Curb Your Enthusiasm: Its Forgotten Origins
There’s Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. And then there’s Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm. Confused? Stay with us here.
The HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm is based on a 1999 Larry David HBO special, also called Curb Your Enthusiasm. Sounds like the same thing and in some ways, it even looks like the same thing. Except in the ways it doesn’t. Oy, this already sounds like a Curb plot.
The Curb Your Enthusiasm special was shot mockumentary-style, with talking heads like David and guests Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander speaking straight to camera. You know, pretty much like half of today’s sitcoms. But the thing was -- this was not only six years before The Office debuted in America, but also two years before Ricky Gervais’s BBC version changed the way we film TV comedy.
The plot of the special: Larry David was trying to decide whether or not he wanted to return to being a full-time stand-up comic.
“Originally Larry was going to do one-third the making of and half to two-thirds the stand-up act,” says Chris Albrecht, HBO’s then-head of original programming. “Not surprisingly, the first part was funnier than the second part because what Larry really was was somebody who had learned to take his point of view and translate it through a dramatized version of characters.”
David and director Robert Weide ditched the talking-heads, mockumentary style when they decided to do the series (although they kept the cinéma-vérité filming style and an improvised approach to the show’s dialogue). One other thing they dropped was cuts to Larry doing stand-up comedy. Maybe David thought that approach would be too similar to Seinfeld but the whole idea of Larry returning to stand-up was mostly ditched as well.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (the series) took a similar pick-and-choose approach to the show’s supporting characters. Familiar Curb personalities were kvetching right from the first special, including Jeff Garlin as the aggrieved manager and Cheryl Hines as Larry’s weary wife. But there were big differences as well -- Larry and Cheryl were parents in the original special, although we never got to see their fictional daughter.
The main thing both the special and the series have in common is Larry’s knack for awkward situations. In the special, Larry decides he no longer wants to return to stand-up so he makes up an excuse about his stepfather being in a coma. You could plug-and-play that plotline into just about any current Curb season.
In some ways, the original special served as the show’s pilot, though David says that was never the intention. “It was meant as a special,” he says. “I just was having a lot of fun because I was improvising, making it up on the spot. So, (turning it into a series became) very appealing to me.”
To recap: The fake documentary became a series that used elements of documentary filming to become a show about the fictional Larry David who was based on the real Larry David. Got it?
Good -- because now, to add to the confusion, there’s a new HBO documentary about Larry David that, in true Curb Your Enthusiam style, Larry David is mucking up.
Turns out that the real documentary was only pretty, pretty good -- in David’s opinion anyway. While Larry had done some small-scale interviews for the project, he ultimately determined that a career-spanning doc about his life should have a centerpiece interview filmed in front of an audience.
He decided this, of course, after the documentary was nearly finished and HBO had already dropped a trailer.
The Larry David Story was supposed to debut earlier this month. Now? Who knows?
It reminds us of stories about Larry David’s early stand-up days. There were nights when he was booked for a comedy gig and he would approach the microphone, take a good look at the audience, then return the mike to its stand. His line before his exit?
“Eh, I don’t think so.”
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Top image: HBO