How to Ruin a Party: The Philosophy of Curb Your Enthusiasm – Wisecrack Edition


Hey Wisecrack, Michael here. Today, we’re
talking about the human embodiment of the awkward pause the king of cringe himself,
Larry David. Hey, edible underwear! Between Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm,
our culture has spent more than thirty years laughing at Larry David’s characters and
the uncomfortable situations they find themselves in. Whether it’s Elaine calling a baby ugly
in front of its parents. Some ugly baby huh? What did you say? Or Larry returning to a dinner party that
he ruined in order to retrieve his watch. Well… bye. We just can’t get enough of this brand of
emotional masochism. But here’s the question: does the pain of
watching Jerry steal an old woman’s rye bread reveal some greater truth about how
we exist in the world? What unspoken mechanics of human interaction does Larry teach us when
a hug goes on just a little too long. Let’s find out in this Wisecrack Edition on the
philosophy of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Spoilers ahead for a show with more golf than plot.
And some Seinfeld? Curb Your Enthusiasm is a show about social
interaction or, rather, when social interaction fails spectacularly. The show follows a fictionalized
version of Larry David as he wanders around LA annoying and or infuriating his friends
and family by ignoring social conventions that most of us intuitively understand. “You can’t be sincere about apologizing
and then snack on pistachio nuts!” “What? I can eat and apologize.” Very little actually happens on Curb. Larry
and his friends will incessantly bicker over trivial questions of social propriety, “You don’t want to be next to me when
you’re dead? I can assume you don’t want to be next to me when you’re alive.” But they rarely make decisions of any real
consequence, Much like Seinfeld before it, “It’s about nothing!” But aside from giving us cautionary tales
about eating junior mints in an operating theater, The Larry David Televised Universe
gives us some deep truths about how we exist with our fellow humans. That is, in breaking
the rules, or at least arguing about them, David gets at the truth of why social norms
exist in the first place. To understand how – we need to turn to sociologist
Erving Goffman. In his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman argues that
social interaction is a kind of performance that we are all putting on for each other,
every minute of every day. Like actors in a play, we spend most of our time hiding our
true selves behind constructed identities made up of certain expected costumes, behaviors,
and lines of dialogue. Goffman contends that, not only are we performers, but highly adaptable
ones, able to switch roles in seconds, and quickly study up on new ones as needed. In a single day, for instance, one person
might take on the roles of mother, wife, doctor, Reddit shitposter and more. In the process
said person makes profound, rapid changes in their manner, speech patterns, etc., without
even having to think about it. Or, if you’re George Costanza, you might vacillate between
unemployed curmudgeon, screenwriter, pretend marine biologist, corporate sycophant, and
man who would like to be lathered in oil According to Goffman, when we encounter others,
we refer back to previous experiences to quickly decide what sort of scene we will act out
together: waiter/patron, salesperson/customer, host/guest, etc. In a given interaction, the
person with less at stake will tend to offer the other a bit of leeway in setting the scene,
with the expectation that the same kindness will be extended back their way in the future.
In this way, “Together the participants contribute to a single overall definition
of the situation… a ’working consensus’.” In other words, a big part of being human
is working with other humans to select and act out social scripts appropriate to a given
moment. Sometimes these patterns of interaction are so well established that they become almost
unconscious. Most of us have internalized that you don’t talk in theaters ,double-dip
at parties Did you just double dip that chip? Excuse
me? You double dipped the chip! Or break the social contract implied in picking
someone up from the airport. Most people also understand what an appropriate hug duration
is.. On the other hand, sometimes people run into completely new situations—or hit snags
in more conventional ones—and have to work together to define that situation and react
accordingly. Or, you know, they try to do that and fail completely: Like when Larry
becomes accidentally aroused after a hug goes on for longer than expected. You know, she
went over the appropriate amount of time that I can have human contact without getting aroused.I
only have five seconds. After that, it’s out of my control]. Larry accordingly has to deal
with the fallout from his friends. You hug my auntie, man, you stab her in the stomach?
– Oh well – What the fuck was that? She hugged me and she held that hug for over five seconds.]
What th- I have no control after five seconds! Larry finds himself in another script-breaking
situation, in “Kamikaze Bingo,” when his pharmacist offers a negative opinion of a
drug prescribed to Larry’s father. You know there is another drug out on the
market that I personally like a lot better. Most of us might assume, incorrectly, that
the job of a pharmacist is to just shut up, listen to a doctor, and give us our Klonopin.
But in this case, our guy bucks the assumed protocol for pharmacist/customer interaction–and
forces Larry to choose whose performance to trust: I’m a doctor Larry well he’s a pharmacist.
Yes and I’m a doctor. He’s a pharmacist. In all these cases, the participants are constantly
making choices, for better or for worse,about how to perform, and how to respond to the
performance of others. In a smooth social interaction, all the various
definitions of the situation will quickly line up, and “working consensus” will
be achieved. Just as many of us have internalized “normal” behavior, we have also been heavily
socialized to tolerate the behaviors of others, even when it’s obviously fake. Goffman contends
that this willingness to be flexible with other people —to take their performances
at face value—is what allows societies of all sizes to function. Everything from your
dinner party to the economy depends on all of us cutting each other a certain amount
of slack. Enter Larry, whose entire schtick revolves
around his inability–or his outright refusal–to reach a working consensus with anyone. While it’s impossible to reduce Curb Your
Enthusiasm to a formula, one of the show’s most-used gags is simply to put Larry in a
social situation and have him vehemently disagree with someone else’s definition of it. Again
in “Kamikaze Bingo,” for instance, when Larry learns that his friend Yoshi’s father
survived his tour of duty as a WWII kamikaze pilot, he insists that kamikaze pilot kind of implies that, you know
a kamikaze pilot is a pilot who crashed and died, right?” He refuses to drop the point and find a working
consensus with his wife and friend, even though his questions make Yoshi visibly uncomfortable.
Even when it becomes clear that his prodding eventually led Yoshi to attempt suicide, Larry
still refuses to concede: “There’s a lot of kamikaze pilots that
are still alive.” “You say that. And I say to you that they are not kamikaze pilots!”
Larry is completely inflexible, rejecting anyone else’s definition of a situation.
He derails social gatherings by obsessing over minor annoyances that most adults would
ignore for the sake of a quiet meal with friends. You’re really the only person who has a
problem with the water. Yeah it’s just water, what are you so sensitive about? I want you
to go. I’m getting kicked out? When family friend Cliff Cobb tells an anecdote
about his grandfather inventing the Cobb salad, Larry thinks he’s lying. It’s my grandfather’s salad. Rather than letting it go like a sane person,
he commissions his secretary to do a research project on the origins of the Cobb salad, Here’s what I want you to do. Ok. I want
you to go on the internet and get some information for me on the Cobb salad. Later confronting
Cliff with the new information: “The Cobb salad, my friend, was invented
in 1937, by Bob Cobb, at the Brown Derby!” When Larry is in the room, it is almost impossible
to come to a single definition of the situation that will allow the group to continue talking
in a productive way. The way Larry constantly sabotages any working
consensus is the key to the show’s famous cringiness. As Goffman points out, “When
these disruptive events occur… the participants find themselves lodged in an interaction for
which the situation has been wrongly defined and is now no longer defined. All the participants
may come to feel ill at ease.” Curb Your Enthusiasm offers viewers the social
equivalent of the physical humor found in Tom and Jerry, The Three Stooges, and Jackass
–that is, a chance to laugh at people in pain. While Mo and Larry might smack Curley
in the head or grab his nose with a pair of scissors, our Larry subjects his wife, manager,
and other acquaintances to that awful, prickly emotional discomfort we feel when a social
encounter is spiraling out of control. When you walk through my door you play by
my rules! You take off your fucking shoes! You and your little soccer shoes in my house!
My feet have a tendency to get a little chilly when I take my- Gil get the coats! The coats
are probably a good idea Larry’s refusal to adapt to any working
consensus outside his narrow worldview causes plenty of chaos and the occasional screaming
meltdown. — Now I’m saying thank you for helping me,
I’m going to have some cake. No no but you can’t change it that’s why you say no
matter what this is, this is the what, that’s why you ask me and not these other people
because you knew I wouldn’t let you. Larry! You told me not to let her have it! She said
no matter what… We see this play out in “Trick or Treat,”
the season 2 episode that confronts Larry with two teenagers pretending to be little
kids on Halloween. Where most adults would roll their eyes and toss the girls a few Hershey
bars to make them go away, Larry decides that this is the time to make a stand: Are you kidding? It’s halloween? “Yeah it doesn’t mean that you’re entitled
to go around to people’s homes and bilk them out of candy.” When he calls the cops to report the resultant
vandalism of his house, the officer claims that Larry started the whole mess by refusing
to give the teens any candy: [“There’s kind of a social contract that
you enter when you open that door. They say ‘Trick or Treat,’ I would advise you,
give the treat.” Larry’s wife Cheryl points directly to the
big gap between Larry’s definition of the situation and the working consensus that gets
the rest of us through Halloween without getting the words “Bald Asshole” spray-painted
on our houses. In later seasons, Larry is even called upon
to use his unique capacity for tactlessness to solve his friends’ problems. When an
attempt to get a mutual friend’s wife to stop saying “LOL” backfires, Larry’s
manager, Jeff, finally puts a label on his unwillingness to bend to social norms:
You know what you are? You’re a social assassin. Jesus. When the social assassin makes a “hit,”
he is killing a working consensus that is disagreeable to another member of the group—one
who is too afraid to put forward their own alternate definition of a situation. Because
Larry would rather be right than be part of a functioning social group, he will call out
any aspect of a performance that he doesn’t like. But how, specifically, do people create these
performances for each other? And how does Larry disrupt them? One way is by ridiculing and playing around
with what Goffman referred to as the individual’s ‘front,’ or “the items that we most
intimately identify with the performer…like insignia of office or rank; clothing; speech
patterns; facial expressions; bodily gestures; and the like.” In Larry work, characters routinely fixate
on one or more items in another character’s personal front. Pieces of clothing–and what
they supposedly reveal about the people that wear them–are key story elements in multiple
Seinfeld episodes. Consider Jerry’s horror at the thought of having his front tarnished
by the pirate shirt. But I don’t want to be a pirate! Or Jerry and Elaine fixating on how to interpret
the meaning of a cape, Is he wearing a cape? I believe he is wearing
a cape. Or Jerry’s dismay over the cowboy boots
he’s forced to wear: I don’t want to be a cowboy! These characters spend an inordinate amount
of time worrying about other people’s fronts, and trying to preserve their own You know
the message you’re sending out with those sweatpants? You’re telling the world, I
give up, I can’t compete in a normal society, I’m miserable so I might as well be comfortable].
This carries over into Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry is often preoccupied with the minutiae
of other peoples’ “fronts.” Someone’s choice in headgear, for instance, will affect
whether he decides to help them pick up a dropped golf ball: “Same hat, no string, no question I pick
it up. I I don’t kn- I see certain items and I recoil.” Or whether he’ll take a friend into a restaurant: Proud Jews wear yarmulkes. Yeah, be proud
here in the parking lot. Don’t be proud in there. At one point, Larry even picks a fight with
Ted Danson–at the man’s own birthday party–for having his catering service wear bow ties: It looks elegant. I feel like you are putting
on airs or something. But the show’s obsession with front comes
through most clearly in one of the subplots to “Trick or Treat,” in which Larry starts
wearing golf clothes on days when he isn’t actually playing golf. This confuses his friends,
who don’t see the point of adopting a front that communicates “golf” if one has no
intention of hitting the links: Larry simply likes the way he looks in a tucked-in
polo shirt and slacks I like the outfit, I like the way it looks.
According to his definition of the situation, wearing golf clothes does not necessarily
imply that one is going to or coming from a game. Larry, no one would wear a shirt like that
unless they were going to golf. Despite his preoccupation with the front of
others, he decides that he can add these items to his own front without making a statement
about what he’s doing for the afternoon. But for the other characters, Larry’s front
is so tied up with the practice of golfing that they refuse to believe him when he explains
he doesn’t have a round scheduled that day: You aid you weren’t golfing! Why the hell
are you wearing those clothes! Because I like the way they look! All of that notwithstanding, Larry isn’t
always on the outside looking in when it comes to deciding what’s appropriate and what
isn’t. On rare occasions, he is temporarily able to win others over to his side, in ways
that line up with Goffman’s description of group, or “team,” performances. According to Goffman, a group of people defining
a situation together operates a little differently from an individual trying to do the same.
An individual can create a complex definition of situation for themself. In contrast, a
team working together to define a situation will often have to boil things down to a “thin
party line” –the lowest common denominator that everyone involved can agree on. Groups,
in other words, tend to define situations in broad strokes—rather than developing
nuanced interpretations to events, they will judge things as simply “good” or “bad,”
“acceptable” or “unacceptable,” etc. The members of the team may feel compelled
to defend the party line, even if it is simplistic. We see this play out on a micro level in “Kamikaze
Bingo.” When the host’s brother in law’s suicide attempt interrupts poker night, those
remaining around the card table aren’t sure what to do next–there is no ready definition
for their situation. Larry is the first to begin making one up: “Well, you know. We’re here.” That’s
true cause ya know I had to really finagle to get out tonight I’m kind of happy to
be anywhere. Ya know we can’t leave the house, ya know it’s, they’re gone. We
don’t have keys. We don’t know the alarm code or anything. And a pizza is coming. And
a pizza coming. Ya we got a pizza coming. Not wanting to miss out on a night of poker,
the boys work together to develop the transparently stupid party line of “a pizza is coming.”
They fall back on it when the host returns from the hospital and calls them out on their
inconsiderate behavior: You know pizza was coming, it would’ve been
rude to leave a pizza coming. It would have been rude to stop and pick it up on your way
home too. We didn’t know your alarm code But Curb Your Enthusiasm also explores this
dynamic on a much larger scale. One of the show’s recurring themes is Larry’s relationship
to Judaism–or, rather, his lack thereof. Curb portrays segments of the American Jewish
community as a Goffman-style team: a collection of individuals working overtime to establish
what counts as “correct” behavior for the group, and condemning anything that doesn’t
fall within those boundaries. As always, Larry has a tough time achieving working consensus
with the group, which results in him being labelled as not good enough in his performance
of the faith: You’re a lousy Jew! Larry takes on this mantle with glee–nothing
seems to make him happier than being yelled at by someone who is trying to shame him for
disagreeing with their definition of the situation, i.e. what it means to be Jewish. In “Trick or Treat,” Larry gets into a
feud with a man who hears him humming a Wagner tune to his wife Cheryl: I want to know what a Jew is whistling Wagner
for when he was one of the great anti-Semites of the world. You know what you are? You are
a self-loathing Jew. Am I? Yes yes. LEt me tell you, I do hate myself but it has nothing
to do with being Jewish! Of course, the man’s claim that good Jewish
people should not enjoy Wagner fails to make an impact on Larry, who rejects the consensus
he represents: And in the season 8 episode “Palestinian
Chicken,” Larry’s love for a new Palestinian restaurant puts him in conflict with his Jewish
acquaintances. Larry causes friction early on by violating
Marty Funkhauser’s proud-Jewish-man front near the entrance to Al-Abbas: Don’t you reach for that. Don’t you ever
touch that. When Marty later tries to shame Larry for
starting a fling with the Palestinian restaurant owner,
Larry fires back by attacking his front once again, making fun of him for taking his religion
and culture so seriously You’re not even a man anymore! Mommy rabbi
says don’t play, little boy! The episode ends with Larry literally caught
between a crowd of Palestinian protestors on one side of him and a crowd of Jewish protesters
on the other. He’s caught between the situation he wants, to eat delicious chicken, and the
one he’s saddled with–a working consensus that labels him a religious traitor. “I have a sister! You, me, and Yasmeen.
The three of us. That’s enough, just get the fuck over here, just get the fuck over
here. Stop being an idiot. Larry come over here. Larry! Don’t be a dick. Like many comic figures, Larry gets laughs
by flaunting social norms–but few characters are so single-minded in their devotion to
causing friction: I will not be intimidated. Even on Halloween. While Curb Your Enthusiasm may make some people
cringe rather than laugh, it would be hard to find a human being who can watch the show
and be completely unaffected. By directly attacking the system that allows us to interact
with our fellow humans, Larry toys with some of our deepest fears around social failure,
shame, and flat-out awkwardness. Depending on your tastes, this is either hilarious–or
terrible. It’s cute, right? No. Not really. What Larry moments have you survived in your
own life? Have a favorite episode that we missed? Let us know in the comments, and as
always, be sure to subscribe and ring that bell. Thanks to our amazing patrons for supporting
the channel and our podcasts. Tap that subscribe button and as always, thanks for watching.
Later guys.

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Comments

  1. the episode where Larry and Cheryl have to go to porn actor Bob Odenkirk's house party is still more deeply unsettling than most modern horror films

  2. All the world's indeed a stage
    And we are merely players
    Performers and portrayers
    Each another's audience
    Outside the gilded cage

  3. 90% of the time Larry is right though, a tremendous amount of social norms aren't helpful and should be moved away from.

  4. This show is brilliant.
    Who else on the planet would have done Larry vs Michael J. Fox?
    Was that a Parkinson’s shake or a regular shake?😀

  5. I love watching Seinfeld but I can barely stand George Costanza. I can't watch Curb. Even though I hate social conventions… (And oh yeah, golf clothes just make him look like typical middle aged dad. Plenty of non golfing people wear them.)

  6. Why do they put outlets down low behind where you wanna put furniture? Are we hiding them, are they our genitals? Why aren't outlets at head height?

  7. Hollywood anti Trumps, give all your millions away or shut up. Fill your giant homes with immigrants or vote Trump 2020. Or remain frauds. Your choice

  8. Larry's an asshole, has encounters with assholes, and his friends are mostly assholes that try to pretend they don't want to be somewhere else. Larry doesn't pretend. Larry is my hero.

  9. "What Larry moments have you survived in your own life.
    LETTUCE GNOME IN THE COMMENTS"

    Where's the lettuce gnome? I'm looking through the comments, haven't found it yet.

  10. Now do another video about The Good Place, this time talking about the indisputable FACT that this show is, apparently beknownst to the writers, about the Demiurge. In fact the shows goes to shit exactly once the writers realised it was about the Demiurge and they lost the nerve to confront what that means, hence the terrible ending where souls are destroyed and this is presented as a good thing.

  11. Huh… I always thought I was some sort of shithead for semi-acting on every interaction I have… Turns out everybody's doing it.

  12. Another big social convention fundamental to the show is the notion of the apology. In fact, I think David mentioned the show was originally going to be titled “I Apologise”. The failed apology to David Schwimmer’s father is also one of the show’s most hilarious moments.

  13. My favorite scene is when a rabbi tells Larry he’s bringing a “Survivor”, so Larry brings a Holocaust survivor, not knowing the rabbi meant the early 2000s reality tv show competition. Hi-LARRY-ous.

  14. I really love when Larry greets an army veteran by saying "hello" instead of "thank you for your service" like anybody else in the room.

  15. Okay, wait, now that talk about the kamikaze pilot has me thinking: if the kamikaze pilot survives, were they good or bad at it?

  16. "I have a sister. You, me and Yasmine!"

    If you're presented with such filth, you must rub it all over and bathe in the glorious musk of sin!

  17. “I do hate myself, but it has nothing to do with being Jewish!”

    One of my all time favorite Larry David quotes. Such a hilarious response, honest but totally outside the normal bounds of acceptable conversation. Imagine just casually telling someone you hate yourself! Hilarious

  18. I have stand my ground on different arguments heated I might say with friends and let’s say I win the argument based on data and then there’s a study that nullifies my argument I’ll update the person I had the argument with even thou 6 years might have passed already and they don’t even remember that but I won’t back down one of the issues of being of Jewish descent plus attorney.

  19. I'm Larry 90% of the time. That's why I basically have no friends. 😹
    Like Bernie says: "I don't tolerate bullshit terribly well (…) I'm not good with pleasantries, if you have your birthday, I'm not gonna call you up to congratulate you, so you'll love me (…)" And that's a great way to live!

  20. I had a neighbor who would talk about how smart her 5 year old is and say things like" he smarter than us" so one day we were hanging in the back yard drinking and she started on it again only for me to say "well he aint smarter than me" and needless to say it erupted pretty quickly.

  21. Curb is indeed cringe comedy every now and then, but it's not anywhere near the cringe levels of British shows like Peep Show or Flea Bag. Hurting social norms is one thing, but getting hurt by social norms is quite another one …

  22. Whenever I mention Curb to someone who's never seen it they always ask what it's about and I'm like, "Well, it's about this old man… and everywhere he goes he gets into arguments with people. Every interaction, no matter how trivial, becomes a conflict." And they're like, "Wow, that sounds horrible." "Oh, it may sound like it, but it's actually brilliant."

  23. It was a weird moment of self reflection for me to watch this and get an analysis of the show from you guys because I've always described it as a show about "a guy who's always right but it doesn't matter"… That being said I don't think that will change

  24. Just started watching this show recently. After a few seasons I came to check this channel for content on the show. A week later this pops up! Thank you guys!

  25. Wrong. It's societal deconstruction by people who have nothing but contempt for what we had to do to achieve civilization.

  26. I see some of my own behavior in what Larry, although with less comedic timing. Which, in a way, helps me see my flaws from the eyes of those I affect so I may see my errors and try to change my behaviors.

  27. I believe in real life and seen on the screen, Larry is totally an Aspie, or a high functioning Autist. I say this as a complement, as seeing the world through the eyes of a socially awkward and outspoken individual is the most entertainment one can get on television. Being a person on the spectrum myself, my wife can only shake her head as she's seen many of the scenarios on the show played out in my life years before Larry even wrote the script!

  28. Watching this made me realize 2 things.

    1. I really should watch the show as its right up my alley.

    2. Oh god Larry David the character is me and my Dad in a nutshell.

  29. omggg "The Survivor" episode where Larry and a friend invite 2 different "Survivors" they know, assuming they're the same. One being a Holocaust survivor, the other from the reality TV show Survivor lolll The two get in an argument and the guy from the show is trying to compare his challenges to what the holocaust survivor went through. Ughh. The best/worst.

  30. the best part is always how nice susie to larry is when he comes over and half a minute later shes furious calling him a fuck and throws him out

  31. Pissing off people by insisting that everything they say is wrong often at high personal cost. my god. Larry David is modern day Socrates. Our age truly sucks

  32. There was this one time at a concert that this guy was praising his favorite band. He said "Your really in for a treat." And I was like "they're okay."

  33. I know comedy is subjective so I'm not gonna say this isn't funny, but what's the joke? This is just.. uncomfortable to me.

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