When It Is OK to Lie

 In Blog

“It’s not a lie. It’s a gift for fiction.” – William H. Macy’s character in the David Mamet film, “State and Main.”

We coach air personalities on how to be more authentic, and we encourage speakers to be impeccable with their word. The audience’s trust in you is a valuable and breakable asset.

Despite what you might witness on American cable news channels, broadcasters have an obligation to honesty when it comes to journalism, opinion or political commentary.

But when you are presenting light entertainment, storytelling and comedy, exaggeration, expansion and outright fabrication can make your content more dramatic, funnier and stickier.

Explore how you might creatively employ these methods for fiction in your next show:

Character quirks and flaws

Some people are too nice to be entertaining. Your flaws endear you with an audience. Sometimes when we do the Character Profile exercise in our workshop we find that some individuals have a lot of endearing characteristics, but few quirks and flaws. That’s not funny.

So when we encounter those too-nice, unflawed people, we share the story of 1930’s radio mega-star Jack Benny.

Jack Benny was c-h-e-a-p. Jack’s co-hosts complained that he didn’t pay them enough. Jack had a polar bear named Carmichael in his basement guarding his vault and Jack drove a comically unreliable old Maxwell automobile instead of buying a new one. In reality, Jack Benny was actually one of the most generous people ever to work in Hollywood, but it was funnier for him to play a miser. Jack tried a few shows without any “Jack is cheap” jokes, and the episodes flopped. So he went back to his original comedic platform of bring a cheapskate and listeners loved it.

We work with successful performers who are comically promiscuous, heavy drinkers, greedy, vain, worthless as spouses, over-eaters, or worse on-air while their real life is well-adjusted, functional and nicely boring.

When it happened to someone else

Have you ever had an incredibly entertaining personal experience that can’t be shared for legal, moral or friendship reasons?

Or, have you witnessed some compelling human behavior in friends, neighbors or family that would cause havoc in your personal life if repeated?

We have an easy workaround! Just be mindful of the phrase “names have been changed to protect the innocent….and the guilty.”

That funny story that your buddy shared that he made you swear not to repeat? If it is true to your character, tell it in the first person as if it happened to you.

Your incredible experience that that would result in divorce/beating/incarceration if you told it? Let your co-host tell the story safely as their own.

Or, maybe it’s just a funny story and you want to re-tell it. It’s a show, and you have dramatic license to have some fun. It happens all the time in successful stand-up, presentations, television and radio appearances.

Fictional characters

Whenever there’s a great story to be told, it can be assigned to a “lightning rod” character who can say things that others cannot or will not say.

One day on Phil Hendrie’s show on KFI Los Angeles, a “TV reporter” from Channel 17 (which doesn’t exist) called in with an opinion about the forest fires raging in California.

This reporter claimed that TV news reporters like him were saving lives by covering the fire, because without TV coverage attention the fire fighters would lose interest, abandon the area and leave survivors behind.

Listeners who didn’t know that the “reporter” was actually Phil talking to himself would call in, outraged, while most of the audience laughed themselves silly.

There are many examples of shows, stand-up comics and hosts who create fictional neighbors, friends and family members. Some of them are represented by a character voice, and some never actually appear but are referred to in the third person.

If you don’t feel authentic using fiction without disclosing it, run occasional disclaimers revealing that some of what you say and do is augmented for comedic effect.

We don’t recommend that you base all of your content on fictional experiences or characters. But just Mark Twain said many years ago, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”


Photo Credit: Jessica Afalla/Flickr



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