I was thinking earlier this evening about how the Howard Cosell impression I had mastered in my youth hasn’t really turned out to have much cultural capital over the decades.
I mean, when I was a teenager, in the 1980s, you could get a lot of mileage out of a good Howard Cosell impression. He had one of the most ubiquitous voices in American pop culture, instantly recognizable—but if you applied to anything other than football or boxing, the incongruity was instantly hilarious. That’s just the way it worked.
I remember the college semester I spent in London, in the fall of 1990, and how, during that time, Britain somehow decided to experiment with American stand-up comedy. By that time, I was somewhat desperate for American accents, so I went to go see a lineup that included Larry Miller, Elayne Boosler, and Barry Sobel—and, at this time, one of the centerpieces of Sobel’s act was a dead-on impression of Howard Cosell talking about George Brett’s hemorrhoids.
You can imagine how well this went over in a country that (a) didn’t follow major league baseball, and (b) didn’t know who George Brett is, and (c) wasn’t subjected to Cosell’s voice every Monday night and Saturday afternoon for years on end. I mean, the British audience understood this was meant to be funny, so there was some polite laughter, but mostly it was a roomful of befuddlement. (Except for me, of course; as an American, I found Howard Cosell impressions hysterical, and was laughing my ass off up in the balcony.)
Now, in 2018, my Cosell impression—which largely centers around the first verse to “One Night in Bangkok” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Chess—goes over even less effectively than Barry Sobel’s did in London twenty-eight years ago. The kids today, they don’t know! They’ve never even heard a Howard Cosell impression, except maybe from the Japanese teenager in Better Off Dead, and honestly you can’t even count on the kids having seen Better Off Dead anymore.
But, you know, all the time I spent as a teenager, and into my early twenties, working on that Cosell impression, it taught me a lot about voice, about catching the cadence of a character, and those are general lessons that I’ve been able to apply to my writing over the years. So it wasn’t a waste.
And I mention all this because there might well be stuff in the manuscript you’ve been working on throughout this National Novel Writing Month that future readers just aren’t going to get—something that you might well have to drop from the final draft. It happens! The question is: What did you learn from writing that, and how can you use it to make your writing better in the future?
Which is something you’ll be thinking about soon, as the #NaNoWriMo cycle ends, and you have to decide whether you want to dive into a second draft. We’ll talk about that in the next day or two, I promise.