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How Larry David Earned Your Enthusiasm

From stand-up and ‘Seinfeld’ to ‘Whatever Works,’ how David has become one of the most successful names in comedy

Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld

Photograph by Mark Seliger for RollingStone.com

Back when Seinfeld was still airing in prime time, the star and his cast mates were household names, familiar to millions. Far fewer had heard of the show’s misanthropic mastermind, Larry David. Even though he co-created one of the best-loved series in television history, it wasn’t until lightning struck a second time with Curb Your Enthusiasm that Larry David came out from behind the curtain and won widespread acclaim on his own. Of course, the follicly challenged funnyman already had plenty of projects under his belt before Seinfeld, and he hasn’t stopped making them since.

Here’s a look at most of the domain that Larry David has mastered over the years.

By Joe Berkowitz

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Standup Comedy (1974-1979)

After graduating college and serving in the National Guard, young Larry David struggled while working a slew of odd jobs around New York City. It wasn’t until 1974 that he performed at his first open mic night in Greenwich Village; at the time, he lived in an apartment across the hall from an intrusive neighbor named Kenny Kramer who would eventually prove to be an important inspiration. David also spent a lot of his time with a fellow up-and-coming standup by the name of Jerry Seinfeld.

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‘Fridays’ (1980-1982)

By 1979, Larry David had become a regular at Catch a Rising Star, the comedy club that served as a training ground for New York’s biggest breakout talent. It was here that David came to the attention of executives at ABC who were putting together a comedy variety series to compete with a hit show on NBC called Saturday Night Live. The result was Fridays, a drug-friendly sketch show that managed to lure fans away from SNL during a rebuilding year, before getting canceled after its second season. It was here that David first worked with future collaborators Michael Richards and Larry Charles.

Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld

Ron Galella/WireImage

‘Saturday Night Live’ (1984-1985)

Having paid his sketch comedy dues with a couple years working on Fridays, Larry David seemed primed to take Saturday Night Live by storm when he was brought on board the seminal show. Considering his gift for assembling smart comedic set pieces, success in that environment seems like a foregone conclusion. The reality was that in his time on SNL, only one of David’s sketches was actually performed on the show, and it aired at the very end of the episode. Although he quit writing for Saturday Night Live after completing a full season, during his tenure there he managed to begin an enduring work relationship with the future Elaine Benes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

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‘It’s Garry Shandling’s Show’ (1987)

Before they would go on to create arguably the two funniest series ever to air on HBO – The Larry Sanders Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm – Garry Shandling and Larry David briefly worked together on Showtime. Although David only wrote a single episode of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (and under the pseudonym Mac Barnes, at that), his contribution is significant because it marks the sole collaboration between two innovative comedic heavyweights, at a time when they were just starting to come into their own.

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‘New York Stories’ and ‘Radio Days’ (1987-1989)

Before he became a standup comedian, Larry David had his sights set on becoming an actor. It’s no surprise, then, that even after he’d begun making his name in television, David’s desire to act in movies didn’t vanish entirely. During the early 1980s, he landed bit parts in odd films with titles like Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? His greatest achievement in this endeavor, though, was the opportunity to cameo in a pair of movies from his spiritual predecessor in neurotic Jewish humor, Woody Allen. In this scene from Allen’s New York Stories, the two briefly share screentime together, which in retrospect is like seeing Socrates square off against a young Plato.

Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld

David Hume Kennerly/ Getty Images

‘Seinfeld’ (1989-1998)

When Jerry Seinfeld got a deal to develop a sitcom based on his act, he immediately involved his friend, Larry David. The two set out to make a wholly original “show about nothing,” but ended up instead filtering their unique worldview through the lens of a traditional sitcom. David played a pivotal role behind the scenes in both crafting and maintaining the offbeat tone of what was originally entitled The Seinfeld Chronicles. Not only did he serve as showrunner, but he also wrote some of the most famous episodes, such as “The Contest.” Although he (memorably) appears on the show as the man in the cape and the voice of George Steinbrenner, his most visible contribution to the show is as the model for the character of George Costanza.

Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld

Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

‘Sour Grapes’ (1998)

Larry David’s first post-Seinfeld project, Sour Grapes, remains the only film that he’s written and directed to date. An acerbic morality play about a falling out between two friends over money, the movie mostly serves as a window into its creator’s sensibility. While containing none of the huge laughs and payoffs that Seinfeld was known for, the movie has plenty of Seinfeld's almost aggressively snappy banter and little annoyances writ large. Critics panned the film (“I can’t easily remember a film I’ve enjoyed less,” Roger Ebert sniffed), and audiences mostly stayed away. Perhaps it was this perceived failure at the box office that pushed David on to the next arc of his career.

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‘Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm’ (1999)

In the late 1990s, Larry David decided he was ready to return to stand-up comedy after having spent a decade away from it. When he mentioned his plan to comedian and actor Jeff Garlin, the conversation shifted to whether this process should be documented on-camera, and to what end. This idea, of course, formed the nucleus of the HBO special Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm. In the mockumentary, Larry is seen performing in comedy clubs and bickering offstage with his manager (played by Garlin) and his wife (played by Cheryl Hines). Somewhere along the way, it became obvious that the idea might produce more material than just a one-off special.

Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld

DreamWorks/courtesy Everett Collection

‘Envy’ (2004)

Larry David’s next film project was essentially a remake of his previous one. Like Sour Grapes before it, Envy is also about a falling out between two friends over money, only this time there’s a product involved called the Vapoorizer. (The less said, the better.) David conceived of the story idea with Steve Adams, and allegedly co-wrote the script. In the credits, however, he is only billed as executive producer. It’s not hard to see why he wouldn’t want his involvement publicized more; while Sour Grapes bombed with Craig Bierko and Steven Webber as the leads, Envy starred Ben Stiller and Jack Black at the height of their commercial powers, and it still tanked.

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‘Entourage’ (2004)

During the first season of Entourage, when Jeremy Piven’s super-agent character required a star with some cred to play one of his clients, HBO insourced the role to Larry David. The network isn’t shy about crossover appearances for its comedy series: Mike Binder, the creative force behind the network’s short-lived Mind of the Married Man, had shown up in a winking cameo on the previous season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, acting offended that Larry didn’t watch his show. David’s scene in Entourage was easily the more flattering of the two.

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‘Ricky Gervais Meets . . . Larry David’ (2006)

Apparently one of the perks of becoming famous and well-respected within your chosen field is getting to meet your heroes . . . and conduct lengthy televised interviews with them. Ricky Gervais capitalized on this opportunity after achieving international acclaim with The Office and Extras, wrangling interviews with, among others, famously reluctant interviewee Larry David. After getting comfortable, the Curb Your Enthusiasm creator proves a congenial interview subject. Seeing Gervais’ polite deference during this meeting between two luminaries helps put David’s growing stature in the comedy universe into perspective.

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‘Hannah Montana’ (2009)

One key difference between the Larry David character on Curb Your Enthusiasm and his real-life counterpart is parenthood. The nonfictional Larry David has two young daughters, and as recently as 2009 they were major fans of Hannah Montana. As a favor to the girls, David put in a cameo appearance on the wildly popular kids’ show that year as a fictionalized version of himself. (A role he had racked up plenty of experience playing.) As comedian Aziz Ansari noted on his Tumblr once the clip hit the internet: “LD KILLING IT EVEN ON HANNAH MONTANA. DUDE IS MY HERO.”

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‘Whatever Works’ (2009)

In the third season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, one of the all-time great directors (Martin Scorcese) recruits Larry David for a big role in his new movie, despite having not acted in over a decade. Several years later, reality mirrored television when one of the all-time great directors (Woody Allen) recruited  David to star in his new movie, despite having not played anyone but himself in years. Whatever Works is the result, a film based on a script Allen originally wrote in the 1970s. Larry David as the Woody Allen proxy in one of the director’s movies seems like a convergence so fitting it would have probably just occurred eventually, without either party’s consent. Luckily we don’t have to wait around for that to happen.

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‘The Marriage Ref’ (2010)

Fresh off a reunion with the whole Seinfeld cast on Curb Your Enthusiasm the previous year, Larry David continued to feed the public’s thirst to see him and Jerry Seinfeld back together by appearing on the latter’s new network show. The Marriage Ref is one of those high-rated nonscripted series that, paradoxically, nobody seems to watch. On a panel that also includes Madonna and Ricky Gervais, Larry David appears to sense this lack of viewership and proceeds to simply cut loose until the show’s over.

Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld

Photograph by Mark Seliger for RollingStone.com

‘Three Stooges’ (2012)

Larry David co-created what might be the greatest network sitcom of all time and followed it up with one of the best comedy series ever to air on cable. During this illustrious career he had the good fortune to work with two of his old school comedy idols: Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. Soon he’ll get the chance to pay homage to an even earlier batch of comedy stars – his next movie role is in the Farrelly Brothers’ Three Stooges. This time, however, he’ll be playing the diametric opposite of himself: a Catholic nun. Hey, whatever works!