October 3: House to house fighting.


OK, now picture him reciting Chaucer

If, on a sitcom, your writers' room is run well, then problem areas in a script are clearly identified and attacked; indeed, they're identified at the story-breaking level so you don't have to rewrite them in the script, which can be much harder. But when your room is not run well, you spend a lot of time during rewrites arguing over straight lines and words within straight lines -- "since" vs. "because" or "maybe" vs. "perhaps," and you start backpedaling away from jokes that worked perfectly well and don't have obvious replacements, and it takes you forever and you eat dinner out of takeout containers and see your spouse at breakfast. Whereupon I would often say, "House to house fighting."

I think there are some people who enjoy house to house fighting, because it seems like their image of real comedy writing -- we're supposed to be eating takeout dinner in a room that still smells like takeout lunch! As if we were in a Neil Simon play or something. I can't stand it myself, mostly because I'm lazy and like to be home, but also because I like flow. I like flow in hockey games and rappers and in writing; writing shouldn't be that difficult (rewriting, that's another story). And writing that's supposed to be funny and enjoyed by a large audience -- I don't think that should feel difficult to do. As a rule -- there will always be difficulties, that's where you have to be good at your job. It's like what the pro athletes say -- I play for free, what you have to pay me for is practice.

I bring all this up because I have nothing to say about today's reading, the first 350 lines of the Canterbury Tales. I remember reading them, indeed I was required to recite the first 16 lines for English 125, and still can in a way that makes my wife (an actual English major) burst out laughing. I sound like someone doing the worst Swedish Chef impression in the world. But reading it is house to house fighting.
In listes thryes, and ay slayn his foo.
This ilke 40 worthy knight hadde been also
Somtyme with the lord of Palatye, 41
Ageyn another hethen in Turkye:
And everemore he hadde a sovereyn prys. 42
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port 43 as meek as is a mayde.
Observe all the footnotes. The whole thing is like this. They're like fish bones. I'm a poor General Reader -- perhaps I should be busted down to Corporal Reader -- but all the Chaucerian irony, the existence of which I dimly remember being instructed about, is lost on me. Shakespeare doesn't bug me at all (because I wound up reading a lot of sixteenth-century history, no doubt), but I'm afraid this is too much.

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