The current kings of comedy

Larry David, Seth McFarlane and Ricky Gervais head to head

Time In

As Larry David leaves Curb Your Enthusiasm behind by starring in a new HBO movie with Jon Hamm and Kate Hudson, we gauge how comic auteurs have fared after their first hits.

Larry David
Breakthrough

One of HBO’s smashes, Curb Your Enthusiasm took the acute self-absorption and awkward brilliance of Seinfeld (which David co-wrote) and boiled the ensemble down to one man. This is surely the earliest and best example of a comedian ‘playing himself’, alongside such game celebrity chums as Ted Danson, Mel Brooks and Ben Stiller.

Aftermath
More of the same, ultimately. Curb went on too long, while his leads in Woody Allen’s Whatever Works and Clear History cast him once again as a successful, self-sabotaging misanthrope. He’s still very funny, don’t get us wrong, but if we’re honest we think that the act is starting to grow ever more familiar and slightly lack lustre as a result.

Seth MacFarlane
Breakthrough

Seizing the scatological, scatter gun middle ground between The Simpsons and South Park, Family Guy brought us the Griffins, hapless mainstays of middle America. Having survived many proposed cancellations, FG recently made headlines by killing off the family’s dog, Brian.

Aftermath
Further animated fun followed, with diminishing returns. But even a horrendously misjudged turn as this year’s Oscars host couldn’t neuter the huge success of ribald big-screen debut, Ted. But can Hollywood really trust this loose cannon?

Ricky Gervais
Breakthrough

So,The Office. A showcase for the unbearable manager of a fictional UK paper merchant? Not an easy pitch, but Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s masterpiece felt like genius arriving fully formed. Did it set the bar too high though?

Aftermath
Well, yes. Extras had its moments; Life’s Too Short, not so much. But Gervais’s first solo venture, botched mockumentary series Derek, is bewildering; as if he has actively set out to embrace all the cliché and lazy emotional manipulation so brilliantly sidestepped in The Office. In fact, we’re still wondering if it’s a spoof.

Trey Parker & Matt Stone
Breakthrough
Well, South Park left everyone utterly agape upon its arrival in 1997. Parker and Stone spared no one. Traditionalists, progressives, Scientologists, Christians, teachers, cops, parents and the kids themselves: everyone was a target.

Aftermath
Relentless. South Park remains fearsomely sharp. Team America: World Police offended liberals, conservatives and emetophobes (people who are scared of vomit) equally. And The Book of Mormon successfully took their satirical carnage to the stage. Bravo.
Family Guy airs on FX daily. Buy Curb Your Enthusiasm, South Park and The Office at www.amazon.com.

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