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Comedian Susie Essman Explains Larry David's Genius

'I never try to make it funny because I know that if Larry set it up, it’s gonna be funny,' says 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' actress

July 20, 2011 8:30 AM ET
 Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman, and Larry David
Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman, and Larry David attend the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" Season 8 premiere.
D Dipasupil/WireImage

The only marriage to survive the latest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm is that of Larry David's manager Jeff and his wife Susie – even though they have perhaps the least romantic chemistry of any television couple in history. Susie – portrayed by comedian Susie Essman – lives in a state of perpetual and hilarious rage: To her, David is a "four-eyed fuck" and her husband is a "fat fuck."  We spoke with Essman about her long run on the show, her memories of Larry from his stand-up days and the essence of his genius.

What do you remember about Larry from the stand-up days?
He was legendary, the ultimate comic’s comic. His material was just brilliant, as you can imagine. But there were also nights when he would just  walk on stage, look at the audience and be like, “Nuh-uh, I don’t think so,” and just walk off. Nobody did that! I used to emcee all the time at Catch a Rising Star, so there was always that moment when we’re ready to go, “And please welcome Larry David!” – that moment where we’re passing each other and he’s going on and I’m coming off and he’d always say to me, “Stay close, stay close.” With Larry you always had to stay in the room ‘cause you never knew if he was just gonna do two minutes, he could just walk off the stage. What’s interesting is if I said to all the comics back then – Chris Rock, Colin Quinn, Jon Stewart, Joy Behar – “Larry’s going to be more successful than any of us,” nobody would have believed it. Not that he wasn’t brilliant – he was – he just didn’t have that kind of driving ambition.

He more or less says that he doesn’t agree to a season unless he’s pretty sure he can top the previous season.
It's hard. These outlines are so complicated. I know putting together these outlines is so brutal for him. Once we’re shooting I think it’s just pure joy – he loves every minute of it – but putting the outlines together is just really complicated and difficult and he makes it look easy but it’s not. And that’s why I think Larry’s a genius – and I don't use that word lightly. One of the joys of working with him is always just complete clarity. He knows exactly what he wants. He’s really clear and for me as a comic it’s really great to work for him because I never have to think about being funny. So often I’m given a script and I have to figure out ways to make it funny. I never think about being funny on Curb. I just think about my character. I just get into character and think about what’s going on in the scene. I never try to make it funny because I know that if Larry set it up, it’s gonna be funny.

Larry said that in his mind his character couldn’t be married if he wasn’t married. Does that make any sense to you?
Yes it does. When he wrote the split-up with Cheryl, he was still married. People don’t believe that for some reason. But Larry works on a very deeply unconscious level that even he’s not aware of. As an outsider, I can see it. He doesn’t want to analyze it, that’s not his personality, he’s not analytical, but I think that that’s basically it. That if he’s not married, he doesn’t want to be married fictitiously, either.

I was talking to someone that said, this is like the two months that Larry’s very content and happy with himself. Does that sound right to you?
He's very happy and content when we’re shooting. We're such a tight-knit family, really. And I think that he really enjoys editing. I think it’s the writing of the outlines that’s the part that he doesn’t like. And then the indecision of – I mean I haven’t heard if we’re doing season nine, I’m hoping. Personally, I just feel like we are, it just doesn’t feel done to me, but that could just be my wish, because I have renovations still on my house. [Laughs.] It's more than that. It’s the best job that I’ve ever had, and I just love shooting, and we just have so much fun.

What is the essence of his genius, if we’re going to say that?
I think that it’s the thumbing his nose at social conventions, and he’s completely baffled by social conventions. He doesn’t see the world that way. And the thing that you have to realize is that Larry's very concerned about justice. This is right, this is wrong. And he’s concerned about that in the world. He’s very political, and cares, always cares about the little guy and the underdog and how people are being treated. It’s one of the reasons why the crew loves him so much. But he really, really has a tremendous sense of morality, and the injustices of the world I think are something that really disturb him. That life isn’t fair, I think really bothers him, and I think that that is one of his driving forces. And you know what, he’s absolutely correct. You don’t act like a pig and take up two parking spots. It’s also piggishness that I think really disturbs him. He doesn’t like rudeness, he doesn’t like piggishness, he doesn’t like injustice. And he’s right, and I think that that’s what people respond to. He just goes about saying it wrong, tactlessly.

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JB Smoove On Michael Richards, Larry David and a Possible 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Spin-Off
'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and 'Seinfeld' Writers Talk About The Legend of Larry David
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