OPINION: Here’s the thing about funny people like Larry David

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OPINION: Here’s the thing about funny people like Larry David

Journalist Darren Richman is unable to curb his enthusiasm for a legendary comic as the iconic show comes to a fitting close.

Larry David
Larry David

During his years as a struggling stand-up comic in New York, Larry David was in the habit of walking on stage in an army jacket while sporting a receding Jewfro and opening with the line, “I’ll tell you the thing about good looking people – we’re not well liked.”

Not only is this a perfect joke but it also displays the keen interest in popularity that would remain with the comedian all the way through to the pilot of Curb Your Enthusiasm in 1999, when the character Larry David complains to his wife Cheryl, “People used to like me… I’m beginning to sense a whole wave of antipathy.”

In a sense, the character could have been giving voice to the real Larry. The writer had reinvented the sitcom with his pioneering work on Seinfeld but 1998 saw the airing of that show’s finale along with his debut feature film, Sour Grapes. The former was one of the most divisive episodes of TV in the history of the medium and the latter a disaster, critically and commercially. How would Larry react to two failures on the trot after years of success? Well, as he says to Cheryl in Curb when she asks why he told their friend that his infant son is well endowed, he “took a risk”.

Larry had unfinished business. After close to a decade running the country’s biggest show, he wanted to perform once more.

Richard Lewis and Larry David in an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” (HBO)

That 1999 pilot was intended as a one-off special, an improvised hour built around an outline that would allow those involved to be unfettered by the constraints of anything as passé as a script. It worked, the actors had fun and so a series was commissioned. That series ended this month after a quarter of a century.

Some 35 years separates the beginning of Seinfeld from the end of Curb, an imperial phase of almost unprecedented length.

At 76 and after a Curb finale that perfectly put a bow on both iconic TV shows, Larry might well be finished with the medium he mastered.

Larry’s two masterpieces can be viewed as companion pieces, not least in the way the shows can be split into thirds.

The first third of both shows they are at their purest and truest to life, the middle third the plots are more convoluted and there is the highest percentage of classic episodes, the final third things become more outlandish and less consistent.

If Seinfeld explored the world of struggling singletons in New York, Curb put a successful, married man under the microscope on the opposite coast. There is clearly more than a hint of George Costanza in Curb’s Larry David but there is also an undeniable charm to the character. There is a misconception that this is a cantankerous man who goes out of his way to be rude to everyone he encounters but it is not borne out by the evidence. The Seinfeld characters were a product of all their creator’s worst impulses whereas Larry in Curb is the man the comedian who shares his name wishes he could be.

Darren Richman.

HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm is the fiefdom of Larry David and it is within these half hour episodes that he is able to act out his fantasies of living entirely by his own rules.

The hero is a “social assassin” and “victim of circumstance” who wants to know why things are as they are and, if they aren’t to his taste, why he can’t change them. The plots are often farcical but rooted in reality and, unshackled by the restrictions of network television, the creator and star has been able to explore themes like incest, the Holocaust and Palestine. There have rarely been objections because this is not some lazy hack but a master working at the very top of his game.

Seinfeld was often considered a “show about nothing” but at its best, like Curb, it was an examination of the minutiae of everyday life, the unspoken rules and implied etiquette that governs our waking moments far more than the high drama of most television.

At 76 and after a Curb finale that perfectly put a bow on both iconic TV shows, Larry might well be finished with the medium he mastered.

All this would have seemed unthinkable in 1989 when the Seinfeld pilot aired and a memo from one NBC honcho read simply, “too New York, too Jewish.” The specific is the universal and the more the writer has honed in on the specifics of his own personal experiences, the more he’s found fans across the globe.

The promotional material for the final season of Curb dubbed Larry, “the last of his kind” and, in comedy terms, that’s precisely what he is. And he can rest assured that the thing about funny people – they are well liked.

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