Being Larry David
The Co-Creator of Seinfeld Plumbs the Depths of his Own Neurosis
Listen as Scott Simon talks to Larry David
Oct. 27, 2001 -- Poor Jason Alexander. The man who made "Costanza" a household word finds himself typecast as a "schmuck." Thanks to the landmark character he played on Seinfeld, the only parts he gets offered are for "the jackass role."
Or so says "Jason Alexander," the character that Jason Alexander plays in a guest appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm, the HBO sitcom that stars Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld. In the show, Larry David plays "Larry David," a man very much like himself, but not quite.
Larry David, right, doesn't agree that Jason Alexander's Seinfeld character George Costanza -- which David based on himself -- was a schmuck.|
Photo: Home Box Office
Confused? Wait, there's more. Larry David (and "Larry David") patterned the character George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander (and "Jason Alexander"), after himself. So when "Jason Alexander" complains on the show to "Larry David" that he's been typecast as a schmuck, "Larry David" is understandably insulted. If Costanza's a schmuck -- because he ate an éclair straight out of the garbage, say, or took part in a masturbation-abstention contest -- that must mean that "Larry David" is a schmuck.
But how does Larry David feel? Or as Scott Simon asks Mr. David on Weekend Edition Saturday, "Is Larry David Larry David, or is it the reverse?"
Larry David is not sure. "I should have called myself Larry Davis," he replies in his trademark tone of weary resignation. The character, he finally concedes, is "not actually me, but it is close."
If Seinfeld was, as has been argued, a "show about nothing" in the Kierkegaardian sense, then Curb Your Enthusiasm takes us into Sartre country. It is a show about nothing but David's deepest fears, neuroses, and annoyances. Hell, for him, is other people. All other people. Indeed, all people, including himself.
One episode, based as usual on actual events, concerns the auctioning off of Mr. David's lunchtime companionship. Mr. David is mystified as to why anyone would find him interesting enough to actually pay money to have lunch with him. "People are invariably disappointed when they meet me," he says. The show bears this out. The lunch, suffice to say, does not go well.
In its excavation of the darkest, most humiliating corners of Mr. David's personality, the show is indeed not unlike Seinfeld. But there are other comparisons to be made. It is somewhat akin to, but not really derivative of, The Larry Sanders Show another reality-blurring cable vehicle that explored mid-life male angst and self-loathing. In some ways, it's a more-controlled version of the comedy of neurosis-king Richard Lewis, who has appeared as a guest star. But, based as it is so closely on Mr. David, it couldn't help but be truly original. One episode, "The Thong," had Mr. David plotting to escape his therapist, a pudgy, middle-aged gentleman whom Mr. David saw wearing the offending garment on the beach. The site was so ghastly, so horrifically traumatizing for Mr. David, that he simply couldn't bring himself to face the man any longer. But he was equally afraid of telling his therapist why he was leaving, so he pretended to be cured. In this, he was less than convincing.
Mr. David is a notorious pessimist. The former standup comic was positive Seinfeld would be a flop. When it actually got renewed for a second season, he was equally positive that he would not be able to come up with any more episodes. The show went on for nine years. The more successful it became, the more miserable he grew.
Things are different this time. Curb Your Enthusiasm, now in its second season, seems to be working as a sort of therapy for Mr. David. "I'm really having a pretty good time," he says, admitting that this is a highly unusual thing for him to say. Looking back on his life, "every experience is mostly regrettable."
•The official Curb Your Enthusiam Web site.