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Where Larry David and TV Larry Meet, and the Thin Red Line Between
July 27, 2017  | By Alex Strachan
 

When the line between a real-life comedian and the character he plays on television blurs, it should be no surprise to anyone — least of all the comedian himself — when people draw connections between the two, wanted or unwanted.

And when that comedian is Larry David, who has made a lifelong career of poking sticks at people and taking offense to their social fauxes pas, perceived and otherwise, it won’t surprise anyone that David’s appearance this past week — alongside fellow cast members of the (deliberately) self-referential Curb Your Enthusiasm — at the semi-annual meeting of the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills went over about as well as, well, a typical Curb episode.

First, the vitals. Curb returns to HBO with a new season on Oct. 1, the first new episodes in six years.  The new episodes will feature guest appearances by Bryan Cranston, Ed Begley Jr., Jimmy Kimmel, Laurel Graham, Nasim Presad, Nick Offerman,  Elizabeth Banks and “Judge Judy” Judith Sheindlin, all playing fictionalized versions of themselves, along with the return of recurring regulars Cheryl Hines, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Lewis and Bob Einstein.

The occasion will mark 17 years almost to the day after Curb first debuted, on Oct. 15, 2000. Curb’s debut followed in the wake of David’s Seinfeld finale, which got a decidedly mixed response from critics and Seinfeld fans alike. David famously bridles to this day at those who didn’t appreciate the mastery of his comedic skills — peasants! — and it doesn’t take much to get him worked up.

Much of Curb Your Enthusiasm is improvised on the spot, after David and co-executive producer Jeff Schaffer — another Seinfeld alum — set the scene with fellow cast-members Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman and J.B. Smoove (with David, right). So it was little surprise when David appeared in front of the 2017 class of TV reviewers in a combative mood.

David was in character, in other words — though he took pains just moments later to point out to this writer that the difference between “TV Larry” and “real Larry” is about “this wide,” and held his thumb and forefinger slightly apart.

“I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but TV Larry is just about a quarter of an inch away from real Larry.”

David’s body language was relaxed — leaning back in his chair in a comfortable, casual gray jacket and loose-fitting green turtle-neck shirt — but his countenance was anything but. ‘Don’t get me started,’ he seemed to be saying — and then he did exactly that.

Six years between seasons? Really? Why not just call it a day, and walk away? Why bring it back now?

“Why not?” David said, deadpan — or about as deadpan as Larry David gets.

“I’m not really a ‘misser,’” he added after a brief pause. “I don’t really miss things, people that much. But I was missing it. I was missing these idiots. So I though, ‘What the hell?’

“I got tired of people asking me, ‘Is the show coming back?’ I couldn’t face that question anymore. I wasn’t ready to say, ‘No, never.’ Instead I kept saying, ‘Oh, you know, maybe. Who knows?’ So then I thought, ‘I won’t have to be asked that anymore.’”

Curb Your Enthusiasm is about an irascible malcontent quick to find fault in others, and others are only too happy to fault him in return. TV Larry is a dedicated — some might say obsessive — golf player, even though he doesn’t have the temperament for golf. Larry is about anger and frustration. Golf is about unwavering concentration and keeping one’s nerve under pressure.

“Real Larry plays golf,” David said, when I pointed that out to him, “so TV Larry plays golf. See how that works?”

“Real Larry is Clark Kent,” executive-producer Jeff Schaffer chimed in, “and TV Larry is a neurotic Superman.” (Schaffer on set with David, right.)

“By the way,” Garlin told me, “what you’re seeing right here is actually TV Larry, because when we’re not here he talks just like you. Exact same voice.”

At the end of the tunnel, I ask David, when all is said and done and it’s time to finally call it a day on Curb Your Enthusiasm, could he envision a final episode where Larry is confronted by all the people he’s wronged over Curb’s nine seasons?

I guess that’s a Seinfeld reference?” David said, bristling. “A Seinfeld finale reference?”

Two times lucky? I suggested helpfully.

“What are you doing?” David said, voice rising. “What are you doing? I braved traffic to get here. You’re bringing up the Seinfeld finale. Shame on you!”

“Hi,” another writer said. “I’m down in front, behind him” — meaning me — “although now I’m afraid to ask you anything.”

“Be honest, Larry,” another writer called out, moments later. “Do people avoid you like the plague when they see you in public?”

“What the f—?” Garlin blurted out. “What are these questions?”

“Where are you?” David said. “Oh, there you are. What? Why do you think they want to avoid me? No, no, they, no, they—“

They love you?

“Unfortunately, they don’t avoid me.”

One wonders if engagement and daily interaction with people gives David fodder for Curb’s material.

“A lot of people think they’re providing me with fodder,” David said, “but they’re not. You know, all of a sudden I’ll write something down, and they’ll go, ‘Oh, did I just say something? Did I just give you that?’ ‘No, no, you didn’t. Shut up. No.’”

Inevitably, the present state of politics raises its ugly head, especially when the spotlight is on someone who made recurring appearances this past season on Saturday Night Live, as Bernie Sanders.

The world is very different than it was on Sept. 11, 2011, the last day a new Curb episode aired on HBO. The bar for what is outrageous in public life has been raised very high — or would that be low? How can David compete?

“Well, I don’t consider myself a prick,” David replied, deadpan.

“Here’s the thing,” Garlin said. “Our president is not funny, and Larry is funny. So I don’t see the competition. I don’t. I think one is completely sad, and one you turn to escape from the horribleness of the sad one.”

“Right,” Susie Essman said, firmly. “And one is mentally ill, and one is sane.”

“Gee,” David said to Essman, with the faintest trace of a smile. Just a trace, mind, with a hint of irony. “That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

Curb Your Enthusiasm returns Oct. 15. Until then, rememeber, no chat-and-cutting. No “pig parking.”’

There will be more catch-phrases where those came from in the new season, David promised.

“Nothing I want to talk about but, yeah, there will be some more,” David said.

“Don’t write about any of the clips you just saw,” he added. “Just don’t.”

“I just love that you just did that,” Garlin said.“Don’t write about the clip,” Garlin added, laughing. “Don’t even say he was here.”

David turned 70 earlier this month. A milestone.

“Extremely unpleasant,” David said. “Very unpleasant experience. Thank you for reminding me.”

He paused, looking back in anger.

“There will be no documentaries, suffice it to say.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post

 

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