Today we’re going to learn how to write letters that make people think you’re crazy.
We take our text from a letter I got last week from a Salt Lake woman who was very, very angry with my review of “George Washington Slept Here” at the Hale Center Theater in Orem.
Mrs. Angry, as we’ll call her, felt my review was too sarcastic and too negative — valid points, except that my review lacked both sarcasm and negativity. Other reviews I’ve written have been replete with such qualities, but this was not one of them.
Anyway, the steps in writing an effective letter:
1. Get right to the point. Mrs. Angry begins: “I won’t even address you as ‘Dear Mr. Snider.’ You do not warrant even that much respect.” Wow! Even the sweepstakes companies manage to muster enough false respect to address me as “Mr. Snider” (or, more often, “Mr. Snyder”). But not Mrs. Angry! You have to admire that. (Or not. Whatever.)
2. Show that you have a clear understanding of the issue. Mrs. Angry makes this point: “Do you think your review made anyone want to see that play?” She obviously understands perfectly the role of a theater critic: to make people want to see plays. If a play is bad, the critic should avoid saying bad things about it, because that would not make people want to see it, thus defeating the purpose of the review.
Always remember this: The purpose of a theater review is to give the play free publicity and encourage people to go watch it. Mrs. Angry understands this perfectly.
3. Be irrational and odd. From the letter: “You criticized the man’s British accent. Why don’t you look at your own?” Obviously, I have no place criticizing an actor’s performance unless I could do it better myself. Also: “Even your opening remarks were sickening.” Herewith, I quote my opening remarks. Prepare to be sickened: “After two acts of ho-hum, ‘isn’t-that-cute?’ comedy, the Hale Center Theater’s production of ‘George Washington Slept Here’ redeems itself with a third act that is hysterically funny and well worth the wait.” I apologize for any bile that may have welled up in your throat upon reading such a negative, mean-spirited remark.
4. Never underestimate the power of longevity. Mrs. Angry says, “You criticized the script. That play has been around a long time.” She realizes that if something has been around a long time, it must be good. Like cocaine, for example, or adultery.
Or Mrs. Angry herself! She tells me in her letter that she has been around for 77 years. Therefore, she must be good. One might criticize her letter-writing techniques, especially considering that she asks 13 questions, yet uses only four question marks. But such criticisms should be dismissed immediately. After all, Mrs. Angry has been around a long time!
5. End your letter with irrefutable logic. Mrs. Angry writes: “Why don’t you try a little kindness and praise instead of so much tearing down of everyone and everything? You would be a much better critic.” In other words, I would be a much better critic if I criticized less. Similarly, Mrs. Angry would be a better letter-writer if she wrote fewer letters.
I hope Mrs. Angry’s letter goes a long way toward dispelling the myth that Utahns are nice. Most of them are, but say negative things about a show they like — or, in this case, say mostly POSITIVE things about it — and they put their seasoned letter-writing skills to use.
I’m going to end this column now. In fact, I figure I’d be a much better columnist if I wrote fewer columns altogether. Perhaps you’d agree.
Unfair to attack an old lady? Well, she started it.
This column led directly to the beginning of "Snide Remarks" at The Daily Herald. For several months, I'd been writing a column every Friday called "Steppin' Out." Its purpose was to tell people what was going on over the weekend, and to make recommendations. I hated writing it, because I rarely got to inject much personality into it.
Over time, I began inserting more and more jokes, hoping to slowly and subtly turn it into "Snide Remarks" without anyone noticing, much the same way that Nazism took hold of Germany. I stopped making recommendations and started discussing entertainment issues in general, or give behind-the-scenes anecdotes from local plays, or whatever. But it still wasn't very funny very often.
Then I got this great letter, and I wrote this rude column. The next day, the editor, Mike Patrick, came to me and said he had really enjoyed the column. That indicated to me that he didn't care that I had abandoned the original purpose of "Steppin' Out." So I said, "Would you mind if we changed the name of that column?" He said, "That would be great. I hate the name 'Steppin' Out.' When you think of another one, just run it past me first."
Without hesitation, I said, "'Snide Remarks.'" He thought a second -- he knew about "Snide Remarks" at BYU, and he knew what I was really asking here -- and said, "Let's do it."
And thus "Snide Remarks" was reborn at The Daily Herald, six months after it disappeared from BYU. The following Friday, "Snide Remarks" appeared in the spot previously reserved for "Steppin' Out," and it was obviously more than just a name change.