The Inability to Change Larry David in Any Way

I have a conflicted relationship with HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. I can’t help but respect […]

David Zahl / 7.29.11

I have a conflicted relationship with HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. I can’t help but respect its no-holds-barred honesty about human self-centeredness, the undeniable gift Larry David has for bringing out the comprehensive absurdity of our attempts to justify our foolishness, the way our little agendas collide those of our loved ones, indeed how the little things in life tend to be the big things when you get down to it. But I’m conflicted because of what it lacks in comparison with his other major creation, Seinfeld. Namely, it lacks a censor. This is not a pious objection (not that there’d be anything wrong with that!). One of the chief factors that shaped the brilliance of Seinfeld was the FCC. When they wanted to talk about something dodgy – and they often did – they had to come up with creative ways to do so. And their solutions were frequently the funniest parts of the series (rewatch “The Contest” if you don’t believe me).

Curb, on the other hand, has free reign in the language/content department, and suffers for it. The vulgarity can be distracting – or at least, it ironically makes the humor less universal, rather than more so. Occasionally, it even veers into cheapness. That’s not to say the show isn’t ridiculously funny or embarrassingly true. Just that it’s not the artistic triumph that Seinfeld was. The crudeness makes it much easier for people to dismiss it’s portrayal of, well, depravity (“I would never do/say/think that!”). Plus, the pampered LA context is a lot harder to take, as is the unbridled anger. So I’m not recommending that you watch the show.

Like Seinfeld, though, Curb maintains David’s oddly moral vision. There may not be an iota of repentance in his characters, but that doesn’t mean he celebrates misanthropy. No, there are always consequences; these people reap what they sow (In Seinfeld, his idea to end the show on a note of profound Judgment – the moral, second use of the Law variety – really bothered a lot of people, revealing that even his “nihilism” had an endpoint). It’s a depressingly karmic or legalistic view of society – the first use of the Law run rampant, a view which Curb allows David to pursue more aggressively. Grace never enters the picture, remotely, nor does any real hopeful element (his disdain for Gentile religion isn’t exactly hidden). Which is kind of the point. Anyway, David appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone recently and had a number of interesting things to say:

He quit Seinfeld after seven seasons largely to avoid the pressure of topping himself. “There was this feeling that it’s not going to be as good,” he says. “I didn’t want it to fall off. You can’t keep doing this year after year; it’s going to be impossible. It felt like almost too much pressure, too much work. Who wants to work?”

[Speaking of his character on Curb Your Enthusiasm] “He’s my version of Superman,” adds David. “The character really is me, but I just couldn’t possibly behave like that. If I had my druthers, that would be me all the time, but you can’t do that. We’re always doing things we don’t want to do, we never say what we really feel, and so this is an idealized version of how I want to be. As crazy as this person is, I could step into those shoes right now, but I would be arrested or I’d be hit or whatever.”

David doesn’t want to talk about dating, but he does address Howard Stern’s recent assertion that he found it shallow to go out with women who were attracted to his fame. “Who cares? That’s fine with me if they’re interested in fame, that’s great! Bring it on, what do I care? I’m happy for it! Otherwise, what, do you expect somebody to like you for who you are? I was who I was for a long time, nobody seemed to care for it. Why else would somebody approach me? Who’s going up to a bald guy, an old bald guy? Nobody! If I wasn’t on television, who’s coming up to me? People would run from me, are you kidding? If I tried to flirt with a woman and she didn’t know who I was, she would run away.” He pauses. “And who’s not shallow, by the way?” I point out that his work demolishes the pretense that people aren’t shallow, aren’t selfish, and he nods empathetically. “Hear, hear,” he says.

“Part of my frustration was my inability to change him in any way,” says [ex-wife] Laurie David.

A quick ridiculously funny/case-in-point clip from season seven (LD plus kids always equals hilarious), with the obligatory vulgarity warning:



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