When Harry Met Sally is a commercial film. Its mission is to be entertaining, to ensure as much watching as possible. As a commercial romantic comedy, its entertainment stems from its romance (Harry and Sally ending up happily together) and from its comedy (“baby fish mouth”). The film is romantic, it is comedic, and thus it was a commercial success.
But to When Harry Met Sally’s fans, it is not about commercial success but about the question of whether men and women can be friends. This is the hook of the movie, the foundation for its romance and jokes. Within the first fifteen minutes, Harry makes a statement which the rest of the film debates: “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” Sally argues that she has platonic men friends, but Harry says these friendships are invalid because those men secretly want to have sex with her. It’s a universal rule, he says. All men want to have sex with all women, regardless of whether or not the man finds the woman attractive. And according to Harry, it doesn’t matter if the woman doesn’t want to have sex with the man, “because the sex thing is already out there, so the friendship is ultimately doomed, and that is the end of the story.”
The film’s hook and its commercial obligation to romance create a tension. Before the question is even asked, we know whether Harry and Sally can be friends; they can’t. They inhabit a rom-com, and so they ultimately have to end up together romantically. READ MORE
Mike Schur, showrunner of Parks and Recreation, is obsessed with David Foster Wallace. At Harvard, he made Wallace an honorary member of the Lampoon and wrote his thesis about Infinite Jest. He directed a music video depicting a scene from IJ. His wife banned him from discussing the book at social gatherings.
It’s not just Schur — a ton of comedians share David Foster Wallace enthusiasm. Adam Scott, Nick Offerman, Rob Delaney and a bunch more comedians read monologues from Pale King after its 2011 release. Tina Fey mentions Wallace in Bossypants. Anecdotally, a lot of my comedy friends are into Wallace. I read Infinite Jest while interning at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and even though they clearly had a million better things to be doing, staff members would talk to me about the wheelchair assassins and what Wallace essays I should read.
Why is Wallace so popular with comedy people? He’s funny, but a lot of authors are funny. His work is accomplishes what he saw as fiction’s ultimate task: it considers “what it is to be a fucking human being.” But again, a lot of authors do this. What makes Wallace specifically appealing to people who spend a lot of time thinking about comedy and entertainment, is that Wallace spent a lot of his time thinking about comedy and entertainment. In his essays and through his fiction, he explores comedy theory. David Foster Wallace was a comedy nerd. READ MORE