Once, when filming an episode, David forgot to bring back the clothes he wore in his original scene. This mishap led to one of Curb’s best episodes, Krazee-Eyez Killa, where David races around LA to find an exact replica of a sports coat he wore in the fictitious Martin Scorsese film he’s starring in.
“How the show gets written is Larry comes in and says, ‘Oh my god, do you know what happened to me last night?’,” Schaffer explains of the everyday nuisances – people who take up two parking spots, eavesdropping waiters, dinner party fiascos – that worm their way into Curb. “This guy did this and I should have said that. But Show Larry will say that, because Show Larry is the neurotic Superman to Larry’s Clark Kent. As long as he keeps walking around in the world, he’s going to get himself into trouble – and that’s going to get on the show.”
“You would imagine him sitting by himself in the corner just waiting for the scene to start,” says Hines of filming Curb, crossing her arms in imitation of the curmudgeon David portrays on-screen. “But he is the exact opposite of that. When Susie is reaming him out he is so happy, it makes him joyful.”
Hines is referring to Susie Essman, who plays the wife of David’s on-screen manager Jeff and has at her disposal a Rolodex of alliterative insults – “four-eyed fuck”; “misanthropic moron” – for when David commits yet another social indignity. She and David have been in each other’s orbits since their days at Catch a Rising Star, the comedy club where they used to share the stage with the likes of Chris Rock and Jon Stewart.
“My recollection of Larry in those days is him standing around the bar, regaling his tales of dating woes,” says Essman. “All of those became George’s storylines [on Seinfeld]. He’s somebody that knows how to use his life as a goldmine. But if I said in 1986 that Larry David is going to be richer and more successful than any of us, they would’ve laughed in my face. He was always a brilliant comedian, but he was never the kind who could connect with an audience. He was not going to have a career as a standup comic.”
But if David’s comic sensibilities didn’t translate on stage, they surely do on set, where he often thinks of lines mid-take and can barely stay composed while he delivers them. “The great thing about Larry is he’s writing as he’s acting,” says Schaffer. “It’s like a live comedy sporting event. He’ll be in a scene and start to laugh because he knows what he’s about to say.”
That approach not only brings out the best in David, but in his co-stars, too. “I have gotten some comedy scripts that are so not funny,” says Essman, “and they say, ‘you can make it funny.’ No you can’t! That’s not my job. But I know that if Larry sets it up and it’s supposed to be funny, then it’s going to be funny.”
JB Smoove, whose character Leon takes refuge in David’s house in season six, becoming his brother-in-arms and misanthropy, routinely runs into fans who quote his best lines back at him. “I was in New Orleans, helping my wife and kids out of the car door,” Smoove tells me. “Some guy did a drive-by and said ‘get that ass, Larry!’ We’re still living off lines we said nine years ago.”
Fans are ready for David to once more be their voice of reason in an unreasonably chaotic time. According to Smoove, there is no one better to help navigate the fraught political terrain. “This is a good time for honest humour,” he says. “Comedians have the highest tolerance for pain, for rejection, and we take it, filter it through our own bodies and spit that shit right back out.”
Though it first aired 17 years ago, Curb – and the lovable, incorrigible pariah at its core – still has plenty to say: “As long as there are awkward situations and petty grievances and social interactions that don’t go the way you think they should, Larry’s voice will ring true,” says Schaffer. “The one thing we’re always making more of is terrible people. That tap is still flowing quite nicely.”
Curb Your Enthusiasm returns to HBO in the US at 10pm on 1 October, and in the UK at 10pm on 2 October on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV.