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Larry David: How I Became ‘Nature Boy’

On his path from poor schmuck to rich prick, the comedian went from radical narcissist to radical environmentalist

Actor, Larry David, Natural Resources Defense Council

Actor Larry David performs at the 'Earth To LA - The Greatest Show On Earth' event benefitting the Natural Resources Defense Council in Los Angeles, California on May 6th, 2004.

Vince Bucci/Getty

I am pleased to announce that after a lifetime of indifference to man and nature, I have changed. I am now only indifferent to man. Yes, my friends, I’ve become “Nature Boy” Larry, committed activist. Fighting the good fight. Walking the walk … or is it talking the talk? I’m pretty sure it’s some combination of walking and talking.

How could such a transformation take place? How did I go from being Larry David, radical narcissist, to Larry David, radical environmentalist? Let me give you some background.

I grew up in Brooklyn. Of all the wonders and pleasures that Mother Earth has bestowed upon us, none of them could be found in Brooklyn. The only grass I ever saw was on the divider of the Belt Parkway. There were no flowers. Just artificial ones. Every apartment had artificial flowers. People took great pride in their artificial flowers – and fruit. Let’s not leave out the fruit. Anything fake. We loved good, fake things. The greatest compliment you could give somebody was to mistakenly pick up a piece of their artificial fruit and try to take a bite out of it. That made their day.

But I couldn’t smell a real flower anyway. I was born with the ability to smell only disgusting things. I never smell anything pleasant. Ever. You can shove a lilac up my nose, and I wouldn’t smell it, but urine and BO I can smell from three blocks away. And Brooklyn was not wanting for disgusting odors. Bus fumes, garbage, cigarette smoke. Everybody in Brooklyn smoked. Even nine-year-olds. You walk into someone’s house, you’re greeted with smoke in the face. The whole borough was hacking and coughing and spitting. There was phlegm everywhere. It was flying at you from every direction. Out of windows, cars. Anywhere you walked, you had to keep ducking so you wouldn’t get hit. It was like a shooting gallery.

And of course, needless to say, there were no animals in my life. My mother hated animals. All of them. If she had her way, she would kill every living animal on the planet. She looked at extinction as a good thing. When an animal was put on the endangered-species list, she went out and got drunk. “Let ’em all die. Who needs ’em? What good are they doing?”

And nobody ever went hiking in Brooklyn. The only time you took a hike was when someone told you to go fuck yourself. Then you took a hike. Then you got the hell out of there in a hurry. “You’re right, sir. Perhaps it is time for a little afternoon stroll. I think I’ll be moseying on.” There was nothing in nature we appreciated. Sunsets were mocked. The moon, in particular, held no fascination for anyone. I don’t think I ever heard anyone even use it in a sentence. Nobody ever said, “Hey, check out the moon!” We never gazed at it. We didn’t do any gazing. Well, people never looked up in general. We were too busy traversing a minefield of dog excrement. That’s why, to this day, I can’t look anyone in the eye, because, after spending many an afternoon throwing my sneaker away and hopping home, I became fixated on looking down.

So as a result of my background, I’ve never done anything outdoorsy. I don’t hike, I don’t ski, I don’t fish …. . . I would if you could catch conservatives. I wouldn’t throw them back so fast, either. I’d let them flop around on the deck for a while. “It was wrong to lie about Saddam having nuclear weapons, wasn’t it?” “Yes, yes.” “In fact, the whole war was a big mistake!” “Yes, maybe.” “No, not maybe! It was a mistake!” “OK, it was a mistake. Throw me back. Please!”

Anyway, whatever harm’s been done to the environment – and I know there’s been a lot – it’s never really affected me personally in any way. That is, until a few months ago. The first thing that happened was I noticed something on my face. And it turned out to be a benign skin cancer, which was caused by ozone depletion! Cancer! On me! From ozone depletion! All right, it was benign. Of course, when people noticed the bandage and asked me what happened, I told them it was cancer. You know, I played it a bit. It’s the first time anyone’s felt sorry for me since they published my income eight years ago.

When you have money, the only way you can get any sympathy at all is to say you have cancer. You could lose a limb, no one would care. Only when they know you’re going to die do you get anyone feeling sorry for you. And even then, some people don’t. “Serves him right, rich prick.” That’s what I am now, a “rich prick.” Prick always follows the word rich. If you’re rich, you’re a prick. Just the way schmuck always follows the word poor. So I went from a poor schmuck to a rich prick without hardly any transition. Of course, I was a poor schmuck longer than I’ve been a rich prick, and frankly, I’m not that much happier as a prick than a schmuck. I never thought I’d become a prick. Neither did my friends. They said, “He’ll never be a prick!” And then, boom, I’m a prick. Now I have all new friends. All pricks. Schmucks call me from time to time. I say, “I can’t talk to you. I’m a prick.”

So I had the skin cancer caused by ozone depletion. OK, it was benign, they took it off, not terrible. I’m OK. My life goes on. But then a few weeks after that, I was reading the newspaper when something caught my eye, and what I read has changed my life and inspired me to write this piece. I’ll sum it up in one word: tuna. That’s right, my friends, tuna. I read that there’s mercury in tuna, and it’s just not safe to eat it anymore. Oh, sure, there’s mercury in a lot of other fish, but I don’t care about those other fish. I care about tuna. How am I supposed to live without tuna? What am I supposed to have for lunch?! I’ve been ordering tuna for lunch every day since I was ten years old. This has been the only decision of my life that I can make every day with any degree of certainty and feel good about it. And I was a tuna connoisseur. I could tell the difference between Bumble Bee and StarKist. I made my own. Me, in the kitchen – chopping and dicing! I had my own recipe, with pickles and peppers.

Oh, sure, there’s been peanut butter every now and then – but that’s only when tuna’s not available. I couldn’t eat peanut butter every day. And I can’t eat BLTs or grilled cheese because of cholesterol. What am I supposed to have – soup? Soup’s too distracting. There’s too much to do, and it always spills when you get it to go. And I don’t want anything on a plate. Lunch is a sandwich. You don’t eat lunch with a fork. You pick up lunch with your hands. Now the lunch decision is the hardest decision of the day. It’s painful – nobody wants to eat with me. The other day a waiter asked me what I was having. I said, “Whatever.”

And all because of what? Mercury. Because nobody in our government cares if there’s mercury in tuna. Well, I care, and I am going to do everything I can to stop it, so I can start eating tuna again. I hope you, too, will do whatever you can to help, so that once again I can sit down at a restaurant and say, “A tuna sandwich on whole wheat toast, with lettuce and tomato …. . . hold the mayo.”

In This Article: Coverwall, Larry David

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