Larry David: More Enthusiasm, Curbed

Steve Inskeep talks to the writer, comedian and creator of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David. The show — which features David's stock in trade, painfully awkward situations — is kicking off its fifth season on HBO this weekend.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

When you talk to the writer and comedian Larry David, it's hard to tell if his life is imitating a sitcom or if his sitcom is imitating his life.

Mr. LARRY DAVID (Comedian): Hi, Steve. I'm sorry I'm a little late.

INSKEEP: Why were you late, anyway?

Mr. DAVID: Well, there was a little traffic, but I made an unbelievable move to even get here five minutes late.

INSKEEP: What was the move? Was it legal?

Mr. DAVID: I made a turn from the wrong lane, totally illegal.

INSKEEP: Do you realize how many people you may have endangered?

Mr. DAVID: I didn't endanger anybody because I'm very safe. I always look. My defensiveness in life really helps me as a driver.

(Soundbite of laughter; music)

INSKEEP: Larry David has a gift for taking an ordinary conversation and transforming it into something truly annoying. David was one of the creators of "Seinfeld." These days, he's the writer and star of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," which begins a fifth season on HBO this weekend. David plays himself in the show, and he puts himself in one painfully awkward situation after another. In this episode, he steps in the door to encounter his wife, played by Cheryl Hines, who says, `Larry, we need to talk.

(Soundbite of "Curb Your Enthusiasm")

Mr. DAVID: It's over?

Ms. CHERYL HINES: Whatever.

Mr. DAVID: The marriage?

Ms. HINES: Why would our marriage be over?

Mr. DAVID: You said, `We need to talk.'

Ms. HINES: Yeah, we need to talk about Marty Funkhouser's party.

Mr. DAVID: Oh, OK.

Women have broken up with me many times and they've always introduced it with, `We need to talk.' So I'm just sort of conditioned for that response.

Ms. HINES: And when women broke up with you, did you light up like that?

INSKEEP: Even though Larry David writes every program, he seems to arrange for the worst insults and embarrassments to be hurled directly at him. That says something about what he'll do for a laugh and also about the way he sees the world.

Mr. DAVID: When you're prone to catastrophic thinking, they come to you.

INSKEEP: What do you mean by catastrophic thinking?

Mr. DAVID: Well, I always think the worst things are going to happen here, because I'm--basically inside, I'm a bad person, and so the bad kind of takes over.

INSKEEP: You don't sound like you believe that.

Mr. DAVID: No, I do believe it. I think we're all good and bad, but good's not funny. Bad is funny. Suppress the good and let the bad out, and then you can be funny.

INSKEEP: And when you spend a lifetime doing that, what happens?

Mr. DAVID: Well, you don't have too many friends, I'm afraid.

(Soundbite of "Curb Your Enthusiasm")

Unidentified Man #1: Oh, I went by Leo's Delicatessen(ph). You know what's up on the board? A brand-new sandwich called the Larry David.

Mr. DAVID: Neal(ph) named a sandwich after me?

Unidentified Man #1: Neal named a sandwich after you.

Mr. DAVID: You're kidding?

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah.

Mr. DAVID: What is it?

Unidentified Man #1: Let's see, there's whitefish, sable, capers, onions...

Mr. DAVID: What?

Unidentified Man #1: ...and cream cheese.

Mr. DAVID: What?

Unidentified Man #2: That's the sandwich?

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah. You've got a sandwich!

Mr. DAVID: That's a disgusting sandwich. Really?

Unidentified Man #1: All right. I'm going to get something to eat. I'll see you in a minute.

Mr. DAVID: OK.

INSKEEP: You're getting to the point in this television program where television programs traditionally have started to go downhill.

Mr. DAVID: Yeah. Well, it's not going to happen this year, unless you're jinxing it. But, you know, also in a way, sometimes you feel like a cab driver, too. When I used to drive a cab, when I would drop somebody off, I would think, `Oh, my God, that's the last fare I'm ever going to get.' Because you could drive around for 20 minutes without ever picking up another passenger. And then, of course, you get another fare, so sometimes I feel like that was an idea.

INSKEEP: For people who are not familiar with the program, can you explain the way that it is written and the way that it is produced?

Mr. DAVID: OK. I don't write shows with dialogue where actors have to memorize dialogue. I write the scenes where we know everything that's going to happen. There's an outline of about seven or eight pages, and then we improvise it.

INSKEEP: And you might do it several times until it gets sufficiently insulting.

Mr. DAVID: Yes, exactly. By the way, there's nothing funnier than people calling you vile names.

(Soundbite of "Curb Your Enthusiasm")

Unidentified Man #3: It's idiots like you that cause this whole society to be going crazy with violence.

Mr. DAVID: No, I'm not a violent...

Unidentified Man #3: Shut up!

Unidentified Man #4: You know what you're looking at? You're looking at 245 pounds of twisted steel and drop your bony butt to the curb appeal. I will body-slam you so hard that you will poop your bald pants. Hear me?

INSKEEP: Having watched a few seasons of this, I have to tell you I enjoy it, but sometimes, I actually get so embarrassed for the characters, usually you...

Mr. DAVID: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...that I actually have to leave the room. I can't watch it anymore.

Mr. DAVID: I've heard that.

INSKEEP: Is that what you want?

Mr. DAVID: No, I don't do that intentionally. I wasn't aware of it until somebody pointed it out to me.

INSKEEP: Really?

Mr. DAVID: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Isn't that where the humor is, though? I mean, you want to push people right up to that edge where they...

Mr. DAVID: Well, I--when you're leaving the room, I thought other people were laughing.

(Soundbite of "Curb Your Enthusiasm")

Unidentified Man #5: Dr. Gramb, this is my friend Larry David.

Mr. DAVID: Hi, how you doing?

Unidentified Man #5: He's my dermatologist.

Mr. DAVID: Hi. Really?

Dr. GRAMB: Oh, yeah, what, for 15 years already?

Mr. DAVID: Even with the whole affirmative action thing?

Unidentified Man #5: What do you mean the whole affirmative action thing? I don't...

Mr. DAVID: Oh, it was a joke.

Unidentified Man #5: Oh, now he's...

Mr. DAVID: So I wasn't...

Dr. GRAMB: So if I wasn't black, you would have said the same thing or not?

Mr. DAVID: No, don't take it...

Unidentified Man #5: No, no, no...

Dr. GRAMB: You know, Richie, I've worked too hard and too long at this. I can't do this.

Mr. DAVID: I--no, look, I--I've...

Dr. GRAMB: No, no, no, I can't do it.

Unidentified Man #5: I've...

Dr. GRAMB: I don't know what his trip is, but I can't do it.

Mr. DAVID: It was a joke.

Unidentified Man #5: I know it's a joke.

Mr. DAVID: I was just trying to be affable.

Unidentified Man #5: Look, I'll see you tonight. We'll try to--hopefully, we'll resolve, you know...

Mr. DAVID: I tend to say stupid things to black people sometimes.

Unidentified Man #5: Stupid things? That's like...

INSKEEP: Can you try to give us some sense of your influences, who you look to?

Mr. DAVID: My parents and the environment where I grew up in Brooklyn. Everybody knew everyone's business and constant screaming all the time.

(Soundbite of "Curb Your Enthusiasm")

Mr. DAVID: What?

Unidentified Woman #1: What happened to the cookies?

Mr. DAVID: What? I ate them.

Unidentified Woman #1: What? You ate them. They were for the manger scene. You ate the baby Jesus and his mother Mary.

Mr. DAVID: I thought they were animal cookies.

Unidentified Woman #1: Animal cookies.

Unidentified Woman #2: Animal cookies.

Unidentified Man #5: Animal cookies.

Mr. DAVID: I thought he was a monkey.

Unidentified Woman #1: A monkey?

Mr. DAVID: You know what? I'll make it up to you.

Unidentified Woman #3: How are you going to make it up to us, Larry? OK. You just swallowed our Lord and Savior.

Mr. DAVID: I used to do a line in my act that I had a wonderful childhood, which is tough because it's hard to adjust to a miserable adulthood.

INSKEEP: I wonder if you eavesdrop on other people's conversations and situations and make something of that sometimes?

Mr. DAVID: Mmm, I'm not really an eavesdropper.

INSKEEP: You're more focused on yourself?

Mr. DAVID: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Larry David, thanks very much.

Mr. DAVID: Hey, thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Did I miss anything important here?

Mr. DAVID: Oh, just everything, but don't worry about it.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: "Curb Your Enthusiasm" with Larry David begins its fifth season on HBO this weekend.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is back on Monday. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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