Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Agent

Hello, friends! I'm back from my upstate getaway and, while it was great, I'm very happy to be back. Now, who's ready to dive right back into Story Time? Excellent.

Don't be fooled by the title of today's post - this is not about me. Rather, it comes from the absurdist mind of friend-of-the-blog, Gregg Podolski, whom you may remember from his last appearance on Glass Cases, in which he shared excerpts from his novel, Androids, Ninjas, and Floss: A Memoir. Today's story is also on the hilarious side, and is a piece of flash fiction dialogue between Shakespeare and his agent, in which they discuss (and decide against) the possibility of Shakespeare going in a different direction. Enjoy!

The Agent
By Gregg Podolski

Shakespeare said, "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

"What?" said his agent.

"It's a new idea I'm working on, called a 'joke.'"

"What's that?"

"A line or short passage that compels laughter."

"Why the hell are you wasting your time on something like that? You’ve got a deadline coming up for Henry VI revisions, and last time I checked there wasn’t a whole lot of room for laughs in that puppy."

"Exactly! Everything I've done is so damned gloomy. I want to write something that will bring a smile to my audience's face."

"So you decided to explore the motivations behind a chicken crossing a road? That's not funny."

"Well, the question isn't supposed to be funny. It's in the answer that the humor lies."

"Okay, so what's the answer?"

Shakespeare put a fist to his mouth, cleared his throat and said, "To get to the other side."

Crickets chirped. A gust of wind blew a tumbleweed between the two men on the empty thoroughfare where they stood. After a long moment, the agent grabbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, bumping up his glasses so he could massage the tender spot where they always pinched. He needed a new pair--needed a lot of things, actually--but his clients' work hadn't been selling. The industry didn't have room for mid-list playwrights anymore. It was either blockbuster or bust. Bill had that kind of potential, but the first draft he'd turned in was a mess--wordy and bloated and just all over the place. The agent would probably have to break the thing up and pitch it as a trilogy, which would require a ton of work. The last thing he needed was for the guy to get sidetracked by this "joke" nonsense.

Just then a woman passed by holding a small, crying child. The wails woke him from his temporary daze and he thought, I know how you feel, kid.

"Walk with me Bill," he said at last, replacing his glasses and putting an arm around his client's shoulder. They started down the avenue towards the theater, where they had a meeting scheduled at noon with the set designer. "You've got talent, kid. You know that, right?"

Shakespeare looked uncomfortable with the compliment and dropped his eyes.

"No, you do," the agent continued. "Remember what I said when I took you on?”

“You’re not in the charity business, you’re in the money-making business.”

"That’s right. If I didn’t think you had what it takes, we wouldn’t be having this conversation."

"What about my play?"

“It's got problems, sure, but what debut play doesn't? There’s nothing wrong with it we can’t fix, but I need your head in the game. I'll work with you every step of the way, but we need to keep our eyes on the prize here and Bill, look at me--"

He stopped walking and took Shakespeare's chin in his hand, turning his face towards him.

"--the prize is not laughter. Death and despair, kid, that's what puts asses in the seats. Trust me on this."

Shakespeare nodded.


He nodded again, this time with a smile.

"Good. That's my boy. Come on, let's go meet this scenic design guy. He's got something he wants to show us with dry ice. Supposed to be real cutting-edge stuff."

The kid would be all right. He had the gift. As long as he stayed focused on what sold and left the comedy to the court jesters, he'd do just fine. The agent knew it. He had a knack for these things.


  1. This was fantastic. I have to laugh, not only because it was funny, but because I've been kicking around some discussion about writers switching genres. No obligation, but feel free to check it out: The comments have been great.

  2. This is hilarious. I love how the agent calls him Bill.

  3. I love it! Somehow I think Bill will find his voice in spite of his mentoring agent. :)

  4. This is brilliant! I love, love, loved it! I'm spreading the word!

  5. Nice! I love the dialogue here. This reminded me a bit of a Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson sketch with the opposite premise, that Shakespeare was a moron and the editor was the genius.

  6. Thanks all! I actually wrote this piece as an entry in NPR's most recent Three-Minute Fiction contest. As I explained to Sarah, I went into it harboring no illusions that I might win, and actually am more proud to have it appear here.