Friday, December 21, 2007

Comedy Structure

Larry David

Early this year, I came across this article in the New Yorker about one of my comedy inspirations - Larry David. See Angry Middle-Aged Man.

A part of the article that grabbed my attention is how he weaves his plots together for his great show, Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Referring to his tattered notebook:

He leafed through the notebook. “Most of the ideas stink,” he said. “But you’d be surprised. See, a lot of these I’ll use, not as a big story but like a little piece of filler. And then all of a sudden it somehow leads into something.”

When the time comes to begin writing the new season, David scans his notebook for possibilities. “He’ll go through the notebook and find three or four stories and extrapolate them to worst-case,” ... “He starts to weave them together. Sometimes you can brainstorm ideas with him—you can even pitch B stories to him. He’s used stories from Larry Charles and me. Cheryl got a story in there. And then he just sits down and sweats it out.”

Larry David is the master of the setup. He places his characters in innocent situations that usually escalate to an unexpected catastrophe. The humor just pours out of those situations because of what the characters have to suffer.

It's the comedic structure that keeps his stories fresh and interesting.

Most stories have an 'inciting incident' that sets the protaganist (main character) on their journey, however Larry David gives his characters multiple inciting incidents so that they get boxed in and can't get out.

The hero in Curb Your Enthusiasm usually doesn't win the prize at the end (but he does in that great restaurant ending episode to season 4), but instead of the hero's loss being upsetting or depressing, it's usually hilarious.

I know his humor doesn't appeal to everyone, but I enjoy how he tackles human suffering seriously, which is fairly typical of American Jewish humor. Larry David clearly stands in that tradition.

He reminds me of that old joke attributed to the ancient Israelites, God's chosen people, "Next time Dear God, please choose someone else."

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