From Jersey Shore to 30 Rock: Why We Love Cyrano
Wingmen like Cyrano de Bergerac have never been more celebrated than they are today.
"When you go into battle you need to have some friends with you, so in case a grenade gets thrown at you one of your buddies takes it first."
So sayeth Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino of the MTV series Jersey Shore, an unknowing disciple of the Cyrano de Bergerac School of tag-team wooing. In The Situation's world, a "grenade" is an unattractive woman; a far cry from the stunning Roxanne who is the object of Cyrano's affection. And the friends with whom he goes into battle are working to keep undesirables away, rather than focusing on finding their true love. But the essential principles of Edmond Rostand's 1897 play, from which The Situation steals the basics of using teamwork in love, are still there.
The tragic love triangle of Cyrano, Roxanne and Christian has been around for over 100 years and is currently being seen on Broadway for the 15th time, starring Douglas Hodge in the title role at the American Airlines Theatre. It has been staged literally countless times across the globe, and is required reading in high schools and colleges.
But why is it so popular?
Consider the plot: a man struggles with bullying and insecurity, unrequited love and putting other people's happiness before his own.
If this sounds familiar, it's because it is. You've seen versions of this plot before in movies, on TV and in your real life.
On the big screen, Steve Martin's memorable Cyrano is a small town fire chief named C.D. Bales, who is constantly belittled because of his "magnificent, fabulous, interesting nose." This 1987 rom-com, titled Roxanne, features this deliciously pungent verbal beat down. In The Truth About Cats and Dogs, a shy female Cyrano played by Janeane Garofalo uses an attractive model played by Uma Thurman as her Christian when it comes to seducing the hunky Ben Chaplin. And the film adaptations aren't even exclusive to English or the native French. Japanese director Hiroshi Inagaki turned it into the samurai tale Aru kengo no shogai (which translates to Life of an Expert Swordsman, something Cyrano was.)
The classic tale is frequently reused in TV comedies and, generally speaking, chaos and confusion aptly ensue. In one episode of The Brady Bunch Greg acts as Cyrano for his brother Peter when Peter falls for Jan' s classmate, but is too tongue-tied to talk to her. (She ends up falling for Greg, who then has to trick her into thinking he's a playboy! See? CHAOS.)
The examples continue. The ladies of Sex and the City are Cosmo and Manolo-fied Cyranos as they give one another romantic assistance. "Tell her you want her to donate her body to science, and you're science," yells Tracy Jordan at Jack Donaghy from behind a garbage can in a re-purposing of the play's classic balcony scene on an episode of 30 Rock. Matt Groening's animated series Futurama had this hilarious exchange between the human Fry and the crustacean Dr. Zoidberg:
Fry: Start with a compliment. Tell her she looks thin.
Dr. Zoidberg: [calling to Edna] You seem malnourished. Are you suffering from internal parasites?
Edna: [pleased] Why, yes! Thanks for noticing.
And in the "Cyranose" episode of the popular PBS children's series Wishbone, the titular soldier with the lush vocabulary and grandiose snout is played by a Jack Russell Terrier (voiced by human Larry Brantley). A well-timed verbal parry isn't exclusive to those among us who walk upright.
Dating sites are their own kind of Cyranos, which allow you to massage the reality of your appearance, or write what you can't speak. Every time you've offered a pal advice on how to woo someone or acted as his or her wingman, you have deBergeracked. If you've ever used dating advice from Erik von Markovik, better known as Mystery on that VH-1 show The Pick Up Artist, you've let him be your Cyrano. And if you went up to The Situation and asked him flat-out to be your Cyrano, he'd probably punch you square in the jaw...but if you asked him to help you dump a grenade, he'd be on it like brown on rice.
To return to the original question: why has Cyrano de Bergerac enthralled audiences the world over for more than 100 years? Because everyone has used their words as weaponry against the world. Everyone has given someone else advice on how to woo a lover. Everyone has had that tragedy of timing, where they're too insecure to admit their true feelings to someone and watch that person wind up with someone else. When Cyrano (spoiler alert) dies at the end, "following a sharp blow from a wooden block," and Roxanne says she loves him, we cry because we're really just watching ourselves.
Wingmen like Cyrano have never been more celebrated than they are today in film, TV, print or the web. There couldn't be a better time for a proper Broadway revival.