The Inside Story of the ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Finale from the Man Who Directed It

Jeff Schaffer, the show’s longtime producer and director, says the twist ending is something he and Larry David have been keeping quiet for years
The Inside Story of the ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Finale from the Man Who Directed It

It was something of a bait-and-switch. Up until the last minute or so, the Curb Your Enthusiasm finale closely mirrored the oft-maligned Seinfeld finale, which Larry David had returned to Seinfeld to write back in 1998. There was a trial for Larry having violated an obscure law in another state, and character witnesses from beloved moments of the series who went on the stand to impugn Larry’s character. Larry was also found guilty and received the same sentence as the Seinfeld foursome: a year in prison. From there, Larry was in jail, and the camera slowly began to pull back from his cell.

But then, there was an immensely satisfying twist. An officer opens Larry’s cell door, and Jerry Seinfeld arrives to tell Larry that he’s a free man. Seinfeld caught one of the jurors — who were supposed to be sequestered — out at a restaurant, which caused a mistrial, overturning Larry’s conviction. From there, they engage in some very meta dialogue. Like when Jerry points to the jail cell and says, “You don’t want to end up like this. Nobody wants to see it.” And, as the two are walking out, Larry says, “This is how we should’ve ended the finale!” 

To mirror the Seinfeld finale so closely was certainly a gamble, yet it seems to have paid off as the day-after reactions have been largely positive (in stark contrast to the reactions to the Seinfeld ending). All of which was a relief to Jeff Schaffer, the director of the Curb finale as well as a longtime producer of the series, but it also wasn’t the only thing he was hoping the finale — as well as the final season overall — would accomplish.

How does it feel, a day after the Curb Your Enthusiasm finale aired?

We were always very happy with it, now we’re doubly happy that people are happy with it. Everyone’s hopped on board, which is great. Larry’s even happy!

When did Larry decide on the story for the Curb finale?

It was in June or July of 2022 when we decided, “This is how we’re going to end the show.” It wasn’t that we were sitting there thinking, “How are we going to end the show?” We were just working on the show episode by episode. We knew we were starting with the Georgia water stuff and that could, in one of the many possibilities, lead to some sort of courtroom, but we hadn’t been focusing on that. 

We were just talking about a story where Larry doesn’t want to get involved in teaching this kid a lesson, and as we were talking about how Larry is 75 years old and never learned a lesson in his life, we were like, “Oh, there is a way we could do this in a bigger way.” If we just keep telling the audience “Larry’s never learned a lesson in his life,” then we can just straight up do a trial and do the Seinfeld finale and do this meta joke. That was very appealing, and it worked out. In the end, it was sort of singular in its repetition. 

So it’s a secret that we’ve been keeping for almost two years. 

Why do you think it worked, in contrast to the way Seinfeld’s finale maybe didn’t?

I think this worked because it was funny. It was funny on a scene-by-scene level, and it was funny as a Curb episode with Curb stories weaving in through the trial. It wasn’t a clip show. It wasn’t a retrospective. It was an episode of Curb with Curb stories moving the plot forward. 

On top of that, you’ve got this broader context — this sort of big swing — that’s really not about Curb as much as it’s about Larry, and that’s what I love about it. It’s bigger than the show. It’s about Larry, the creator of Curb, saying, “Hey, you didn’t like what I did before? Fuck off. Here I come again.” But you don’t get credit for that meta joke if the scenes aren’t funny. 

So many outlets have taken this as a “Fuck you” to the people who didn’t like the Seinfeld finale. Is that what it is?

I take it as being about Larry. He did what he thought was funny, and now he’s doing it again. And he thinks it’s funny, and he’s right. He thinks it was funny the first time, and he was right, and doing it a second time is also funny. 

But there are some key differences between this finale and the Seinfeld finale that suggest that Larry did hear some of the criticisms the first time around and he either fixed them or subverted them. Or am I reading into this too much?

When we knew we were going to do the trial and this sorta meta joke, there were a few things that were very important. One was that there were lots of Curb stories, that our main characters weren’t passive, that Larry was active. We didn’t want Larry just sitting in the trial, taking it with a sour look on his face. That’s not fun.

In the Seinfeld finale, our beloved characters who had been so active in their demise, were pretty passive once they were in court. So, we made sure that all of our characters had Curb stories and that those Curb stories intersected in court at the worst possible time. We put a lot of work into that because you have to balance that overarching joke with the scene-by-scene jokes. That was something that was very important to us. 

The other thing was that we wanted to jerk the audience around a bit so they’re thinking, “How far are they going to go with this? Okay, we’re in a trial. Oh my gosh, he’s been convicted? He’s been sentenced? He’s going to jail? He’s in jail, saying lines from the first episode of Curb, the way they said lines from the first episode of Seinfeld? Wait, the camera’s pulling back? They’re really going to end like this?” 

Then we don’t. We wanted to bring everybody right up to the edge of thinking, “Holy shit, they’re just doing this.” But then we wanted to do more. We wanted to make you think we were doing the same thing and get all we could out of that, but then we had more to say.

A criticism of the Seinfeld finale is that, while the series was about not learning lessons, the finale seems intent on teaching them a lesson. Whereas, with the Curb finale, there are no consequences, so Larry doesn’t need to learn anything. Which suggests the real Larry learned a bit about what might have been wrong with the previous finale.

That’s one way to look at it, but the other way to look at it is how we build things more from a comedy perspective, less than a historical perspective. For us, it was important, not because of how the Seinfeld finale was received. It was important to pull the rug out and have this great scene with Larry and Jerry. When Jerry says, “You don’t want to end up like this. Nobody wants to see it. Trust me,” that was a great line for Jerry to say.

By the way, we didn’t figure out the line “This is how we should have ended the finale” until we were shooting with Jerry.

Jerry was so excited about this and loves the episode — he was just thrilled. That day, when we were done shooting, Jerry said, “You don’t get it, this is a joke that’s 25 years in the making. You’ll never get another chance to do a joke like this.” 

Because these two shows are intertwined, do you think this episode will change how the Seinfeld finale is perceived going forward?

I sort of subscribe to the Larry David philosophy that used to be, “If they weren’t watching on Wednesday, I don’t care if they watch on Thursday.” So, if you didn’t like it before, I don’t really care that you didn’t like it then and I don’t care if you like it now, to be honest. 

Larry and I watched the Seinfeld finale again when we knew we were going to do this. We watched it, and it’s pretty funny. I hadn’t seen it in a long time, and I was like, “That was actually pretty good.” Everyone’s entitled to their own thoughts, we’ve just never been that interested in them.

As a director, was there anything from that finale that made you say, “I need to match this exactly?”

The pull-out shot. That had to be right. We even toyed with playing the Curb music during that pull out, but it felt too heavy-handed. Larry felt — and he was right — that you could see our hand in it. It was too cute.

There were little things too. Like, “Why is there a dart board?” Because there’s a dart board in the Seinfeld one.

One other thing, directing-wise. The show could have ended with Larry and Jerry going “Oh!” and putting their arms up, but it was very important for us to end by saying goodbye to the whole cast. As written, the final scene had everyone arguing, then we sort of found Larry for a final shot. We had a few different ideas of how we’d find him, what the camera move was going to be and what his expression was going to be, and we shot a lot of different versions. 

Then, we were in the edit room, and Larry’s like, “This doesn’t feel right. We shouldn’t end on me. We’ve got to end on everybody.” He was 100 percent right because, whatever Larry’s expression was — and there were a lot of great ones — it felt sappy. It had this sentimental tinge to it that we didn’t want. Whereas, ending on them being active and being like they always are and always will be forever and ever, felt right. The cameras may be gone, but they’re going to be doing this for the rest of their lives. It was a much better way to go out. 

Leon’s story, with him watching Seinfeld for the first time, is great. I love when he goes to Larry, “Heard you fucked it up.”

At that point, the gloves were off. We’ve been hinting at this and hinting at this, then it was like “Let’s just hammer it home.”

I love how you see that joke coming. As Leon progresses in watching Seinfeld, you know he’s going to say something about the finale, and when he finally does, it’s hilarious.

This whole season ends up, in a good way, playing out like that. You think you know where it’s going. We thought we were hiding the ball a little better than we were, but once we mentioned a trial in those earlier episodes, people started to think about it. That surprised us, but then we were like, “That’s okay.” It’s totally okay for people to wonder, “Are they really going to do this?” And it’s okay that that wonder, in this episode, turned into a stark reality: “Oh my god, they’re going to do this.” 

For the trial, were there certain “must-haves” in terms of the witnesses to bring back?

If you’re starting to compile a list of the people Larry has wronged, it’s a long list. So, we wanted to winnow it down for pace — we wanted to make sure this didn’t feel like a clip show — but like a show show. Mocha Joe, must have. Takahashi, got to have him. Then there were some that were around, like “Oh, let’s get Vindman.” Having Vindman say “I will not tolerate corruption from Trump, Putin or Larry David” was too good of an opportunity to pass up. 

Everyone we wanted, we got. Iris Bahr came from Israel to do it. Larry had done an event at The Greek, and Bailey Thompson, who played the little girl from “The Doll,” was there and she now, obviously, was an adult. Larry had mentioned this to me, and I said, “We’ve got to bring her in.” We’ve been around so long, we can actually do this joke of this adult saying they’ve been in therapy for 22 years because of this thing that happened back in Season Two.

Was Jerry always a part of this finale?

Yes. It was vital to have him. If you’re going to recapitulate the Seinfeld finale, you want to have Seinfeld there to comment on it. We wanted him there for “Nobody wants to see this, trust me,” but we also wanted Larry and Jerry together again. Watching the two of them shooting the shit over hypotheticals, like a coffee shop scene in Seinfeld — I knew when we were shooting that, that that was going to end with those two friends laughing. You get to see how Seinfeld got created, with two really funny people just breezily chatting about crazy hypotheticals.

Is that scene vital for the show? Not in a story sense. But it felt really important from an emotional sense. This is a show about Larry and writing and his comedic legacy. We thought, “Let’s treat the world to seeing Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld riff on something again.”

What were the scenes that you went back in February to shoot?

Again, it was important for everybody to have their own fun scene, and we had this other storyline for Susie. It was a big, fun thing, but it wasn’t fitting with the rest of the show — it was too outside of the main thrust. We realized that was wrong, and we wanted to bring her story back into the court. So, the reshoot was putting her in the wheelchair. Then we had the intersection of the stealing of the salad dressing and Leon’s Big Johnson Community friend, Horsecock Williams’ sympathy-snatching story, and then having it come to a head in court at the worst possible time with Auntie Rae just exploding. She says a sentence that I know that has never been said in the English language before, which is “Fuck you and your monkey ass friend, Beersheba Munderman.” 

That scene with Ellia English as Auntie Rae on the phone, messing up the name is so funny. 

It was so funny. We were shooting her side of the phone call first, long before we shot the other part, and she was getting so worked up and she couldn’t remember the name. It was Journey Gunderson, which is a weird name anyway. She was messing the name up and she goes, “I’m sorry, what’s the name?” And I go, “I’m not telling you the name. Whatever the name is, that’s the name,” because it was so goddamn funny. We were laughing so hard. Larry and Jeff Garlin were on the other side of the camera, reading with her, and they were dying laughing. 

I don’t know if I’ve seen everybody laugh so hard ever on the show. When she was done with that whole thing, nobody had yelled “cut” yet, and everybody in the crew gave her an ovation. 

Do you have a favorite moment from the finale?

I love that opening scene on the plane. It doesn’t matter what episode you’re in, it’s just a really funny scene. Larry turning on his friends on a dime, but still leaving his phone on. I just love really love that scene. That was the last day of filming. We had the plane for one day, and we shot the beginning and the end together while we had the plane. 

I’m really just happy that it’s a funny episode of Curb. That’s the most important thing. Finales are hard and the press loves to eventize things where the finale somehow weighs more than all the other ones. Everyone’s worried all season about “How’s it going to end?” Don’t worry about how it’s going to end. Enjoy the journey — it’s a good season. 

The most important thing about the finale, though, is that it’s a really funny episode of the show you loved. That’s why Larry’s happy and I’m happy, and it’s been great to see today just how many people have watched it and are talking about it. It's just something that doesn’t happen anymore in our fractured TV universe.


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