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Larry David is an Entrepreneur, and Curb is His Startup

· startups,TV,Entrepreneurship

Last Sunday night was the season premiere of perhaps my favorite show in television history: Curb Your Enthusiasm. [Editor’s note: this just eeked out a win against Seinfeld and Just The Ten Of Us]. If you think I’m kidding, note that the theme song for Curb has been my phone ring for the last 5+ years, if not more. Not sure how one can listen to that for 5 seconds and not crack a smile.

Just as any other Curb junkie would have done, I prepared for the new season by inhaling the 5+ hour oral history of the show via a new podcast series by author (podcaster?) James Andrew Miller, Origins.

As a homage to Curb, I want to take a minute here to explain a few reasons not only why Larry David is an absolute comedic genius, but make a few [completely unnecessary] parallels to how the creation & development of Curb is just like building a startup, specifically using parts from Eric Ries’ “Lean Startup” methodology. To make this more simple (as Larry David would want himself – wouldn’t want to waste his time), I’ve chosen to do it in the style of one of my favorite blogs, The Waiter’s Pad, by Mike Dariano.....except this will be much shorter, and much more poorly executed.

Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO

Test Everything Unless you were born in a cave, you likely know that 99% of Curb is done using improv. Whether you’re a standup comedian, a former member of the Groundlings, or a method actor, when you get to the Curb production set, you get NO SCRIPT - the only thing Larry David has is a simple storyline that needs to be followed. This is where the genius happens. You can do 20 different takes, have 20 different conversations/reactions, and let the creativity flow.

This is very similar to A/B testing/experimentation within the Lean Startup methodology. Perform several experiments (could be marketing messaging, could be images, could be the color of a call-to-action button), determine what is most successful, iterate on it, and go full steam ahead.

The mere fact that Larry only has 5 pieces of storylines that he then weaves an entire show around via improvisation has definite parallels to design thinking fundamentals used in the “business world.

Get A Minimum Viable Product First In the podcast, we learn that at the start of Curb Your Enthusiasm (after the 1 hr pilot on HBO, which is a proof of concept of its own), Larry David was very frugal in developing the show. 2 of the most glaring examples:

  • For most shows & films, each of the actors has his or her own trailer to use. For the 1st season of Curb, everyone was housed in the same trailer. Just one. Why spend significant money on a concept that might not work? The upside of this? It sounds like it served to increase the level of collaboration amongst the actors. Tight-knit teams, with a good culture, all moving towards the same goal. Sound familiar? Just replace the trailer with a garage.

  • In some of the scenes, Larry David didn’t even have the requisite number of actors to do some of the necessary speaking lines (some of these were developed on the fly, of course: see “Test Everything”). This occurred in an episode when they were shooting in a hotel, and turns out there was need for a speaking part w/the front desk. What did he do? He went over to the actual person working the front desk at the hotel, asked her to say the line, and voila. Magic.

  • In the 1 hour "pilot" special of Curb on HBO, it was implied that Larry and his wife Cheryl had kids (they made reference to them a few times).  But when it came to the series, no matter how many times production asked him whether or not he would have kids, he kept saying "I'm not sure yet."  He didn't make the decision to not have kids until the very last-minute, when producers told him that they'd need to "dress" the set differently (would need pictures of said kids up on the fridge, etc.).  Larry David's reason why no kids?  It would be too much trouble on the set - kids take longer to learn lines, are required to have more scheduled breaks, etc.  Too complicated.

Find Successful People There’s a great line by Ted Danson, when asked about why he chose to be on an improv-driven show with Larry David when he’s never done improv before….not to mention that when Larry first showed him a clip of the 1 hr HBO special, Danson thought it was terrible. Danson said (paraphrasing), “Larry David is a genius. But I knew he would be successful, and I wanted to be involved. The key is to find the most creative person you know and wait for them to come up with something.”

The best venture capitalists often echo these same sentiments: many will say they invest in people, not ideas, and founders who have previously started other companies that have had successful exits (Seinfeld, anyone??) are largely preferred over first-time founders.

When Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO and #2 to ‘Zuck, was evaluating the option to join the Google team before her current role, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told her, “If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don't ask what seat. You just get on.” Ted Danson wasn’t sure how he would be used in Curb (turns out as a caricature of himself), but just new it would be funny; he didn’t care what “seat” he was sitting in. Danson remarked that being part of Curb changed the entire trajectory of his career; it made him an absolute success again, for the 1st time since Cheers.

Thanks for reading. If you want to relive the Top 100 episodes of Curb, The Ringer has a great piece on this….

Now go watch Curb Season 9 right now, ya Schmohawk!

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