Monday, October 13, 2008

"The Three Larry Davids"

Actually there are four. But I didn’t want to defy the “Rule of Threes.”

“What’s the “Rules of Threes”?

The “Rule of Three’s” is a traditional joke formulation involving a list, with the third example containing the “ha-ha” words.

“He’s dumb, annoying and…” – joke. That satisfies the “Rule of Threes.” It feels rhythmically correct. “He’s dumb…” – joke? Too soon. “He’s…” – joke? Way too soon. “He’s dumb, annoying, obnoxious…” – joke? Too late. “He’s dumb, annoying, obnoxious, irritating…” – what is this, a dissertation?

It’s three. Two and the joke. That’s the way it is. Why? Because that’s the way it is.

I’m skirting an issue here. It’s big. And I don’t exactly know how to tackle it. It could take a few posts to get at the heart of it. The heart of what?

The heart of what it means to be “old-fashioned.”

In every arena of entertainment, there’s a continous evolution going on, usually in the direction of “bigger” and “more.” It was always that way. Take juggling. You start out juggling Indian clubs (I don’t know where the name came from; they look like elongated bowling pins.) What’s the worst that can happen? The Indian clubs fall on the floor. Big yawn. To hold the audience’s attention, you have to continually “up the ante.” Before you know it, you’re juggling hatchets, Ginsu knives and fire. (“Rule of Threes.” Did you notice?”)

Comedy’s been evolving in a similar manner. It’s currently evolving right off the network schedule, there being very few comedies remaining on the air, and only one – Two and a Half Men – ranked among the first thirty most popular television shows. But that’s for another post. Or maybe one I’ve already written. I’ll have to check.

I won’t chronicle the entire evolution of comedy, though if I write this blog long enough, I’ll probably end up covering the bases. For a snapshot of its most recent advancement, it’s instructive to compare the comedy of Seinfeld, which Larry David co-created with the comedy of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which he created by himself.

They’re not the same.

The differences would seem to be explained by the fact that Seinfeld was on NBC, where there are many things you’re not permitted to say, and Curb’s on HBO where you can say anything you want. And you can take your clothes off while you’re saying it. But that’s just an accident of technology, and a lucky break for Larry David. If cable didn’t exist, there’d be no place on television for Curb Your Enthusiasm to appear.

The real source of the difference is a matter of comic sensibility. Jerry Seinfeld has a certain comedic “comfort zone”, and Larry David, on his own, has a different one. A darker, riskier and, to me, when he takes his character in certain directions, a not as funny one.

When do I laugh and when do I laugh not as much? It depends on which “Larry David” I’m confronted with. Which brings me to…

The Three “Larry Davids”

This is interesting to me. Larry David not only created a fictional “Larry David” for Curb Your Enthusiasm, he created at least three “Larry Davids” that I can identify. (You may, like in those puzzles you find in pediatricians’ Waiting Rooms magazines have discovered more. Let me know what I missed.)

Depending on the particular story, “Larry David” behaves in, not totally, but significantly differing ways. My inclination to laugh varies directly with which “Larry David” shows up.

The first “Larry David” is, like, the champion of common sense. He notices the “ridiculous” in our world, and speaks for us all when he resists it.

Why is it necessary to tip the “Captain” at a restaurant? What exactly does the “Captain” do? And if he doesn’t do much, why does he deserve a tip?

This is not a matter of cheapness. “Larry’s” willing to tip the waitperson extra, and have them compensate the “Captain.” He just sees no reason to tip the “Captain” directly.

That “Larry David” I like. He has spoken for the voiceless, one voiceless person being me. So when he inadvertently gets in trouble as a result of his taking totally defensible position, I am unilaterally on his side.

The second “Larry David” is the one who gets in trouble by accident. “Larry” saves the life of a man he believes is drowning only to find that he’s interrupted a baptism. In this case, “Larry’s” actions are decent and, arguably, heroic. The “baptism” scene was ambiguously staged. Seeing a man “drowning”, “Larry” did exactly the right thing.

The funny part, of course, is the man wasn’t drowning and “Larry” did the wrong thing. But his heart was in the right place, and for that, when he was hassled later on, I was, once again, on “Larry’s” side.

Being “on his side” is significant in comedy. If I’m not on his side, there is little chance that I’m going to laugh.

Which brings me to “Larry” Number Three.

This “Larry”, I don’t care for. This “Larry” refuses to use other people’s bathrooms. This “Larry” takes a "principled stand" against singing the “Birthday Song.” This “Larry” is looking for trouble. This “Larry” is a pain in the ass.

Larry and Cheryl are eating in a restaurant with another couple. The husband picks up the check. Larry thanks the man for paying. The man’s wife says, “Why didn’t you thank me?” Larry answers, “Because you didn’t pay. He did.”


This “Larry” isn’t speaking for all of us. This “Larry” isn’t saving a drowning man. This “Larry” is simply “asking for it.” Provoking a confrontation. Instigating an awkward situation. Creating a “scene.”

This is where comedy has moved on to:

The Comedy of Extreme Discomfort.

The New Comedy. Way past embarrassment. Beyond Humiliation. To cringe-inducing excruciating pain.

Ha. (That “ha” wasn’t sincere.)

“You said there were four Larry Davids. What’s the fourth one like?”

The fourth Larry David is the actual Larry David, who, when I met him, was polite and friendly, and markedly unlike the “Larry Davids” on the show. Somehow, that surprised me. Somehow, I expected the Larry David that I met to be the same as the “Larry David” on Curb. There’s a word to describe that type of expectation.


It’s show business, Earl, come on! The “Larry David” persona – or, as I argue, personae – is (or are) the product of a premeditated creative decision. That is how Larry David chooses “Larry David” to be portrayed. This is what Larry – and the audience who loves Curb Your Enthusiasm – find funny. And what I, particularly in the case of “Larry” Number Three, don’t.

Which is part of what it is makes me old-fashioned.

(Another part is my inability to defy the "Rule of Threes.")


Rusty James said...

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving, Earl.

Ricky Gervais has a fun (long) interview with Larry David.

Search 'Larry David Ricky Gervais' on Youtube if you (or your readers) are interested.

I don't know how to link internet stuff.

Cezar said...

Precisely! I wasn't aware of the three Davids but that's exactly how I feel about CYE. That third David really irks me and ruins the show in my experience.

yatesy said...

i think, and i could be wrong, the reason they have the third larry david is to show that when he makes mistakes like larry one and two, people are just assuming he is being jerky number three, so that's why they give him so much grief.

however, larry number 3 does make the show extremely painful to watch most of the time. i completely agree with that idea.

Keith said...

Ah, but don't you see? Each Larry lets someone else be the comic.

Larry #1: Cheryl agrees completely, Jeff vents with him. The guest character is the straight man to Larry.

Larry #2: Cheryl or Jeff sigh and reluctantly side with Larry. Larry is the straight man to a guest character or one of the other cast members.

Larry #3: Everybody is against Larry. He is the straight man to all the other cast members and guest characters. He's a four-eyed fuck.

Without Larry #3 there wouldn't be nearly as many juicy scripts for the regular cast or the big name guest stars.

I, personally, like the variety. Although, I prefer Wanda and Susie being pissed off to, say, Richard Lewis who is just as neurotic as Larry. Richard and Larry on the same side, though, is a lot of fun. Now I'm rambling.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis of my favorite show, but I disagree with the conclusion. Larry #3 to me is the jerky side of all of us, and I think he's just as hysterical as Larrys 1 and 2. And - maybe I shouldn't admit this in our dumb-ass Oprahfied politically correct society - I agree with Larry #3 a lot of the time. And my other favorite shows are MTM, Raymond, Frasier, Cheers, Taxi, and the like, so it's not like I'm some putrified product (like my alliteration?) of the vulgarization of America. I just like Larry #3.

Anonymous said...

I think Larry 3 brings the continued interest of viewers to the character. Without some sort of tension, the show would be milk toast. People aren't all good or all bad. Some have fewer good points and more bad points. The balance of which is a personal choice when selecting them as a friend, or in this case selecting them as an enjoyable TV show.

Overall, I wondered why the character of Larry's wife stayed with him for so long. I was pleased to see them write in a separation... It made sense to me.

My husband and I love when Jeff's wife berates/curses Larry out for doing something dispicable, until he leaves their house with his tail between his legs.

Larry is a character who is his own worst enemy. He is egocentricity gone wild!

The viewer is pulled back into the show time and time again, to see what that idiot guy will do to get himself into trouble next.

OGRastamon said...