Comedy Can Be Murder

by Neil Ross
Ancient Athens. Up-and-coming comic playwright Aristophanes is accused of murdering his leading actor. With only his one-liners, his brilliant slave Jeevus, and the strong arm of the leggy Lysistrata, he must solve the murder, dodge arrows, and produce the first known comic masterpiece -- against the backdrop of an absurd war. Learn more...

I began 2015 with the startling realization that in more than half a century I had neglected to find a way to make a living. So I decided to take unfinished and unproduced works down from the shelf, rewrite them and send them out the door and keep going until I sold something.

“With Glowing Hearts: A Satirical Thriller.” I rewrote my one solo screenplay, involving a plot to privatize the Canadian military. A director of some standing had been interested in the 90’s. I added the first rock’n’roll Prime Minister and hand delivered it. (He eventually sent it back unopened stating that he was too busy with work.)

“Your Mama! Tommy Chong from Vancouver to Motown.” I have long been of the opinion that Tommy Chong’s early years in Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers would make a stellar R’n’B’ comedy. Their hit ‘Does Your Mama Know About Me” was the first Motown single to deal with the race issue and the Canadian content would allow Tommy the director to come home. I wrote a forty page treatment and sent it off to him. So far I have not had a response from any of the addresses I’d found. I keep trying.

“Worthy of Such a Country: D’Arcy McGee.” I wrote this screenplay with David Wilson, author of the award winning two volume biography of the most visionary of the Canadian Fathers of Confederation, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the only federal politician assassinated in our history. I revised some sections that both David and I had questioned, then I started working on McGee: the play. We are looking at the anniversary of TDM’s death for a potential 2018 production. McGee was now moving slowly forward but David and I both had commitments, he at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography and me (soon) in Ancient Athens.

“Comedy Can Be Murder: An Aristophanes Murder Comedy” came literally (and I think in the context I’m using the word correctively) out of left field. Because that’s where I kept seeing it. I had planned next to write an original screenplay, Future Towers Falling Down, but it wasn’t holding up. I would stand in my apartment facing south and an idea kept popping up. Partly because the wall to my right is closer than the one to my left it was on the left that I had greater depth of vision.

The idea was to finally get around to Aristophanes, not as a stageplay but as a series of historical detective novels based around the plays with the playwright as detective/narrator.

I had three objections.

1) A series of novels!!!! I had written my first novel five times over and still never considered it complete. I started another just last year and hit a wall with it. The project looked like a series of 11 potential albatrosses around my neck.

2) I have no cred at all in Ancient Greece. I’ve never been to modern Greece. I don’t read ancient Greek. I don’t speak modern Greek.

3) It was not uncharted territory. Gary Corbin and Margaret Doody had both been there first and Ms. Doody’s book featured Aristotle, Detective. It would look like I’d stolen the first six letters of her character’s name!
Frankly, I have never pushed an idea away with such vehemence. But it kept coming back like an over excited collie scratching at the door to come in.

Then just after Canada Day (early July) I ran into Andrew my web guy and proudly detailed the as yet totally unprofitable sum of my labours. He asked if I could turn any of them into a book and we started talking about the economics of self-publishing. Someone had tried to convince me before but all I could envision was an apartment full of books. I make no secret of my Old School ties; the eNovel part of it had to be explained to me.

None of the above projects were suitable for book for me. But Aristophanes was still haunting left field. I went home and let the dog in.

I had three reasons:

1) eNovels depend on volume. The 11 albatrosses now looked like 11 potential battery hens.

2) As I attempted to bone up on day to day life in ancient Athens I kept encountering the phrase “Most of what we know about life in ancient Greece comes from the plays of Aristophanes.” All other writers were going to the plays for background. They occupied my foreground. With each one I knew what my central character had been thinking about as he produced it, what his political concerns were, and what he’d been eating and drinking. It was an in.

3) As Corbin and Doody’s stories took place about thirty years before and after CCBM it seemed like their might be a niche for me. Look how crowded Victorian London is. Couldn’t the cradle of civilization support three series. The Aristotle/Aristophanes confusion was unfortunate but the second half of Aristotle’s ‘Poetics,’ the one that addressed comedy was missing. Certainly the Father of Comedy deserved a shot at detecting with his eleven un-missing plays.

And the rest is ancient history.

NEXT: Up At Last Again!