The King of Town
: All right, gentlemen, this is how this is going to go down. I'm gonna write a number on this piece of paper. Strong Bad
: Uh, King, you “wrote” a piece of lasagna
on this piece of paper. The King of Town
: And I ain't budging!
When negotiating important business, characters write their payment offer on a piece of paper and give it to the other party in a way such that the offer is concealed. Sometimes the offer has been written down in advance, sometimes it is written on the spot. When written down on the spot, it's frequently accompanied by the Stock Phrase
, "I'm going to write a number on this piece of paper."
Any feeling you might have at that point that the actor is now reading the script's stage direction aloud comes from an uncharitable place in your heart. Albeit accurate.
A table to have the negotiation across is almost mandatory. Large tables are fine, in which case a minor functionary will have the duty of carrying the offer from one party to the other. This is done very seriously, and everyone involved is silent as the offer trades hands.
A key element is that the offer only contains a single number or more rarely an object, a person, or an action. Sometimes the value is in Undisclosed Funds
, but frequently the actual number is shown to the audience. The characters will not mention the specific number in the scene but may nod or whistle as though impressed or make a comment like, "That's a lot of zeroes." Occasionally the offer is insulting, being zero or blank. When played for humor, the offer is frequently zero or nonsensical.
Why would a writer do this? To make the offer have an impact. That, or if the number is never revealed, like Undisclosed Funds
, this can avoid numbers that can sound dated due to inflation, or have an iffy impact due to the fact that the audience likely contains people who find certain sums less exciting than other people do.
Film — Live Action
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the episode "Past Prologue", Garak negotiates the price for a terrorist with two Klingons, using an electronic tablet instead of paper.
- In "The Nigerian Job," a bribe is handled by handing a number to someone. The trope is used to mislead both the person being conned and the audience; the envelope does not originally hold a number, but a check, and is switched out as it is handed over.
- In "The Juror #6 Job", Sophie writes $100,000,000 in Quint's Zen sand garden.
- In How I Met Your Mother, when Marshall is being interviewed for a law position over dinner; his starting salary is written down and pushed across the table to him.
- In an episode of Gilmore Girls, Lorelei is receiving a loan from Luke and insists on writing numbers for a payment plan on a scrap of paper and passing it across the counter to Luke despite the fact that this seems to agitate him. When they finally come to an agreement, Lorelei writes one last thing which is apparently "Thank you," because Luke answers "You're welcome."
- A favored tactic of Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, even when negotating with himself.
- On The Daily Show (December 5th, 2013), John Hodgman threatens that New York City's billionaires will leave for other cities where they're allowed to ignore the laws and hunt the homeless unless New York can grant his proposed counteroffer, which he writes on a piece of paper and passes to Jon Stewart.
Stewart: This also says "Hunt the homeless."
Hodgman: I cannot emphasis how much we want to hunt the homeless, Jon.
- In True Romance, the protagonist makes an offer in an envelope for his "peace of mind." The envelope is empty.
- In the film version of the Egyptian novel The Yacoubian Building, the corrupt car importer goes to bribe a Party official to get "elected" to parliament. The official draws a rabbit—which Egyptians know means a million pounds (the Egyptian pound was about 5-6 to the dollar at the time, so it's not exactly Ridiculous Exchange Rates). When the importer's eyes widen, the official simply says, "just be happy it wasn't an elephant" (an elephant meaning anywhere from ten million to a billion pounds depending on context).
- In Homestar Runner, Strong Bad Email #182, the King of Town and Strong Bad negotiate in this way. What is being negotiated over is never revealed, and the King of Town's offer is "a piece of lasagna." If you're wondering what this means, a piece of lasagna falls out of Hammerspace as soon as Strong Bad picks it up.
- Played for humor in the "E3 2011: Part II" episode of Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'? set at E3, which has Ash making an offer to someone. When he unfolds the paper, there is a childish drawing instead of the expected offer.