a sketch I wrote in my first Comedy Writing class. The assignment for this week was to explore the theme of “Clash of Contexts,” where the fount of funny bubbles up from situating a thing (object, personality) precisely where it doesn’t belong. SNL’s “Samurai Delicatessen” is a classic example. After looking at theory, creating one’s own scene started with brainstorming—my favorite part of class. Come up with as many examples of the theme as you can in a limited amount of time. Here’s the list I started with on this one:
• Trading Spaces (remember this was in 2003) during the Middle Ages. Crusaders switch with Saracens.
• A state fair baking competition where the participants behave like Scottish soccer hooligans.
• A day care center run like a Vegas casino. There’s a croupier running a game of Candyland.
• Garbage truck drivers who are enthusiastic eBay auctioneers.
• Amish Sesame Street, where the puppets are all black and white and have no faces, and all the people in the neighborhood are farmers.
I ended up writing the first one. It was well enough received at the table-read that I’m not too self-conscious about sharing it here. Ladies and Germs, please now click through for The Lab’s production of “The Brocade Crusade.”
The Brocade Crusade, or Tradeth Me Thy Space by Jeff Hentosz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
The Brocade Crusade
or, Tradeth Me Thy Space
SIR GODFREY of KENT, 35: knight in charge of TeamJerusalem-West.
RODRIGUEZ, 23: Godfrey’s effeminate Spanish assistant.
IBRAHIM AL-MAFJAR, 40: Sultan in charge of TeamJerusalem-East.
MUSTAFA IBN UTAR, 36: Ibrahim’s brutish assistant.
SISTER PERSPICUA, 45: Host of the event.
CHAIM, 50: Jewish carpenter (not that one), sometime stonemason.
SOLDIER, 17: Wet-behind-the-ears bearer of bad news.
Time: The Middle Ages of legend — and of TV sitcoms and cartoons.
Scene: Stage Right, the court of a Sultan’s palace. GODFREY and two pages are making a great fuss with lumber and tools. RODRIGUEZ stands apart trying not to get dirty. Stage Left is the great hall of a castle. Three Saracens are gesturing at the upper reaches of the space; IBRAHIM and MUSTAFA hold what look like plans. Center Stage is SISTER PERSPICUA; three monks sit downstage before her, one scribbling furiously in a large book with a quill, the other two operating a loom and weaving a tapestry at an impossible pace –- they are recording the event. PERSPICUA addresses the monks.
PERSPICUA: Our Constantinople redesign is in its second day and progress is picking up. The Saracens working at Beaufleur Castle west of the Bosporus have just figured out what to do with the vaulted ceilings in the great hall, while the crusaders at the Sultan’s palace in the east are putting the finishing touches on their “mystery” project. Our carpenter, Chaim, has been helping them all this morn. Let’s take a look.
(Attention turns stage right.)
PERSPICUA: Sir Godfrey, a moment if I may?
GODFREY: Ah, sister! Just in time. What dost thou think? (He gesticulates excitedly at the structure before them as he describes its function. RODRIGUEZ, seeing an opportunity to justify his presence, flits close in.) I call it an “entertainment nexus”! A system…
RODRIGUEZ: (ridiculous Spanish accent) A chelbing unit!
GODFREY: (barks at RODRIGUEZ) Ah, ah, ah! (smiles again for the Sister) A system of individual shelves in a complex arrangement, intended to keep and display all the Sultan’s favourite diversions in one central location.
RODRIGUEZ: He neber has to leeb the palace!
GODFREY: Impudent dog! (back to business) Attend — books here; nostrums and spirits here; his collection of clockwork automata here.
CHAIM: It’s the precision of the construction that makes it work.
GODFREY: Indeed. Chaim, quoth thee thy theory of the weakness in Eastern design.
CHAIM: Of course. They are women, these Saracens. All soft curves and bright colors and busy patterns. They rightly fear the edge of a blade — but for pity’s sake, the edge of an underlying grid here and there wouldn’t hurt them.
GODFREY: Bloody brilliant. Zounds but he’s perceptive for a Jew.
PERSPICUA: Your work is amazing, sir knight. I’m sure his holiness will be well pleased when he hears of your ingenuity.
RODRIGUEZ: The cherry stain was MY idea!
GODFREY: RODRIGUEZ! (beat) I do the Lord’s work, sister. When the Sultan sees what the armies of Rome can accomplish with interior design, they will relinquish Jerusalem happily — just as the Holy Father foresaw.
PERSPICUA: Well it is nothing if not impressive. (turning to the monks) And speaking of the Sultan, let’s go to Beaufleur to see what the Saracens have in store for the great hall.
(Attention turns stage left. Sultan IBRAHIM is studying his plans. He does not speak English. At hand is his assistant and translator MUSTAFA, who is a complete ape — 250 lbs. of muscle, one eyebrow, dragging knuckles, the works. But he has the soul of an artist. CHAIM is here, too, moving stones around the floor.)
PERSPICUA: (addresses Mustafa throughout) Mustafa?
MUSTAFA: Sister! Good morning.
IBRAHIM: Again the wimpled whore returns to vex me.
PERSPICUA: The Sultan seems to have everything under control. The cushions in the fireplace are a wonderfully interesting addition.
(They step together toward a gaping, head-high fireplace filled with pillows.)
MUSTAFA: Indeed. His Excellency has decided the enormous hearth is criminally inefficient. The stonemason Chaim is just finishing a new brazier here in mid-room. So the fireplace will now be where sits the Lord of the hall, upon a richly brocaded sarir, our traditional bed-shaped throne.
IBRAHIM: (growing impatience) Mustafa, why does the witch persist?
MUSTAFA: It is as I explained yesterday, great one … she is mad and her tribe has turned her out.
IBRAHIM: And so she comes ’round to make our camels lame.
MUSTAFA: No, sire. She is lost. I will set her back upon her road. (turning to PERSPICUA with a grin) He asks me to note that, as for the rest of the space, even now we are expecting a caravan of Persians to deliver the finest silk draperies from far Samarkand.
PERSPICUA: Marvelous. I’m sure our chroniclers can’t wait to see them.
(The monks nod in mild interest.)
PERSPICUA: Could you ask the Sultan what he believes your greatest challenge on this project has been?
MUSTAFA: Actually, Chaim, of all people, put his finger on it. Chaim, could you remind me?
CHAIM: Of course. They are animals, these gentiles. All stone and wood and iron. They fear the colors of their own blood and bile — but a bright accent upon the wall here and there wouldn’t hurt them.
MUSTAFA: By the prophet, he’s perceptive for a Jew.
PERSPICUA: (brightly) So I’ve heard.
MUSTAFA: If I may be so bold — it is my belief that once the Westerners see what we have wrought, they cannot but know they must leave the Holy City in our most capable hands.
PERSPICUA: Well, we’ll leave that question for the end of the show. For now, let’s go see how the crusaders are wrapping up.
(Attention turns stage right. There is now a disturbance in the room. The pages are speaking in excited whispers and RODRIGUEZ is crying and holding his crotch like he has to pee. GODFREY is berating a quaking young SOLDIER who has blood running down his face and an arrow sticking out the back of his shoulder.)
GODFREY: (angry) DIDST thou launch an attack upon the Persian horde?
(The SOLDIER is trapped. His mind reels, searching in vain for a good lie.)
GODFREY: (furious) WELL!?
SOLDIER: I suppose … that we lobbed a little pig shit at them.
GODFREY: (dangerously) A “little” pig shit?
SOLDIER: (sighs, defeated) A cartload…
(GODFREY steps closer to the soldier, who winces and braces for the smack. Instead GODFREY gently places a hand on the man’s shoulder.)
GODFREY: The pope may well remove my head for this. (beat) But when he does (beat) I WILL have thy balls clutched in my fist.
SOLDIER: (desperate) But the Persian horde…
GODFREY: Did his holiness not decree we fight this crusade without steel, but with style?
SOLDIER: (redeemed) Captain Blaise says pig shit never goes out of style.
(Lights up. The Saracens cross the stage. They are agitated as well. IBRAHIM is holding filthy shredded drapes.)
MUSTAFA: We deduced our late silk delivery came here by mistake, and we arrive to find our Persian suppliers embattled!
PERSPICUA: There’s a logical explanation, good Saracens.
IBRAHIM: (fed up) Spare me the ceaseless bleating of this witless she-goat!
(MUSTAFA, surprised, is conflicted for a moment then, recognizing which side of his bread is buttered, draws his scimitar and hacks PERSPICUA across the back of the neck. She collapses. The MONKS pause, considering her body. They look at each other. The scribbling monk closes his book; the other two resume their frantic weaving. GODFREY is horrified at this development.)
GODFREY: How dare you, you sandblasted demon? Rodriguez, eviscerate these men!
(Tiny RODRIGUEZ looks up in terror at the gorilla-shaped MUSTAFA, who smiles and nods. He crosses his arms, his sword curving over his head.)
MUSTAFA: Evisceration, eh? Yes, I suppose a few other things around here could use … remodeling…
(Lights out. Sounds of hoofbeats, clash of swords and the screams of the reupholstered.)