Signs of Intelligent Life
I'm writing for Out of the Hat again, which is a 24 hour project where the writers draw out of a hat (literally) a who, what, where, and, this time around, an opening line and have to write an approximately 10 minute script overnight. My prompts for today's script?
What: Gummi Bears
Where: Elmo’s World
Opening Line: “Oh… I see.”
Oddly, three of these prompts were placed in the hats by my daughter. What are the odds?
So, lucky you, you can read my play before it's performed tonight. I remind gentle readers that all writings on this site are under a Creative Commons License.
Signs of Intelligent Life
Written for Out of the Hat 8
Renegade Comedy Theatre
JONES – slovenly, jaded, philosophical
PERRY – idealistic, ordered, true-believer
VOICE 1 – offstage voice
VOICE 2 – offstage voice
[Lights come up, JONES is eating a bowl of cereal. The theme from Elmo’s World is playing in the background. PERRY enters.]
PERRY – [taking in JONES] Oh… I see. [stares disapprovingly]
JONES – [using remote, turns down the volume, theme fades out] Hi. You’re here early.
PERRY – I came to check out the spectral analysis of the overnight download from the third array before I started my shift.
JONES – [lifts up a stack of paper and plops it down, continuing to eat cereal and stare off stage at the “TV”] Got yer spectral analysis right here.
PERRY – [sniffs as she brushes something off of the top of the stack of paper] Did you read the memo from Stanford about the new buffer standards?
JONES – [rolls eyes] No.
PERRY – “No?” Just “no?”
JONES – No but.
PERRY – “No but” what?
JONES – No but it made a really nice origami frog.
- Hello, Mr. Frog.
- Hello, Chris.
- What are you doing here, Mr. Frog?
- I’m a memo from Stanford University where they think they know more than you do!
- Oh boy, Mr. Frog! Why don’t you go play with your new friends, the origami horse from MIT and the origami crane from Cal Tech and your whole new origami family!
PERRY – Jones, this isn’t a laughing matter!
JONES – Do you see me laughing? [stares PERRY down and starts cracking up]
PERRY – Millions of dollars of equipment and a three year grant for the only - the only - fully funded SETI project and you spend your time… [looks off at the TV set] watching Sesame Street and eating breakfast cereal at four in the afternoon?
JONES – That’s not true. [shovels cereal into his mouth defiantly]
PERRY – [looks at him incredulously] In what way is that not true?
JONES – It’s not four o’clock in the afternoon. If it were, I’d be watching Oprah. Until then, it’s Elmo time. [singing] La la la la, la la la la, Elmo’s World… sing it with me… la la la la…
PERRY – I can’t believe I’m on this project with you. I thought you believed in what we were doing. When I think that of all the six and a half billion people on this planet you are one of the eight people most likely to first make contact with alien intelligence… I want to puke.
JONES – Eight in six and a half billion, eh? Since I figure those odds are significantly better than us actually making first contact on this project, I wouldn’t get too uptight about it.
PERRY – What do you mean? This is the state of the art SETI project. We have full access to some of the best signal heuristics technology on the planet. If there are embedded signals…
JONES – Look, I know the whole sales job. I’m not some elected stooge giving out paychecks. I’m on the collecting end of this scam. If you do the hard data on the possibilities of finding a far space civilization in synch with ours…
PERRY – In synch?
JONES – Okay, look, I’ll make this simple for you. We figure the universe is, what, about thirteen and a half billion years old, right?
PERRY – Yes.
JONES – And the whole of human civilization which is actually broadcasting our presence into the cosmos by means of radio and such has been, what, about eighty years?
PERRY – Yes.
JONES – And how long do you think we will keep doing that until we blow ourselves up?
PERRY – [grimaces] Not funny.
JONES – For the sake of argument, let’s say our civilization lasts even another 10,000 years. That’s like a tiny fraction of the age of the universe. And even in that amount of time, Elmo and Oprah, being broadcast out into the cosmos at the speed of light, won’t even make it to the center of our own galaxy. Our own galaxy!
PERRY – So.
JONES – So, let’s say, for sake of argument, that there is over here a sentient race of gummi bears who have struggled out of their gelatinous primordial slime, did the whole 2001 ape and obelisk thing, and start sending telegraphs to one another. And let’s say they even evolve telecommunications technology similar enough to ours that they are actually looking for radio waves to decipher. And let’s say even that they are within the 10,000 light year limit of our own solar system. What are the odds in thirteen and a half billion years of cosmic history that their civilization would overlap with ours in any meaningful way such that they would be interested in talking with us?
PERRY – Astronomical.
JONES – Exactly.
PERRY – So, this is just a joke? You just sit here collecting data, watching daytime TV, and filling out reports so you can get paid?
JONES – No.
PERRY – No?
JONES – No, you fill out all of the reports. I fold the memos into origami animals. But, yes, other than that this is pretty much a joke.
PERRY – But, even if what you say is true, even if the odds are that low, which I don’t totally accept, then there is still a chance. And we serve as a symbol of humanity looking beyond itself, looking for our place in the greater cosmos… right?
JONES – That’s the delusion talking. Look, if we are any kind of symbol, we are the symbol of human arrogance that anyone who was actually intelligent would want to talk with us.
PERRY – But we want to talk with them. If we want to know that we aren’t alone don’t you think…
JONES – Do I think that alien intelligence really gives a rat’s ass about what we do in our corner of the cosmic sandbox? No. I think that’s our hang up. We think everything is about us, right? [singing] This is the song, la la la la, human’s song. This is our world, la la la la, human’s world. [stops singing] Copernicus told us differently, but we still want to think we are the center of everything.
PERRY – Okay, smart guy, so we aren’t the center of the universe. The chances of anyone out there actively trying to talk with us is remotely small…
JONES – Infintesimally small…
PERRY – Whatever. So, your answer is to wear your pajamas to work?
JONES – It’s not like anyone sees me. I’m down in this bunker all day long. And I doubt if the sentient gummi bears would care.
- Do you care Mr. Gummi Bear?
- No, Chris, I love you just the way you are.
- Awww… I love you too, Mr. Alien Gummi Bear.
[eats the gummi bear]
PERRY – You don’t take anything seriously, do you?
JONES – Since the alternative is morbid depression, I think you should count yourself lucky.
PERRY – I think I’m going to go crunch these numbers in the break room. [exits]
JONES – Crunch? Actually, I could use some more Cap’n Crunch. I’ll go with you. [exits]
[a beeping noise, VOICE 1 emerges from static]
VOICE 1 – People of earth. Greetings. If anyone is listening. Please. Send more “I Love Lucy” broadcasts.
VOICE 2 – Yeah, and “Dragnet.”
VOICE 1 – Oh, yeah. Love Jack Webb. “Just the facts, ma’am.” Cracks me up. Every time.
VOICE 2 – Yeah, and Lassie. She’s a genius. Best dramatic timing… ever.
VOICE 1 – Poor Timmy.
VOICE 2 – Poor Timmy. Oh, the sorrow.
[music fades up on Elmo’s world refrain]