Contrary to type, Larry David’s not at all neurotic


Three adjectives are often used to describe Larry David, the star and creator of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which recently premiered its eighth season after two excruciating Curb-less years.

One is “bespectacled,” which is fair enough. Another is “bald,” a signifier that David’s television alter-ego regards as a traditionally oppressed tribal identity (spitting in biblical fury when the assimilationists among this imagined fraternity of the hairless attempt to “pass” under the camouflage of a baseball cap or, God forbid, a toupee). Finally, and most ubiquitously, he is “neurotic.”

“Larry David plays himself as a bald, bespectacled neurotic,” The New York Times wrote in a review of the new season.

“Larry David plays a neurotic fussbudget named Larry David,” The Washington Post said in 2010.

“He’s officially an L.A. neurotic,” the New York Post recently bemoaned.

Far be it for me to argue with writers for such august publications. But having said that, I don’t think any of these people actually knows what “neurotic” means, other than a word you swap in when you think it’s impolite to say “Jew.”

I can’t speak to the inner tumult of the real Larry David, the writer and actor behind the bald, bespectacled mask. I’ve never met the man. (If I ever did, we either would circle each other silently in a moonlit forest clearing before gently pressing our foreheads together like unicorns performing a mating rite, or within five minutes each lie dead by the other’s hand.) Yet by any measure — and certainly compared to his Jewish comedic contemporaries — Larry David is a character remarkably free of internal conflict.

Psychoanalytic theory holds that neurosis occurs when the different parts of the personality are at war with each other. Now think of Larry David: He has no internal conflicts; he’s difficult, but he’s content.

Not for him the unrelenting angst of Albert Brooks or the comically tattered sense of self-esteem of Richard Lewis (a frequent “Curb Your Enthusiasm” guest star). As for the Grand Emperor of Neurotics, Woody Allen (and David’s director in the 2009 film “Whatever Works”), the two men’s public personas could hardly be more different. Apart from the glasses, the Brooklyn accent and their Jewishness, David is, in effect, the anti-Allen.

Skeptical? Consider, for a start, their attitudes toward women. A defining theme in Allen’s oeuvre, women are no more than an afterthought in David’s, and the latter gives his female stars far more interesting things to do. (Just think of Susie Essman’s volcanically foul-mouthed Susie Green.)

David is no romantic; he wouldn’t have lasted five minutes with a whimsical naive like Annie Hall.

In the first episode of “Curb” latest season, David’s divorce from Cheryl is finalized. First, though, there is a possibility of reconciliation, which David characteristically bungles. Cheryl leaves and then David just cuts to his divorce lawyer one year later. One can imagine Allen commemorating this event with a sentimental montage of happier times; Larry is more concerned with Dodgers tickets and whether his divorce lawyer is lying to him about being Jewish.

Nor does sex hold him in any particular thrall. In a recent episode, as Jeff, Leon and Marty Funkhauser are rendered all but catatonic by the bodacious ta-tas on Richard Lewis’ burlesque-dancer girlfriend — Lewis, in true Allen fashion, can only bring himself to admit he admires her for her mind — Larry calmly slurps his drink and later matter of factly informs her that she has a mole on the underside of her right breast that she really ought to get checked out.

In all realms, sexual David is refreshingly un-creepy. In the world of “Curb,” Jeff and Susie’s teenage daughter, Sammy, is Larry’s antagonist. In the world of Allen’s films, she’d be a love interest.

Their relationships with technology are at odds as well. Compare Allen’s famous war with machines to Larry’s primal rage at vacuum packaging. Allen blames himself for his difficulties. With Larry, it’s the package’s fault. For David, the conflict is always external, and this lack of introspection characterizes virtually all of his interpersonal actions.

When David refuses to add an additional tip for the servers at the country club, the problem isn’t his parsimony, it’s the server’s greed. He feels similarly in the right when he tries to rescind his order for Girl Scout cookies or screams at the neighborhood kids for serving him subpar lemonade. Why should he allow himself to be taken advantage of?

As far as Larry is concerned, his only problem is the unreasonableness of others. He might come off like kind of an a—hole, but that’s your problem, not his. He’s a self-actualized a—hole.

It’s tempting to ascribe David’s blind unconcern for the feelings and good opinion of others on his immense fortune, which is alluded to, if rarely explicitly stated — if I had half a billion dollars, I probably wouldn’t care what anyone thought of me either. But Larry seems utterly unimpressed by the trappings of wealth — he still buys his pants at Banana Republic, for God’s sake — and as such, I propose his bizarre self-confidence comes from another, deeper source: Virtually alone among his peers, Larry David has absolutely no ambivalence about being a Jew.

From his disgust at Cheryl’s enormous Christmas tree, to the glee with which he hangs a mezuzah with his father-in-law’s special Christ Nail, to his inadvertent rescue of a Jewish man from a mildly coerced baptism, David’s outlook is essentially tribal. To him, a Jew trying to pass as a gentile is as ridiculous as a bald man in a toupee. David’s comic pose is less that of the anxious assimilationist eager to fit in than that of the clueless greenhorn making his way in a world to which he’s not sure he cares to belong.

Or perhaps he’s even more atavistic than that. Neurosis is often defined as a focus on behavioral minutiae that can border on the obsessive-compulsive, but Larry’s many preoccupations, from the unwritten laws of dry cleaning, to the proper way to treat chauffeurs, gardeners and other laborers, to the irrevocable uncleanness of certain objects (pens that have seen the inside of Jason Alexander’s ears, $50 bills laced with Funkhauser’s foot sweat) recall another endless litany of unbending edicts: the Book of Leviticus. Larry David isn’t a neurotic; he’s just demanding. Like the God of the Hebrews. He can be kind of an a—hole, too.

This was reprinted from Tabletmag.com, a new read on Jewish life.

Interview with Larry David at “Curb Your Enthusiasm” premiere


David, ‘Seinfeld’ Cast Reunite, Rant


In its last two seasons, Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” pushed politically correct notions of Jewish identity and race to cringe-worthy and hilarious extremes. David, playing an exaggerated version of his misanthropic self, briefly made nice when he mistakenly believed he had been adopted and was not born Jewish, then he returned to his callous self when his wife — now estranged — took in an African American family that had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina. “So your last name is Black,” he says to the family upon their first meeting, arriving late to pick them up at the airport. “That’d be like if my last name were Jew: Larry Jew.”

Now the seventh season of HBO’s “Curb,” premiering Sept. 20 on HBO, will tackle a different kind of faux pas that the real David has condemned: the sitcom reunion show. In particular, a reunion of “Seinfeld,” one of the most successful television shows of all time, which David co-created with comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The show ran for nine seasons, from 1989 to 1998, and continues in reruns.

Although David had often dismissed the notion of a “Seinfeld” reunion as “lame,” he said at a press event earlier this year, it dawned on him that a fictional “Seinfeld” reunion on “Curb” could be funny. The four stars of “Seinfeld” agreed. As season seven opens, Larry’s wife, Cheryl, has left him, and now he is forced by social convention to care for his girlfriend — the matriarch of the Black family clan (Vivica A. Fox) — who may have cancer. The show plays out like an amped-up rant about life’s small irritations and unwritten “rules,” as was the form made famous by “Seinfeld,” but now with “Curb’s” nasty edge. Among the topics: the etiquette of whether one should help oneself to food from a friend’s refrigerator (“liquid’s OK,” as one character tells an irate Larry), and having to be nice to not-so-nice people who have cancer.

Based on the season’s first three episodes, which were provided to reviewers, it remains unclear whether “Curb” will carve new territory in its lampooning of the Hollywood rich, or if Larry’s habit of getting himself in trouble through a series of faux pas will ratchet up with ever-escalating humiliations for the character.

But seeing David on screen with his “Seinfeld” colleagues is more than satisfying, and sidesplitting. The cast appears in the season’s third episode, after it becomes apparent that Larry’s ulterior motives for spearheading the reunion are (surprise!) less than honorable. He disingenuously meets with each actor to hawk his proposal: “Why would we do something like this?” a skeptical Seinfeld asks, reminding Larry that usually, “You would look [at reunion shows] and you’d make that face, that very judgmental face of yours … you’d criticize and downgrade them for it, that’s your style.” Jason Alexander doesn’t buy Larry’s idea that George, his “Seinfeld” character, could have been married for a time, because he says George is “unlovable — a jerky, schmucky little character.” But Alexander does like the idea that a reunion show might make up for “Seinfeld’s” finale, lampooned in real life by critics for its harsh condemnation of the characters, who wind up in jail for their selfish behavior. This irks Larry, who — like the real-life David — says there is “nothing to make up for.”

Here’s hoping that this season answers one other lingering question about the older sitcom: Why was the obviously Jewish Seinfeld never openly described as Jewish on the show?

Beginning Sept. 20, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” will air Sundays on HBO.