Curb Your Marketing
Lessons on Creating Hilarious Content from Larry David
October 7, 2017
After a six-year hiatus, HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm made its much-anticipated return last Sunday.
For those of us who have dearly missed Larry David and his hilariously uncomfy exploits, this is pretty good news. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.
And while we would never suggest anyone should emulate the neurotic and petty behavior of Mr. David’s character on the show, content marketers everywhere can take a cue from the sensational success of Curb and its uniquely entertaining formula.
Spark Creativity with Improvisation
People enjoy reading funny things. If you can lighten up some stuffy subjects and elicit a legit chuckle or two from your audience, then you’re doing it right. But the problem with most marketing content that intends to be humorous? The intent is too forced, the effort too strained.
The plot of each Curb Your Enthusiasm episode is created as a general outline by David and other writers, with much of the actual dialogue being improvised by the actors. This method takes full advantage of the innate proclivities of the show’s participants, who mostly come from comedic backgrounds. It also makes the jokes more natural and spontaneous, resonating well with audiences who’ve grown accustomed to scripted lines and even laugh tracks.
Take advantage of your own marketing team’s creativity and sense of humor by loosening the reins and letting them improvise. For some specific pointers on applying the concepts of improv to content marketing, check out Stop Boring Me! by Kathy Klotz-Guest, recently featured as our marketing book worth a look.
Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
If you’ve ever caught an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, then you know the show doesn’t reflect very kindly on its creator. David essentially plays himself, but the character is extreme, rubbing everyone the wrong way and constantly falling into predicaments of his own making. For his part, Larry calls his misanthropic portrayal an “idealized version” of himself, so he clearly has no qualms about playing up his ill-advised candor and curmudgeonly impulses. It’s what people love about him.
Companies ought to take notes. One of the main problems with a lot of today’s marketing content is that it’s too self-congratulatory, more concerned with serving the brand than the readers. You certainly want to paint yourself in a more flattering light than David does, but focus first on delivering value -- whether it’s a useful insight, a practical tip, or a laugh amidst a stressful work day (even if getting that laugh requires a little self-deprecation).
Focus on the Narrative
Oftentimes, the funniest aspects of a Curb episode are the situations themselves, more so than any particular character’s lines or actions. Not everyone is going to get every joke, but most audiences can relate to a scenario or circumstance.
When Larry informs his agent Jeff that he didn’t say hello to an acquaintance he passed on the street because he “didn’t want to do a stop-and-chat,” we laugh because we all know exactly what he’s talking about. Actors on the show have mentioned that they don’t really feel like they need to try to be funny, because the plot setups basically take care of that.
Content maven Ann Handley is a vocal advocate for the power of storytelling and humor, and has written about how combining these elements can make B2B brands more personable and conversational.
David has said the show’s name is, in part, a reference to his perception that most people in the world operate outwardly with a false sense of enthusiasm. “It’s unseemly,” he once told TIME Magazine. His character on the show, who finds cause for complaint in just about everything, would never be accused of such.
Again, by no means are we advocating for brands to model themselves after the show’s cantankerous antihero, nor to eschew a generally positive outlook, but there is much to be said for staying true to yourself. In the aforementioned TIME interview, Larry wastes no time before going into a diatribe about the length of sneaker laces these days. He’s the same guy now as he was when he helped create Seinfeld so many years ago.
Develop a voice and stick with it. Let the humor come naturally. Encourage improv and spontaneity. But hey, in our minds, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little (genuine) enthusiasm.
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