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The Catchphrase Firm

by Frank Macaluso 4 months ago in Script
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A comedic one-act play.

The Catchphrase Firm
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

The following is a comedic one-act play I wrote in my senior year of high school, and refined throughout my first two years of college. In 2018, it was selected to be performed at Pipe Dream Studio Theatre's An Evening of New Works. I am posting it here for the sake of anyone who wants to use it. I, the author of this work, hereby give you full permission to perform this in whatever capacity you desire, provided you give me due credit as its author.


George Dushman: a meek, awkward young man; 34 years old

Jacob McNulty: an agent for the firm; 48 years old

Joseph Dushman: George’s popular brother; 27 years old

Rita Perez: Joseph’s girlfriend; 25 years old

Harold Norton: Joseph’s boss; 57 years old

Gloria Norton: Harold’s wife; 55 years old

Danny Maruyama: one of Joseph’s best friends; 26 years old

Phil Jenkins: one of Joseph’s best friends; 28 years old

The Protester: passionate activist; 23 years old

2 Police Officers/Party Guests

Protestors/Party Guests


Mr. McNulty’s office, interior (Scene 1)

Joseph’s penthouse (Scene 2)

Mr. McNulty's office, exterior (Scene 3)

Manhattan, NY


Present day


Scene 1

SETTING: A neat, tidy office with standard decor.

AT RISE: Jacob McNULTY sits at his desk looking through a book. GEORGE Dushman enters and sits at McNULTY’s desk.

McNULTY : Hello, sir. How may I help you?

GEORGE : I, uh... (clears throat) I, uh...hear your firm specializes in, uh...genius catchphrases.

McNULTY : That’s absolutely correct, sir! McNulty, Flygt, and O’Brien Catchphrases, Limited: for the witless at their wits’ end!

GEORGE : Yes...well, my brother is having a little get-together with some of his friends and, for some inexplicable reason, he invited me. I didn’t expect he’d ever want to see me again after the last time he had me over. I’ve never been very good when it comes to social interaction, you see. So, I felt maybe a fun catchphrase would help me to be more at ease. I certainly don’t want a repeat of the last time. Oh, those poor gerbils...

McNULTY: Have no fear, sir! We’ll have you being the hit of the party in no time! Now, before we give anybody any kind of catchphrase, we try and find out some stuff about them—you know, what kind of personality they have, what makes them tick. Just fill out this little questionnaire.

(McNULTY retrieves a clipboard and pen from his desk drawer and hands it to GEORGE. Clipped onto the clipboard is the questionnaire.)

GEORGE : Uh, I’ve never really been very good at questionnaires or surveys, I’m afraid.

McNULTY : Oh, don’t worry about it, then. (yanks the clipboard from GEORGE’s hand) I’ll just recite the questions and you can answer them out loud. I’m actually sort of glad about this; this will be much less boring to watch.

GEORGE : (nervously) Who’s watching?!

McNULTY : (quickly; shifty-eyed) Nobody.

GEORGE : I’m beginning to feel very uncomfortable with this.

McNULTY : Good! The first step to becoming the hit of the party is getting out of your comfort zone! Now, shall we start the questionnaire?

GEORGE : Not if someone’s watching me!

McNULTY : Trust me, sir. Nobody’s watching you.

GEORGE : Are you sure?

McNULTY : Scout’s honor, sir.

GEORGE : Oh...all right, then.

McNULTY : Excellent! Now, what's your full name?

GEORGE : George Abraham Dushman.

McNULTY : (jots down the name) Hmmm, very interesting name. Age?

GEORGE : 34.

McNULTY : All right, and your gender?

GEORGE : Uh...male.

McNULTY : Okay. Height?

GEORGE : What do you need to know my height for?

McNULTY : Just in case you want a height-related catchphrase.

GEORGE : I don’t think my height would be a very good ice-breaker.

McNULTY : Suit yourself. Weight?

GEORGE: Could we please not discuss my vitals?

McNULTY : Funny, I was just about to ask about those.

GEORGE : (shocked and a little disgusted) What?!

McNULTY : Oh, nothing. Ethnicity?

GEORGE : White.

McNULTY : Orientation?

GEORGE : Pardon?

McNULTY : Orientation, as in are you gay, straight, bi, pansexual, asexual, demisexual...?

GEORGE: Straight.

McNULTY : Ah. That might work against you, but we shall see, we shall see. Marital status?

GEORGE : Single.

McNULTY : Alright. Any hobbies?

GEORGE : Well, I enjoy bird-watching, stamp-collecting, listening to ‘60s folk music, playing cricket, and decorating lemons to look like movie stars. Oh, and making milkshakes! The whirring of the machine, it comforts me.

McNULTY : Alright. Now, I’ll just put this information through our computer and see what it spits out.

(McNULTY exits into the back room. A crazed PROTESTER bursts into the room with a large poster that reads “CATCHPHRASE FIRM MAKES PHONIES”.)

PROTESTER : Fight the machine!!! Tear down the giant!!! Think for yourselves!!! Catchphrases are murder!!!

(Two POLICE OFFICERS enter and grab the PROTESTER and drag her out as she babbles. GEORGE looks on, confused and terrified.)

1st POLICE OFFICER : Alright, miss, that’s enough o’ that! Come on!

(The POLICE OFFICERS and the PROTESTER exit. As they do, McNULTY comes back from the back room with a lime green sheet of paper and sits back down.)

McNULTY : So, Mr. Dushman, we’ve got quite a number of possible catchphrases for you to employ during that party. I’m gonna read ‘em out to you and you tell me if like ‘em or not. Okay?

GEORGE : Okay.

McNULTY : Okay. (clears throat) “Oh, look! A yellow-bellied sapsucker!”

GEORGE : Eh...I don’t really care for that one.

McNULTY : Alright, how ‘bout “Now that’s what I call a lemon!”?

GEORGE : Hmmm, no. That’s not very good either.

McNULTY : Okay. “Paddle my fanny and call me Susan!”

GEORGE : What?! Oh, God, no! I could never say that!

McNULTY : Okay. I get ya, I get ya. It is kinda provocative. How about this: “You look at it. I’m bitter.” Good, huh?

GEORGE : When would I ever use that?

McNULTY : Whenever someone calls you over and says, “Hey! Look at this!”

GEORGE : one ever says that to me.

McNULTY : Okay. How about this one: “Why don’t we all go out for some frosty chocolate milkshakes?”

GEORGE : I...I don’t get it. What kind of a catchphrase is that?

McNULTY : Hey, people love food, don’t they?

GEORGE : Oh. Well, have you got anything else?

McNULTY : There’s just one more on the list: “Well, guess I better mosey on along.”

GEORGE : That’s something someone says when they leave a room. I need something that will help me make a good impression before then.

McNULTY : So, the milkshake one it is, then?

GEORGE : (resigned) I guess.

McNULTY : Excellent! That’ll be seventy-four dollars, please.

GEORGE : Seventy-four dollars?! (reaches into pocket and retrieves wallet) Well, I suppose it’s worth to not be a social outcast. (pulls money out of the wallet and gives it to McNULTY, then puts wallet back in pocket)

McNULTY : It always is, believe me. Thank you for your business, sir. You won’t be sorry.

GEORGE : I hope so. (gets up, shakes McNULTY’s hand) Thank you. (exits)




Scene 2

SETTING: JOSEPH Dushman’s living room. It is plain and neat, but still warm and inviting. Just the essentials: a couch, a coffee table, two end tables, a lamp...

AT RISE: The party is in full swing. JOSEPH is talking with RITA, DANNY, and PHIL. HAROLD is speaking with GLORIA and two other guests. The doorbell rings. JOSEPH walks to the door and opens it. There stands GEORGE.

JOSEPH : George! How wonderful of you to come!

GEORGE : It was wonderful of you to invite me, Joey, especially after...well, last time.

JOSEPH : Oh, those poor gerbils! (beat) Dah, I mean, that’s all in the past, little bro. Come on! I want you to meet some people. (puts his arm around GEORGE and leads him to RITA, DANNY, and PHIL) George, this is my girlfriend, Rita.

GEORGE : Hello.

RITA : Hi! Nice to meet you.

JOSEPH : And these are two of my friends from work, Danny and Phil.

(GEORGE shakes hands with DANNY and PHIL.)

PHIL : Hey, George.

DANNY : How are you, George?

GEORGE : Hello.

JOSEPH : Danny and Phil and Rita and I have been working together for five years now.

PHIL : Yeah, and not much has changed. He still sticks us with the bill whenever we go out!

(JOSEPH, DANNY, PHIL, and RITA laugh. Within a millisecond, GEORGE looks at each of them and cautiously joins in.)

DANNY : George, your brother here drinks like a fish! He can drink fifteen beers in one sitting and still be able to walk straight!

JOSEPH : Years of training, my friend. Years of training.

PHIL : If drinking ever becomes an Olympic sport, you’d win the gold for sure!

(JOSEPH, DANNY, PHIL, and RITA laugh.)

GEORGE : Yeah, you sure do imbibe a ridiculous amount of alcoholic beverages!

(GEORGE laughs a little. No one else does. GEORGE notices, stops laughing, and clears his throat.)

RITA : So anyway, last night, Joe and I went to see that movie Artie made, Earth vs. Soup.

DANNY : Artie from accounting?

RITA : No. Artie from the mailroom. So anyway, we went to see his movie—they were showing it down at the Congress Theatre—and it was just awful! I mean, the robots all looked like they were made of random stuff he found in his garage and glued together and spray-painted!

JOSEPH : (overlapping) Now, I liked the robots, but the giant bowl of soup was kind of tacky. I mean, it was obviously papier-mâché.

RITA : Yeah, and the soup inside never moved. Not even a ripple! I think it was some kind of plastic or maybe a kind of gel. And Artie played almost all the roles himself, and it was very obvious.

JOSEPH : Every female character had this high, screechy, ear-shatteringly loud voice!

RITA : And for the villain he did this really bad Bela Lugosi impression.

JOSEPH : And his body double looked nothing like him! He was probably about six inches taller and at least thirty pounds lighter. And he had a full head of hair.

DANNY : Wow. I actually kinda wanna see it.

JOSEPH : Yeah, it’s one of those movies that’s so utterly horrible that it’s fascinating. It’s actually kind of funny in some spots because of just how poorly certain elements are executed, you know?

DANNY : Yeah. Have you ever seen a movie like that, George?

GEORGE : Uh...well, I...don’t really go to movies much.

JOSEPH: What about when we were kids and we went to see Plan 9 from Outer Space with Aunt Maude? Remember how she’d make funny comments about the movie as it went along?

GEORGE : Oh! Oh, yeah. That I remember.

JOSEPH : Yeah. My favorite part was when the one alien guy was like, “Ya see?! Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!!!” and then he gets pimp-slapped onto that table with all their alien technology stuff!

(JOSEPH, RITA, DANNY, and PHIL laugh.)

JOSEPH : The great thing about some bad movies is they’ve got really fun quotes like that. Like The Room.

PHIL : Oh, I love The Room! “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!”

(JOSEPH, RITA, PHIL, and DANNY laugh.)

DANNY: “I did not hit her; it’s not true! It’s bullshit! I did not hit her! I did not! Oh, hi, Marc.”

(JOSEPH, RITA, PHIL, and DANNY laugh again.)

RITA : “I got the results of the test back. I definitely have breast cancer.”

(JOSEPH, RITA, PHIL, and DANNY laugh again.)

GEORGE : Wait, I don’t get that last one. Why is someone having cancer funny?

JOSEPH : It’s the nonchalant way the character says it. And her daughter’s complete underreaction when she tells her. You’d have to watch it, I guess.

GEORGE : Yeah, I guess.

JOSEPH : Yeah. So, what do you guys think about Proposition 343?

PHIL : Oh, my God, can we not talk about that right now?

JOSEPH : I think it’s important that we talk about it. It affects our daily lives. It affects people we love.

PHIL : I just don’t like talking politics with friends. It ruins friendships. I’ve seen it happen.

JOSEPH : Well, we can’t just let the government excuse discrimination forever, and we can’t pretend it’s not happening! We’re not in high school anymore; we’ve got to face facts.

DANNY : You know, the fro-yo place by my house once actually put up a sign in their window that said, “Help Wanted—No Fat Chicks”. Can you believe that?

RITA : How are those chauvinistic asshats still in business?

DANNY : I know, right? Their fro-yo isn’t even all that good!

RITA : I think it’s absolutely despicable that businesses are allowed to discriminate against potential employees and customers based on size or body shape or anything! I mean, what happened to all that progress we were making? Personally, I blame the French. What do you think, George?

GEORGE : (caught off-guard) Uh...uh...I think we should all go out for some frosty chocolate milkshakes?

(Three beats. JOSEPH, RITA, and PHIL break out in laughter. GEORGE is visibly relieved.)

DANNY: I don’t get it.

PHIL : It’s a Simpsons reference.

DANNY : I still don’t get it.

PHIL : Well, maybe if you didn’t spend all your time watching Teen Titans Go! you wouldn’t be such an M-O-R-O-N.

(DANNY stares blankly at PHIL for a good three seconds.)

PHIL : That spells “moron”, you piece of crap!

JOSEPH : That was really great, George! You should tell it to my boss. I’ll call him over. (to HAROLD) Hey, Mr. Norton! C’mere real quick!

(HAROLD and GLORIA walk over to them.)

GEORGE: You really think it was good?

JOSEPH : Oh, yeah, George. It was a riot!

HAROLD : Hello, Joseph. What’d ya call me over for?

JOSEPH : I want you to meet my brother George.

GEORGE: (flabbergasted) Hi.

HAROLD : Hello, George.

(GEORGE and HAROLD shake hands.)

GLORIA : How do you do, George? I’m Gloria, Mr. Norton’s wife. It’s always such a pleasure to meet the family of our employees.

GEORGE : It’s nice to meet you, too, Mrs. Norton.

HAROLD: Yes. (beat) Is that all, Joseph?

JOSEPH : Oh, no, boss! I wanted you to hear this joke he just told. We were talking about that frozen yogurt place that put up the “No Fat Chicks” sign.

HAROLD : Sweet Pete’s Frozen Yogurt? I never did like them. And their toppings all taste like chalk.

JOSEPH : Yeah. So, we were talking about how horrible it was that they put that sign up, and we asked George what he thought. (short giggle) Tell him what you said, George.

GEORGE : Okay. I said, “Why don’t we all go out for some frosty chocolate milkshakes?”

(Everyone but HAROLD and GLORIA laugh.)

HAROLD : (irate) I don’t think that’s funny at all.

(JOSEPH, GEORGE, RITA, DANNY, and PHIL stop laughing.)

JOSEPH : You don’t?

HAROLD : I’ll have you know that my dear, sainted mother died when she drank a poisoned chocolate milkshake! And right before my very eyes!

GEORGE : Oh, gee. I didn’t realize—

GLORIA : The media made an absolute circus of it!

HAROLD : Oh, God! The flashes! The microphones! The cheap, ill-fitting suits!

GLORIA : He’s having those flashbacks again! I can’t bear to see him like this!

HAROLD : George Dushman, I’ll make sure you never eat lunch in this town again, you brazen, insensitive...poo-head! (to JOSEPH) And as for you! If that’s the kind of joke you find funny, sir, then I’ll have nothing more to do with you! You are fired!!!

(RITA, DANNY, and PHIL gasp.)

JOSEPH : Please, Mr. Norton, I’m sorry—

HAROLD : Nothing you could possibly say could make me change my mind! Come, Gloria! We’re leaving!

(HAROLD heads to the door. GLORIA walks up to JOSEPH.)

GLORIA : People like you ought to be hung from the tallest trees by your intestines! (daintily smacks JOSEPH around a bit) You sick, miserable, disgraceful hooligans!

HAROLD : Come, Gloria! Don’t waste your breath on these degenerates!

GLORIA : I’m sorry, Harold. It just peeves me when people are so...insensitive!

HAROLD : I already used that word, dear.

GLORIA : That’s right. You did. Well...I suppose “callous” fits, or maybe “heartless”, or maybe—

HAROLD : Let’s just leave, dear.

GLORIA : You’re right. We should leave before we say something we’ll end up regretting.

(GLORIA walks over to HAROLD. They exit. JOSEPH turns back to his friends.)

JOSEPH : I can’t believe it. I just lost my job.

RITA : Uh, I think it’s time everybody got going. Thanks for coming, everyone! Good night!

DANNY : Alright. See you later, Joe.

PHIL : Goodbye.

(DANNY, PHIL, and the other guests exit. JOSEPH, RITA, and GEORGE are left standing alone.)

JOSEPH : I’ve lost my job.

RITA : Oh, honey. (puts her arm around JOSEPH) Don’t worry, baby—

JOSEPH : (turns to GEORGE) You! You got me fired! (begins strangling GEORGE) You idiot! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!

RITA : Joseph, stop it! Please! (separates JOSEPH and GEORGE) I think you’d better go, George.

GEORGE : But I... (heads for the door; stops and turns around) I’m sorry, Joseph.

JOSEPH : Oh, just go, already! That’s the last time I’ll ever invite you to a party.

(GEORGE exits, forlorn. JOSEPH turns away from the door, rubbing his brow as RITA consoles him.)




Scene 3

SETTING: Just outside the office building in which the firm of McNulty, Flygt, and O’Brien resides.

AT RISE: A group of protestors, led by the PROTESTOR from Scene 1, stands by the main entrance carrying anti-catchphrase signs, chanting. GEORGE enters.

GEORGE : What’s all this?

PROTESTOR : That son-of-a-bitch McNulty is finally getting what’s coming to him! Victory for the people!

(The other protesters cheer.)

GEORGE : What are you talking about?

PROTESTOR : Democracy, man! It works! It takes a little long sometimes, but eventually justice prevails...sometimes! This catchphrase firm has spent decades making their money on turning people into one-dimensional, catchphrase-spouting douches, and now they’re going to pay for their crimes!

(The other protestors cheer again. The two POLICE OFFICERS enter, dragging a handcuffed McNULTY with them. The protestors cheer once more.)

PROTESTOR : Kudos to you, freedom fighters! You have toppled down an oppressive empire, freeing the people from big corporations!


PROTESTOR : You’re arresting Jacob McNulty for his crimes against free thought and individuality.

2nd POLICE OFFICER : What? Oh, no. He’s being arrested for tax evasion and petty larceny.

PROTESTOR : Oh. (beat) That’s good enough!

(The other protestors cheer.)

1st POLICE OFFICER : C’mon, let’s go, Mr. NcNulty.

GEORGE : Wait, what about Flygt and O’Brien?

McNULTY : There are no Flygt and O’Brien. They’re fake names I used in a feeble attempt to try and spread the blame.

2nd POLICE OFFICER : Aha! Fraud! We’ll add that to the charges!

McNULTY : And I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for...well, my own stupidity. But if there were a group of meddling kids to blame for this, I would so blame them!

1st POLICE OFFICER : Shut up! (whacks McNULTY with his nightstick)

McNULTY : Ow! Geez! Fudge the numbers on your taxes just once and they send in the troops! But when I cut off my annoying next-door neighbor’s head with a scythe and buried the body in Jersey, you morons were clueless!

1st POLICE OFFICER : That sounded like a confession to murder to me.

2nd POLICE OFFICER : Right! We’ll add that to the charges, too!

McNULTY : Oh, come on! He kept mowing his lawn naked! I wouldn’t wish that sight on my worst enemy...which just so happened to him!

1st POLICE OFFICER : Stop resisting! (whacks McNULTY in the head with his nightstick again)


2nd POLICE OFFICER : Alright, let’s go!

(The two POLICE OFFICERS drag McNULTY off as the protestors cheer.)

GEORGE : I can’t believe I got cheated by that guy!

PROTESTOR : We all did, my friend.

GEORGE : What? He got you, too?

PROTESTOR : Oh, yes! There was a time when we all struggled with our identities. We resorted to consulting that horrible man in order to try to fit in with society. But then we realized no catchphrase can attract true friends, no catchphrase can create an identity. There is no joy in conforming! So now we go around the country taking down bastards like McNulty, making them pay for the wrongs they’ve done to the people! You have experienced first-hand the consequences of relying on a catchphrase to attract friends. I can tell by the mixture of loneliness and anger in your eyes. You know the pain we feel and the injustice we’ve suffered, the injustice we strive to fight against. Will you join us, my brother? Will you help us fight the good fight?

GEORGE : (three beats) Okay.

(The protestors cheer.)

PROTESTOR : Come along, my brother! Onward to Cambridge, Minnesota! There’s a catchphrase firm there that’s had the entire Midwest under its clutches for over fifty years!

GEORGE : Wait! Before we go there, can we stop by the office my brother used to work at? I kinda got him fired by using the catchphrase McNulty gave me and I wanna make things right, help him get his job back hopefully.

PROTESTOR : You’re a noble man, brother. Where is this office?

GEORGE : 116 John Street.

PROTESTOR : Okay. (to the other protestors) Come, brethren! To 116 John Street to right a wrong! Then to Cambridge!

(The PROTESTOR leads GEORGE and the other protestors as they march offstage, singing “We Shall Overcome”.)




About the author

Frank Macaluso

A comedian. I may have made a huge mistake.

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