4 Times Larry David Spun SNL Failures Into Seinfeld Gold
In the pre-Seinfeld days of his career, Larry David was known as a “comic’s comic,” a comedian admired by his peers for his original, absurdist view of the world. At least that’s one definition of comic’s comic. In David’s dictionary, it “means I sucked.”
Saturday Night Live producer Dick Ebersol couldn’t have agreed more. He hired David, fresh off of SNL rip-off Fridays, to write for the show’s tenth season. Which is weird, because if a script “had the name Larry David on it, Dick shied away from it,” says Bob Tischler. David only got one sketch on the air for the entire season. In Ebersol's opinion, David sucked.
But in true Curb Your Enthusiasm fashion, David turned his misery into comedy gold. Here are four times he took SNL failures and polished them into Seinfeld successes.
The Phone Message
David’s fellow SNL writers have fond memories of favorite sketches that never made it to air. “One sketch was about a guy who left a message on his girlfriend’s answering machine that he regretted leaving, and he broke into her house to retrieve the tape,” remembers fellow scribe Andy Breckman. "And I believe, if I recall the sketch correctly, that it ended with the girlfriend coming home and the boyfriend killing her.”
Sound like fun! But David says Breckman is misremembering. “No no no. No murder. I think it was a courtroom sketch. Because my guess is he’d been arrested,” he says.
But even though Ebersol nixed the sketch, David did use the set-up on Seinfeld -- it’s his doppelganger George who wants to get back a message he left on an unfortunate lady's answering machine.
Another SNL writer, Elliot Wald, remembers a David sketch about someone trying to get a dead person's apartment at a wake. “And we were falling down laughing,” says Wald. But apparently, taking advantage of the dead wasn’t something Dick Ebersol found funny. The sketch, like nearly every other David sketch, was rejected. “And so my job became commiserating with Larry. And he’s so smart and so funny.”
It’s a good thing David had a filing cabinet for his rejects, because he was able to rework the concept into The Apartment. That’s the episode where an upstairs neighbor dies and Jerry is able to score the rent-controlled place for Elaine.
This is the one where art really imitated life.
It was a Saturday night (naturally) at 30 Rock, with a live show just about to go on the air. A fuming David, incensed because “probably six or seven sketches” were cut from the show, ripped hard into Ebersol.
“That’s it. I’m done. I’ve had it. I quit. It’s over.” (Other versions of David’s story feature more colorful language. Frankly, the F-bomb rendition is more believable.)
As David stormed out and began his long walk home in the freezing New York winter, it didn’t take long for regret to settle in. “Oh my God, what did I just do? I just cost myself like sixty thousand dollars!” And that wasn’t counting rerun residuals.
So David, at a time where he could really use the cash, came up with a plan. He just went to work on Monday morning as if nothing happened. “I was getting some very strange looks from the writers,” admits David. “Like, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’” But Ebersol never mentioned it.
The real-life SNL misery was repurposed for a classic Seinfeld when George quits his job, only to pretend it never happened.
One more real-life Larry David debacle was mined for sitcom greatness. He had just left Saturday Night Live so he was essentially unemployed, just like his comic counterpart George. But his SNL bona fides impressed the friends of Monica Yates, yet another recent addition to the unemployment line after losing her job at Vanity Fair.
The two dated for three months but the relationship didn’t work out. Given David’s romantic persona, that’s no surprise. But what did shock David was how easily and successfully he and Yates transitioned from romantic partners to good friends.
So Yates became David’s model (at least in part) for Elaine, Jerry’s platonic bestie. David would even call his pal Yates to read Elaine scenes to her once he got the Seinfeld gig. Yates' father was the novelist Richard Yates, himself the model for Elaine's fictional dad, cranky author Alton Benes.
Let that be a lesson for the next time a relationship doesn’t work out: You can always repurpose your pain into sitcom immortality.
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Top image: Castle Rock Entertainment