Friday, April 18, 2003
Inspiration is a funny thing. You can sit at your typewriter, your word processor, your small wedge-shaped reed and clay cuneiform tablet and wait for it to come to you. Or you can throw down your writing tools, pack a flask full of raspberry liqueur, and go stalk inspiration in the filth where it lives.
In the late 1997, I was a consultant on the German situation comedy "Die Verrückte Hosenfamilie" (which loosely translates to "The Crazypants Family" in English). Then in its fourth season, it seemed that all the stories had been done. The set-up: a family living in modern-day Berlin but insisting on living a rustic, "Sound of Music" existence in the newly-reunited German state. The father, Hermann, had a prosthetic leg that he was always misplacing to hilarious effect. The mother had a withered hand. Their two teenage twins, Anna and Anna, were beautiful and promiscuous despite large birthmarks that covered much of their faces. And there was a parakeet who only spoke in badly-translated American gangsta-rap idioms (sample: "fuckamotha"), a constant reminder of the encroaching modern world.
Despite this fertile material, inspiration was less than forthcoming. So I rallied the writers for a late-night break in a local Berlin S&M club. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, Berlin is to the S&M underground what Bern is to holey cheese and multipurpose knives. Our hostess, Dame auf der Mensch, was quite accommodating, letting us pull up some chairs and observe one of Berlin's highest-paid corporate raiders being humiliated by a buxom dominatrix with an oversize ping-pong paddle and riding crop. After two hours of watching the submissive's near-constant paddling, I broke out a box of pens and yellow legal pads.
The episode "Hermann's Been a Bad Boy" was furiously scribbled at our table amidst the repeated cries of the submissive's safety-word (which was, incidentally, too filthy to be printed in this space). In this seminal script, Hermann mistakenly enters an S&M club while looking for some birdseed for his parakeet. Once inside the club, Hermann discovers that a healthy dose of discipline is quite to his liking; it gives him time to forget how his traditional world is eroding -- that is until he discovers that he's being paddled by Anna and Anna, who are unexpectedly unmasked in classic, screwball fashion.
"Hermann's Been a Bad Boy" was later nominated for the show's only Günther, the German equivalent of the Cable Ace Award.
I still have the riding crop. It was a gift from Dame auf der Mensch, whom I took to the Günther ceremony. Later that evening I didn't even have to use my safety word.