Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Takeaway of the Larry David Comedy Era

Over the course of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s over two decades on air, Larry David was many things: rude, mean spirited, obsessive, over the top, and… surprisingly relatable? While Larry definitely has moments of going way too far, there were also so many times where he really spoke for the grump in all of us. So now that the show has finally wrapped up its final season, let’s take a look back at how the show built this simultaneously off-putting and deeply relatable character.

“I’m 76 years old and I’ve never learned a single lesson in my life!”

Larry Is All Of Us… Kind Of

When Curb Your Enthusiasm began at the turn of the millennium, viewers were treated to the ultimate cringe comedy: the curmudgeonly Larry David, an only slightly fictitious version of the real Seinfeld co-creator, got himself into increasingly stickier situations because of his inability to keep his mouth shut. Over the run, characters and viewers alike balked at some of Larry’s more outlandish choices and opinions, while also other times… kind of agreeing with his grumpy ridiculousness.

It’s not like the show treats Larry like a saint. All of his wounds are self-inflicted, and he is the king of making mountains out of molehills. Unlike other epic, dramatic shows on HBO, no mobster gets whacked, and no somewhat incestuous royals fight for power. Instead, Larry finds himself annoyed by minutiae like a French man parking badly and not knowing his friend put him on speakerphone, and feels the uncontrollable urge to take action. And as we’re watching through our fingers, Larry acts as our id, making us think “What if I actually yelled back at the guy who cut me off in traffic” or “What if I thought my wife was gonna die in a plane crash but when she calls me, trying to say her final goodbyes I instead badger her about our DVR?”

Is Larry David… a Hero?

Larry David always stands up for himself and his needs, and occasionally sometimes accidentally and sometimes intentionally – stands up for what’s right. Take for example, when Larry buys his girlfriend’s flamboyant son Greg a sewing machine, after he’s heard so much about the son’s love of fashion.

“It’s a sewing machine! It’s a sewing machine! I’m going to make the Gone With The Wind Costume!”

His girlfriend and Susie accuse Larry of turning Greg gay. But Larry affirms his correctness and in so doing, perhaps without even meaning to, takes a progressive position: he got Greg something he knew he wanted, rather than think of the optics of what that present might make him seem like.

Larry committed another somewhat heroic act, when a Girl Scout visiting his house gets her first period there. Larry gives her a tampon and through a closed bathroom door, with some characteristically Larry humor tries to help her use it. Larry’s genuinely happy when she succeeds, but her father, Larry’s friend is not.

“He’s very upset about it.” “Oh come on if her nose is running and she needed a tissue I would have given her a tissue. Same thing.”

By equating a tampon to a tissue, Larry is, in his own way, destigmatizing a tampon, and genuinely helping someone in need.

The show uses these moments of genuine good to show the positive things that can come from Larry’s more abrasive nature – sure, he can cause a lot of problems, but he’s also not afraid to do the right thing for fear of social stigma. But, of course, there’s also the other side of Larry’s whole thing…

Larry’s Unforgivable Mistakes

Larry David is immune to analysis of his show himself: the man who coined the Seinfeld motto “no hugging, no learning” and admitted in a recent retrospective event that he didn’t want to hire actors who cried at Curb auditions because he doesn’t want sadness in his shows, insists he’s just making a simple comedy designed to make people laugh. But where Larry David the person ends and Larry David the character begins is murky to say the least, and the show seems to judge Larry’s foibles more harshly than the real David might his own. Because when Larry makes these errors in judgment and lashes out, the show punishes him for it, as the other carefully plotted threads of the show begin to unravel.

Over the course of the show, Larry makes tons of mistakes, some of which he owns up to, and some of which make him feel even more indignant. The show often toed the line between holding Larry accountable and letting him off the hook – but whether he ever actually learned anything or grew as a person is a different question (and the answer is no.) Take, for example, when Larry tries to avoid an awkward hug from a friend in Season 11, he steps in dog poop and throws out his shoes, leading him to walk around an event at a Holocaust museum in just his socks. But when he sees it’s raining outside, he decides to steal a pair of shoes – from a Holocaust museum exhibit. Instead of defacing an exhibit and stealing from Holocaust victims, he could have chosen to ruin his socks, called an Uber right to the museum door, or hitched a ride with one of his many friends attending the event. Instead, Larry tap dances out of the museum. Larry feels no real remorse, yet the show does give him some well-deserved payback, destroying one of his season arcs. He was dating a councilwoman, Irma, who he despised, just so she’d help repeal a law about pool fencing. Her finding out about the Holocaust museum shoe-stealing made her relapse and begin drinking again, making her miss the meeting to repeal the law, and Larry can’t even break up with Irma because her AA sponsor doesn’t want him to. This is the karma balance in the Curb Your Enthusiasm universe: Larry commits an offensive faux pas (sometimes even a possible felony) and then has to spend more time with the only person who is more miserable than him.

Larry’s actions are often in a moral gray area, but another situation that leaves a particularly bitter taste in one’s mouth is when he asks out a woman, not knowing she’s in a wheelchair, and saves her as “Denise Handicap” in his Blackberry. He’s initially reluctant to date someone in a wheelchair, but they seem to have a genuine connection. When Larry loses his Blackberry and therefore her number, he misses the “perks”, like getting tables at crowded restaurants. So Larry essentially subs Denise out and dates another handicapped woman, who he calls Wendy Wheelchair. When the two women find out about each other and (rightfully) confront Larry, he responds by escaping… down the stairs.

Who the hell is this?” “Wendy Wheelchair.” “Who is she?” “Denise Handicap.” “You son of a b*tch.”

Everything about this episode, from the name calling, to the discrimination against dating people with disabilities, to swapping out one date in a wheelchair for another, to wanting to be with someone mostly for the perks, is deeply cringeworthy, morally wrong, and highlights the worst sides of Larry’s behavior and ego.

A Very Larry Ending

In the series finale, called “No Lessons Learned”, Larry is put on trial for a surprisingly good deed. He unwittingly broke a (real) law that prohibited him from giving a bottle of water to a dehydrated woman in line to vote. The trial – similar to the end of Seinfeld – devolves into basically a clip show, where some of his many nemeses show up to discredit him. But even when Larry is about to be sent to prison, he can’t stop acting like himself. His lawyer makes an impassioned plea, and instead of paying attention, he has a beef… with a fly. He tries to get the jury’s sympathy by having Susie dress up as his disabled girlfriend, yet he can’t even bring himself to be nice to her or make a convincing lie about their relationship.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? I would’ve carried you up the steps. It’s fine, it’s fine. Such a brave girl, oh my god what a surprise.”

Larry is found guilty and sentenced to prison time (sound familiar?) – but instead of being stuck to deal with the consequences of his choices, Jerry Seinfeld shows up and finds a way to get the case thrown out, allowing Larry to avoid learning a lesson yet again. Even the plot of this episode is a very “Larry David” sort of move. It echoes the Seinfeld finale, which audiences hated but Larry has always defended

“It could make up for the finale. That’s for sure.” “What does that mean? Make up for the finale? There’s nothing to make up for.” “It could really let us end Seinfeld on a good note. It could be like, we know, we’re sorry.”

In the Curb finale, Jerry Seinfeld shows up as meta-commentary on the Seinfeld finale and even jokes that getting out of prison on a loophole is how they should have ended Seinfeld.

“This is how we should have done the finale.” “Oh my god, you’re right. How did we not think of that?”

By Larry constructing the finale in this way, it’s like he’s arguing with the audience that his initial creative vision was right. And isn’t that the ultimate Larry way to end a show?

Larry David: A Living Meme

Even if you’re not a grumpy old man, you can probably remember a time when the undisclosed “rules” of society felt unfair, penalizing, and absurd. Maybe you don’t care about seeing a house tour if you’re going to someone’s new place. Or maybe you hate when someone cuts in line just because they saw someone they know, otherwise known as a “chat n cut.”

She’s doing a chat n cut.” “A chat and cut, really?” “She’s feigning familiarity with someone she vaguely knows for the sole purpose of cutting in line.” “You’re sure?” “Positive.”

For the past thirty plus years, with Seinfeld and now Curb, Larry David has perfected the idea of finding the underpinnings of society and pulling them out. Larry rejects the idea of social cohesion – of everyone acting a certain way because it’s the “nice” thing to do – to ask, selfishly yet correctly, what am I getting out of this? And in some cases, him being nice actually ruins his day, making him double down even further. Larry can’t even hold an elevator door open for a fellow patient at the doctor’s office, because her getting there first means she’s getting seen by the doctor before him.

There’s no need to get upset. We have a policy in this office that you are seen as you sign in.” “What is it, like a bakery? You pick a number, the first number goes?!” “It’s first come, first serve.”

In his own way, Larry is the epitome of “no good deed goes unpunished.” And so his often selfish (but not technically wrong) seeking of some type of justice connects to us as the audience on a deep level: even though we’d never go all out like Larry, it can be entertaining to watch someone play out your less charitable thoughts on screen. We’re not relating to Larry because he’s aspirational: we’re relating to him because he says what we’re all thinking.

It’s also the gleeful way in which Larry, the performer, and the character laughs at himself. He never sees his own foibles, and he’s proud of it. When he busts someone for chat n cutting, he doesn’t care that she’s mad at him. He’s laughing to himself. In the finale, he happily tells the child in the hotel lobby that he’s “never learned a lesson in his life.” In a society that often shames people for being who they are, or expressing their opinions, Larry, through his great position of power and privilege as a rich, accomplished, famous man, doesn’t have to feel shame, or regret. He’s in the eternal world of a sitcom character, rejecting any negative feelings toward himself, laughing his way to the bank. While it is grating that the vast majority of us don’t share that freedom, it can be fun to watch and live vicariously through. And as the series ends, we’re comforted by the show returning to its familiar rhythms. We see Larry and his friends, back on a plane, arguing about minutiae, for forever and ever.

Why don’t you use the overhead light?” “Just let her keep the shade up.” “I’m trying to watch a movie, all I see is glare. It’s like I’m watching a f*cking radio right now!”