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Curb your excitement

I'm trying something new with this column, in deference to the new season of one of the best comedies currently on television, Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," perhaps better known as "that other critically acclaimed show on HBO that doesn't have to do with the mob or with funeral parlors."

One of the most exciting things about the show– aside from the fact that it's written by Larry David, the co-creator of "Seinfeld," and thus focuses on the little minutiae of life – is the fact that the show runs, every week, without a script.

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Now, don't get me wrong, it's not a live show; it's just that, according to the promotional material, David writes a detailed outline, but the words that you hear them speak are entirely ad-libbed. Many of the actors, including the ones played by David's wife and best friend, are trained in the improvisational arts, and so they just let loose within the confines of the outline, and the results are transmitted on the airwaves.

So my thinking went something like this: if Larry David is ad-libbing, and the result is one of the funniest shows on television, then what would happen if I were to ad-lib a column?

So I am currently engaged in the results of said noble experiment (you were here for it now, in almost real time): an ad-libbed column. Of course, like David, I thought out what I was going to say a little bit, the main ideas, at least, but that seems fair.

So what have I learned? Well, so far, that comedy is an art of delicacy, both in writing and performance. I'm not sure that I would have fobbed upon you "trained in the improvisational arts" if I weren't following through on my commitment to let loose. Or, for that matter, used the phrase "fobbed upon". I mean, really.

The other thing is that it's hard to sound weighty when you're improvising. Not that this column has ever been accused of specifically specializing in the gravitas, but rhetoric is all about the careful choice of words, and since all you're seeing is words – text on a (web) page, I have less to work with than a television show, which, at least as far as I remember, has these things called pictures, too.

Finally, David has the advantage on me in action, as well. There's very little plot in a column. Unless, of course, I somehow turn this column into a running serial, like the old Forties newsreels. (There's something funny there in embryo; better make a note.)

But I've realized that improvisation and stream of consciousness aren't the same thing, so I'd better return to my point, which is that David uses action to prove that he is an astute observer of the real absurdities of human behavior, while the columnist in general (and me in particular) uses absurdities, like this idea, to show off the gentle and delicate nature of real talented humorists like David. (I think that worked, but I'm not sure. I've also noticed, parenthetically, that I'm given to parenthetical statements.)

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The final thing is material. My guess is that it takes David less time and effort to produce an outline and improv'ed script than it would a polished script with full dialogue. Certainly this equivalent effort has taken less time than a usual column. This may leave the true fan wondering whether, despite the sheer admiration that one cannot fail to have for the ensemble's efforts, we might not be getting the best possible program.

But that would be a mean-spirited complaint, as is seen by this formally intriguing but, perhaps, ultimately unsuccessful column effort (though I guess you'll have to be the judge of that), there is still quite enough of "Curb Your Enthusaism" to be thankful for.

Jeremy Dauber teaches Yiddish literature at Columbia University. He is also a screenwriter and cultural critic. He is currently at work on his first novel.


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