by Rob Stimpson
See what you’ve been missing.
Curb Your Enthusiasm is Larry David. If you don’t know the man then you don’t know the show. To date, Curb has aired for eight seasons, and with such an unwaveringly high quality of comedy that any dud episodes can be counted on one hand. Ahead of Ricky Gervais’ recent cameo in the show, he revealed in an interview that “I’ve always wanted to work with Larry [David] as I consider him one of the most important comedic minds of the past 50 years.” This man, this Larry David, is, to many like Gervais, one of the most important, ingenious comedy minds of our time. He doesn’t enjoy a universal popularity, though, as his comedy style, and that of Curb, focuses on the negative, on the taboo and the controversial. Not everyone likes to be taken out of their comfort zone in their free time, and that is precisely what Curb aims to do.
To fully appreciate Curb, it helps to understand an important part of Larry’s past. He is the co-creator of the hugely popular, decade defining sitcom Seinfeld, which ran from 1989 to 1998. The show made him a multi-millionaire. In 1998 alone, it is estimated that Larry earned $250m from his part in Seinfeld. This is a man who is incredibly comfortable. But, instead of resting on his laurels and bathing in the rewards of his success, Larry set about creating a new show.
Debuting in 2000, Curb was an immediate cult hit. The initial focus of the show was presenting an exaggerated reality set in Los Angeles in which Larry, burdened by his hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank, struggles with what to do with his life now he is in semi-retirement. He has seemingly already reached his peak with Seinfeld – so what comes next? Presumably the only direction off of a peak is down. As far as the ‘character’ of Larry David is concerned, this is most certainly the case. To say the man is a sociopath is to be polite. Essentially, all eight seasons of Curb to date consist of Larry lurching from one social disaster to the next, insulting and maddening everyone around him, from friends and family, to complete and utter strangers – everyone.
This in itself tells you all you need to know about Curb; it’s all about Larry David. While the supporting cast is excellent, namely Jeff Garlin as Larry’s long suffering manager, Cheryl Hines as Larry’s wife, and Susie Essman as Jeff’s foul mouthed, short tempered wife, or any number of A-list celebrity cameos sending themselves up long before Extras came long, it is Larry who drives the show on. While there are some lessons to be learnt on how not to behave in social situations, Curb doesn’t concern itself with trying to be moral or PC, and it doesn’t need to dig deep to force in a romantic storyline because romance has no place here. This is an ultra-real comedy, from its shooting style to the tiny everyday issues that Larry pulls apart, right down to the completely odd, demanding people he happens to meet along the way. This is, as genre dictates, a situation comedy, and no other sitcom on television can aspire to the comedic heights of Curb’s situations. They are outlandish, outrageous and outstanding; they are the definition of hilarious. Sitcoms live or die by their situations, and Curb’s have allowed the show to reach the very pinnacle of television comedy.
Needless to say, there is neither the space nor the time to even begin to lists all of the classic Curb situations, but of particular note are; Larry’s unfortunate obituary for Cheryl’s ‘beloved aunt’ in which the misprinting of one letter changes the tone completely; the finale of season four in which Larry makes his Broadway debut in The Producers which, naturally, doesn’t quite go to plan; Larry cutting the hair off of Jeff’s daughter’s doll, which comes back to haunt him when he finds himself in the women’s toilet with a water bottle stuffed down the front of his trousers; inadvertently pitting a Holocaust survivor and a contestant from the TV show Survivoragainst each other in a dinner party which leads to an argument about who had the more harrowing experience; Larry’s ongoing struggles with a much larger woman in order to beat her to the doctors surgery and Larry’s attempt to dodge having to donate a kidney to his dying best friend – which ultimately he does, dies, goes to heaven, but then gets sent back to Earth for being too annoying.
In spite of Curb’s seemingly flippant approach to subject matter, it is actually an incredibly daring show. In the hands of others, the seemingly free license that is offered to Curb could be used to disastrous effect. The use of profanity is, by most comparisons, frequent, but it is never unnecessary and is never the result of lazy writing. The incredible episode-ending swear-fest initiated by Larry to distract attention away from the Tourette’s afflicted chef that he hired for his new restaurant is testament to this – a cursing symphony of the basest beauty that makes fans of the show smile every time they hear the words ‘car wash’.
Swearing aside, Curb sees Larry tackle a plethora of social taboos and politics in his own unblinking style. A regularly occurring theme is that of race, particularly the relationships between white people and black people. Of particular note, Larry claims to be racist to avoid jury duty, he takes on certain elements of black culture in his brief friendship with the rapper Krayzee-Eyez Killa, and has a particularly unfortunate encounter with the ‘N’ word. Similarly, Larry has also has numerous encounters with the disabled, coming up foul when using the disabled toilet, thus keeping a man in a wheelchair waiting in line, and his attempts to romance two wheelchair bound women at the same time. This is not to mention Larry’s ability to tackle the Palestinian peace process by bringing Jews and Palestinians to war over a chicken restaurant, his uninformed, ignorant view that there is a ‘good Hodgkin’s’ and a ‘bad Hodgkin’s’, and his misadventures with Michael J. Fox and his complete inability on handling the latter’s Parkinson’s disease.
It is this ignorance, this blissfully unaware political incorrectness that allows Curb to brush with such controversy. Larry is, for all his wealth, an everyman. He isn’t glamorous or ostentatious; he is a relatively old, bald, bespectacled man who is struggling to know right from wrong in this ultra sensitive, egg shell world of ours. Every subject is potentially explosive, and rather than shirk that, Curb runs headlong into it as fast as it possibly can. This is not provocation or goading, it is the age-old, masterful trick of facing down taboo with comedy. When done with a deft hand, it is an art form that makes a mockery of the fear surrounding the issue, rather than fearing the issue itself.
Larry David, the character, is the greatest of all anti-heroes; a man who stands up firmly for his beliefs, however insanely ridiculous they may be, and stands firm when all around him rise up and chastise him, which is every five minutes or so. More often than not, Larry loses his battles, and in very humiliating fashion, which is always the lesson at hand. But most importantly, the cult of Larry David has risen because he is the person that we want to be, he says the things that we want to say, or asks the stupid questions that we stop ourselves from asking. The ensuing reaction, which is at the very least negative, ensures that we don’t take this admiration out on to the streets, but just keep it at home for those dark days when you wonder – what would Larry David do?