'Succession' Creator Jesse Armstrong's Rule for Writing the Show’s Insults

With two seasons and a third on the way, Succession has joined Veep in the pantheon of HBO shows with blistering, stunningly filthy insults. Nearly every character is prepared to wield biting humor like a club. The show’s creator, Jesse Armstrong, uses the vibrant cursing to add humor to the show and provide insight into the characters. He described his golden rule for writing insults. 

‘Succession’ includes some memorable insults

Succession features a variety of different types of relationships. Some are outwardly hostile, and others are uneasy, often stilted alliances. The show features few relationships of genuine caring. These types of dynamics generate scorching insults. 

“He said that to be nice,” Roman (Kieran Culkin) says to his brother Kendall (Jeremy Strong) just after their father has had a stroke. “I think what he meant to say is that he wished that mom gave birth to a can opener because at least then it would be useful.”

In a later episode, Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) watch Kendall on TV. “He looks like a sweaty corpse,” she says.

“He looks waxy, like an unshaven candle,” Tom adds.

A moment at Thanksgiving best sums up the Roy family dynamic. Tom addresses the Roys at dinner. “I am thankful that I am going to be marrying into one of the most kind and loving families in the world,” he says.

“Are you not going to be marrying Shiv anymore?” asks Roman.

Jesse Armstrong has a rule for crafting this type of dialogue

As the creator and head writer of Succession, Armstrong has to make sure that these insults are written with a purpose. In other words, they’re not only for laughs.

Armstrong told The New Yorker that the insults “should be at least as expressive of who the character uttering it is as it is eloquent, or ineloquent, about its target.”

Essentially, the insult, however filthy, should give insight into both characters. For example, in the Succession Season 3 teaser, Logan (Brian Cox) is on the phone with his employee, who rides in the car with Kendall.

“You tell him I’m gonna grind his f—— bones to make my bread,” Logan says.

“OK. Tell him I’m gonna run up off the f——- beanstalk,” Kendall replies, slightly uncertainly. 

Immediately, the viewer knows that Logan is prepared to be more ruthless toward his son than Kendall wants to be toward his father. Logan, who laughs maliciously, seems to know this as well. This could hint at Kendall’s difficulties stepping away from the family in the third season. 

‘Succession’ Season 3 promises more drama than ever before

At the end of Succession Season 2, Kendall refused to take the fall for a company scandal. In the third season, the family will attempt to move forward with the changed dynamic. The first look at season 3 shows Kendall and Logan intensify their power struggle. Shiv and Roman appear to seek the most opportunistic side. 

The third season of Succession airs in October 2021 on HBO. Viewers can also watch the first two seasons on HBO Max.

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