HE MIGHT NOT AGREE, BUT LARRY DAVID IS LOOKING pretty, pretty good here in the Pacific Palisades sunshine on this Tuesday afternoon in late spring. His symmetrical head is tanned to a golden sheen from endless weekend rounds of golf, its eggish shape recapitulated in each of the lenses of his wire-rimmed glasses; the gleaming white of his well-tended teeth matches the lupine sideburns that extend from his fringe of hair. He’s wearing a familiar-looking outfit: a blue sport coat over a gray sweater with a zip-up neck, khakis, suede sneakers — as usual, it’s all from his Curb Your Enthusiasm wardrobe, underwear excepted. •
“Here’s the question,” David muses, leaning against a parking meter. “With the hair technology they have now, would I have made use of it if they had it when I started to lose my hair? I was a good candidate. Sometimes I have these fantasies of just moving to a foreign country and coming back with a full head of hair.” He cracks up, though he’s not exactly joking. “Or not even come back! Make a new life there with hair. Starting anew with a full head of hair. Change my name, just see what happens.”
Two teenage girls walking by smile and wave when they spot him — he offers a cheerful hello. David is standing in front of the pink-stucco facade and green awnings of Cafe Vida, a local health-food place where he just picked up a kale-infused green drink — part of a strict health regimen that he’s hoping will forestall death, or at least infirmity. As the dry-cleaning lady who nearly slept with his character in one Curb episode observed, he is, at 64, quite fit: three days a week of weights, two days on the exercise bike, all that walking on the golf course.
David just finished running an errand across the street, which went smoothly. On Curb, HBO’s longest-running show, the task would have caused a misunderstanding that would spiral into calamity — and then unexpectedly intertwine with another social disaster or two to create roughly 28 minutes of deliriously hilarious awkwardness. Such is the stuff that has made him one of the most influential comedy auteurs of the past quarter-century — reshaping the sitcom as co-creator of Seinfeld, and then doing it again with the improv-heavy Curb, which paved the way for Judd Apatow’s loose, naturalistic comedies, and opened the door for The Office and Parks and Recreation.
Today’s successful errand entailed picking up a just-repaired pair of glasses, the long-since-discontinued Oliver Peoples frames he’s been wearing since 1990, back when he had just started as executive producer of Seinfeld. “I can’t find another pair of glasses,” he says. “I just like them. And now it’s too late to change, even if I didn’t like them. It would be like getting a toupee. It feels like a big step.”
This is a good time to catch up with Larry David. He’s finished all 10 episodes of Curb‘s new season, and hasn’t yet begun agonizing over whether to do more, which could, in turn, lead to the even more painful process of writing another set of episodes — or rather, assembling eight-page outlines that set up the improvised dialogue, a process he likens to “putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle.”
“This is the sweet spot for Larry, when the show’s in the can,” says his friend Richard Lewis, who’s known him since they were sports-camp rivals somewhere around I960, two Brooklyn Jewish kids who hated each other on sight. “Walking around like Fred Astaire, dancing around, saying ‘hello’ to people. It’s like some weird animal on the Discovery Channel that hides for 11 months and then comes out — it’s the Larry David that only lasts for, like, a month.”
Hands in his khaki pockets, David strolls back to his mint-green Prius, parked conveniently around the corner. (“Is there anything better than a parking space? It’s so satisfying.”) Starting the engine, he says that losing his hair “wasn’t as bad as you’d imagine it to be. Not as bad. When I look in the mirror, I don’t really see a bald guy. I see bald when I see myself on TV. As I’m talking to you right now, I don’t feel bald. I know that I’m bald, but I don’t feel bald. Shouldn’t I feel bald?”
Driving along, he grins in appreciation as a middle-aged woman hustles across a crosswalk. “She’s not strolling, holding up traffic,” he says. “She’s being considerate of cars, and very few pedestrians have any consideration for cars at all.”
IT STARTED, BY THE WAY, WITH what a TV show would call a cold open: My cellphone rings one afternoon, and Larry David’s assistant puts her boss on the line. We’ve never spoken before, but he doesn’t bother saying hello. “I’m sick about this,” David says, by way of introduction. “I want out.”
Fifteen minutes earlier, he says, he had pecked out an e-mail on his BlackBerry canceling his Rolling Stone cover story — but never hit send. “I figured, ah, it’s too late,” David says. “It’s like my marriage: You’re already committed. You don’t want it, but it’s too late.” (Later, he adds, “I don’t even know why I’m doing this. My parents are dead — this is the kind of thing you do when your parents are alive. It must be for women.”)
He sighs, and we talk logistics — the kind of thing every other celebrity would have their publicists and assistants handle. We decide that I’ll fly to L. A. the next week and hang out with him there. “What is this, a buddy movie?” David says, raising his voice as if he’s arguing with Richard Lewis in a restaurant. “We’re going to become best friends now? Next week is going to be all Larry and Brian?” He adds a warning: “You have to make all the plans. I’m not making any plans.”
I interject a sputtering protest — if I decide where we go, it will reflect me, not him. “That’s the point!” David says, sounding exactly like a triumphant George Costanza. “There’s nothing that reflects me! I’m unreflectable!”
The next week, David greets me with a smile at the door of his two-story, four-bedroom Mediterranean-style house, also in Pacific Palisades. The house sits directly on the golf course where he plays. “This is my post-divorce house,” he says. David split from his wife of 14 years, environmental activist Laurie David, in 2007, and they now share custody of their two teenage daughters. They have an unusually amicable relationship, meeting up for regular Sunday-night dinners with the kids and spending holidays together. “He’s so much better as an ex-husband,” says Laurie. “He takes ex-husbandry to a new level.”
He doesn’t exactly paint the breakup as a tragedy. Before he found the house, he lived for a while in an oceanfront Santa Monica apartment complex informally known as Divorce Towers. A recently separated Hollywood executive lived in an adjoining apartment. “He would open the door to go to work, and I’d open my door,” says David, “and you’ve never seen two happier people. We were just delighted.” (Laurie calls this kind of talk “pure bullshit.” “Breaking up is hard to do. It’s torture,” she says. “But I think he’s happy now. For a guy who spends endless hours on a golf course, it’s best not to have a wife waiting for you at home.”)
It’s 11 a.m., and David has finished his weights workout in the basement gym and had his first health shake of the day, plus some hot cereal with rice milk and blueberries. He pours me a third of a glass of coconut water from a glass bottle with a handmade label. “I’m not going to give you that much, you know why? Because it’s too valuable! I can’t spare more than that. You may think this is me being chintzy, but for me to give somebody this much coconut water, this is a huge deal.”
We sit down at a rustic wooden table in the hardwood-floored living room, just off the kitchen — it brings to mind the bit from last season’s Curb about “respecting wood.” It turns out his daughters are offenders. The table was one of the first pieces of furniture he had on his own, and he was initially protective. “I’m like, ‘Come on, put a coaster down.’ They don’t want to live like that.”
David grabs a golf club and walks out back, where there’s a small yard, a tiled deck, an infinity pool that he doesn’t use (“I don’t care for water. I love to shower, don’t get me wrong”) — and a jaw-dropping view of his country club’s golf course, green and inviting in the endless distance. He starts practicing his swing. “See, if I could do that out there, everything would be fine,” he says, after a particularly smooth stroke. “It’s kind of sad! I feel very bad for the wealthy man — everything’s not going his way.”
He’s supposed to keep his head down when he swings, but something — some psychological block — gets in his way. He’s tried to fix it, gone to coaches, but nothing’s worked. Is he a hopeless case? “I’m a hopeless case only insofar as I’m concerned; nobody else would consider me a hopeless case,” he says, heading back inside. (In fact, he’s a decent golfer, with a handicap of 13.) He thinks for a second and begins to laugh uncontrollably. “There’s something very funny about the term ‘hopeless case,’ you know? I think that from the time I became a teenager, I think somewhere deep inside me, I felt or I knew that I was a hopeless case. Not golfwise but lifewise.”
When did he make this determination? “I don’t know, it must have been one of those moments where there was an attractive woman and I didn’t have the courage to walk up to her,” he says. “It must have been a moment like that. I’d always watch the guys who were smooth with the women and be in awe of them — cool guys who could say anything and behave in any way. I really admired those guys, even if they were criminals. Even if they were reprobates, I admired them. Anybody who was considered cool, I admired.”
His dad worked in the garment industry, and his mother worked for the city. David grew up in a Brooklyn household that he remembers as “raucous. Ruckus and raucous. My aunt lived next door, and we were very friendly with the other neighbors across the hall, so there were three apartments in arm’s length of each other, and people constantly coming in, in and out, fighting, screaming. I had an uncle and my grandmother upstairs, and another cousin upstairs and two more cousins and my aunt and uncle next door, and I just remember it as being very busy, and a lot of yelling. My parents fighting, my father fighting with my brother, my mother fighting with my brother, I’m fighting with my mother, my mother’s fighting with our sister, I’m fighting with my cousin, there’s all kinds of fights going on, and yelling, and also, everybody knew your business.”
He hated that part. “You would do something during the day, and then all of a sudden, during dinner, my aunt would come in and say, ‘So, Larry, I hear you have a date.’ ‘How would you know something like that?’ ‘Larry, I heard you talking to Stella’s daughter.’ Everybody knew everything. It was very smothering.”
David was a smash in an eighth-grade play in junior high (he played a woman), but he quit performing for a decade after an incident in summer camp. “Once I auditioned for something and a kid called me a faggot, and that kind of registered with me: ‘Oh, is that what I’m going to have to put up with if I do this? Because I’m not going to be able to handle that.’ One ‘faggot,’ and I was done! Profiles in courage.” (It gets better, little Larry.)
He went off to study history at the University of Maryland, with no particular career in mind, and never stepped on stage there. He had enough trouble adjust ing to the sudden advent of hippie style: “I was not going to wear bell-bottoms, I knew that. And my Jewfro could only go to a certain length, and after that, it was a problem. And I couldn’t do hippie talk, I couldn’t adapt to the lingo, I had a very difficult time with the lingo. ‘Man . . . It just wouldn’t come out of my mouth, I couldn’t bring myself to use those words. I was too uptight to say ‘uptight.'” He couldn’t smoke pot, either — the Curb episode where he starts screaming at himself in the mirror was an accurate depiction of his reaction to THC. (And he wasn’t a fan of coke in the next decade: “That’s another one I didn’t get. It did nothing for me, and the sharing of the nostrils — that was so repugnant.”)
He lost his virginity around age 20, and never felt like he got any of the era’s free love. “It was like an all-gentile country club, and I wasn’t allowed in. I couldn’t get in the club. They knew that I was trying to sneak in, they knew that I wasn’t really a part of the culture, and they go, ‘No, no, we see through you, you can’t come in.'”
There had always been trouble in this area. “A kiss was really a fascinating thing to me, because there were pictures of people having intercourse; you could see how that worked,” he says. “You knew what an erection was, you knew where it was supposed to go, so you could see the dynamic of it, but you’d see people in the movies kissing, and you had no idea — what were they doing? There was no camera in the mouth. I was very trepidatious about that. I avoided it for a long time, because I obviously wasn’t going to do it right.
“Also because I didn’t want to be discussed as not being good,” he continues. “I knew there was a big gossip factor. I didn’t want that humiliation of walking down the halls and people going, ‘He doesn’t know how to kiss.'” When he finally did kiss a girl, at age 15, it didn’t go well. “I saw right away that I didn’t know how to do it. I put my mouth on someone, and that’s all that happened, and then I withdrew and made up an excuse, and I didn’t do it again.”
David was an athletic kid, a good basketball player, but a worrier practically from birth. “I was afraid of things. I was afraid of the dark, afraid of being alone, afraid of death, afraid of robbers, afraid of failure.”
THE WORD “NEUROTIC” FEELS too easy — but how else to describe Larry David? “It’s not the classic neurotic, it’s an original neurotic,” says Laurie David. “It’s his own category. The kids are driving for the first time, he’s not worried. Sleepovers, not worried. Kids in the pool, not worried. He worries about, you know, someone poisoning his food — like, crazy things.”
He quit Seinfeld after seven seasons largely to avoid the pressure of topping himself. “There was this feeling that it’s not going to be as good,” he says. “I didn’t want it to fall off. You can’t keep doing this year after year; it’s going to be impossible. It felt like almost too much pressure, and too much work. Who wants to work?”
Now, each season of Curb Your Enthusiasm is the last season. Even after he’s deep into crafting new episodes, he reserves the right to pull the plug. Two telephones, one green, one red, sit on the bookshelves in David’s Santa Monica office, a gift from David Mandel, Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer — the three former Seinfeld writers who have been working with David on Curb since Season Five. “We got him those as a joke,” says Berg, “because we kept saying, like, ‘Red phone! Seasons off!'”
“There’s hardly anything I’ve ever done that I didn’t want to back out of,” David says, before paraphrasing a line he put in George’s mouth in a Seinfeld episode, “I’ve never had an appointment in my life where I wanted the other person to show up.”
As David and the writers plot out each episode on a dry-erase board in his office (which currently holds a list of his golf clubs instead), they hit a point about three-quarters through the story where all seems lost. Says Schaffer, “Every time, he goes, ‘Is this one harder than all the others?’ We go, ‘You’ve said this every time, every episode.’ We put a spot on the dry-erase board where we know he’s gonna say it.”
Adds Mandel, “We’ll do, like, the first two episodes, and those will come pouring out. Then in the third one, we’ll hit two story lines that aren’t connecting. And then, all hope is lost. ‘We gotta shut this thing down.’ When the stories are pouring out, he’s like a gambler riding the high, and then when it turns, ‘We’re never gonna solve this. We’re never gonna get this!'”
The trivia of everyday life can be just as fraught. After we leave his house, David drives over to his Santa Monica office, where the plan is to order in soup and salad. But as his assistant, an exceptionally patient young woman named Laura, heads out for soup, he hesitates, entering a Hamlet-like state of tortured indecision. “Maybe we should go out for lunch,” he says. “Do you want to go out?” He sits at his desk, hands folded beneath his chin, and begins making thoughtful popping sounds with his tongue, wordlessly weighing his options for what feels like forever.
“This is pretty much his biggest decision of the day,” Laura says, waiting in the doorway. “I better cancel the soups.”
“Nah, get the soups,” David says, suddenly decisive.
“Ehhh,” David says, hands folded at his chin, back in deep thought. I suggest flipping a coin. Finally, after a long interval, he hops to his feet. “Lets go out!”
David’s friends have better eccentric-Larry stories. (A quick one: He recently tried to get Lewis to have dinner with him at 4:30 p.m.) Years ago, Cheryl Hines, who plays his long-suffering, now ex-wife, was talking to David on the phone while he edited the HBO special that turned into the series. He invited her over to see some footage, and she told him she just had to jump in the shower first. He hesitated — he wasn’t sure he’d be in the editing room long enough — so Hines offered to skip the shower and come right over.
“I don’t like the sound of that, either,” David told her. “I’m not going to be able to concentrate with you sitting there, knowing you didn’t shower.”
“Oh, my God, OK. I will shower but I won’t wash my hair so I’ll be clean and I will put my hair in a ponytail,” Hines told him.
“OK, OK,” David said. “We can try that.”
“That’s when I knew,” Hines says with great affection, “that, oh, my God, he’s really crazy.”
Maybe so. But it’s a very different brand of insanity from his Curb Your Enthusiasm character: That guy doesn’t worry about anything, and he does exactly what he wants at all times. “The show Larry is much more aggressive,” says Laurie. “The real Larry is very gentle and very sweet and doesn’t like to offend people.”
“He’s my version of Superman,” adds David. “The character really is me, but I just couldn’t possibly behave like that. If I had my druthers, that would be me all the time, but you can’t do that. We’re always doing things we don’t want to do, we never say what we really feel, and so this is an idealized version of how I want to be. As crazy as this person is, I could step into those shoes right now, but I would be arrested or I’d be hit or whatever.”
JB Smoove, who plays David’s perpetual houseguest, Leon — perhaps the single funniest character currently on television — has his own take on the matter. “They are the same motherfucker,” he says. “Larry David is uncomfortable in person, he’s uncomfortable on the show. If you’re on the goddamn show and your name is Larry David, and you leave the fucking show and get in your car and go home after shooting Curb Your Enthusiasm and your name is Larry David. . . guess what? You motherfucking Larry David. They are one and the same. There’s no goddamn difference.” That said, Smoove doesn’t spend much time with David off the set. “Larry could be doing any fucking thing. For all I know, Larry dresses up like a hip-hop star in his spare time.”
OVER AT THE IVY AT THE SHORE, a Santa Monica offshoot of the perennial Hollywood power spot, our food arrives with nearly magical speed. There’s a sprig of something or other sitting on David’s grilled salmon, and he eyes it warily before plucking it off his plate with evident hostility. “I have contempt for garnish,” he says with a big laugh, when I notice this maneuver. “Total contempt for garnish. I don’t understand garnish. I don’t think anybody appreciates garnish. I don’t get it.”
As he eats, David discusses his time as a stand-up comedian — which is clearly unresolved business for him. His initial post-college years were aimless, desperate and full of romantic frustration; he spent time as a bra salesman and a cab driver. “I sat through Taxi Driver and went, ‘That’s me, I’m Travis,'” he jokes. “I didn’t feel like a murderous psychopath, but I did feel, at times, psychopathic. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get in a big fight on the street, a screaming fight about something stupid.”
He used to wake up each morning and think, “Oh, no. This is going to be awful today.” He briefly tried therapy: “I decided that it wasn’t worth it unless he could get me a girlfriend, unless he was getting me laid — and he wasn’t. Unless he was making me more successful, and he wasn’t.”
An acting class led him to comedy, which saved him. “I had things to say,” he says. The gloriously foulmouthed Susie Essman, who played the same comedy clubs as David before becoming a Curb regular, remembers him as the “ultimate comics comic” — other comedians would gather to watch his sets. “He would always focus on that one person out of maybe 600 who wasn’t laughing, even if he was killing,” she says.
He would also walk off in the middle of sets, or, on at least one occasion, before even telling a joke. “It was compelling, because you didn’t know when something could happen,” David says, with an odd degree of distance. “It was like watching McEnroe play tennis — you didn’t know when he’d lose it.”
He made just enough as a comedian to quit his day jobs, and landed a gig as a cast member on the short-lived Saturday Night Live competitor Fridays, along with future Seinfeld star Michael Richards, and then as a writer on SNL for a single season — where he managed to get only one skit on the air. He remains conflicted about his stand-up career. On one hand, he says, accurately, “I think I’ve presented too bleak a picture of the stand-up in general. I did have success — if I didn’t, they wouldn’t have put me up.”
On the other hand: “I was missing something, something that I needed. Either the material wasn’t funny enough, or I wasn’t manipulating the audience enough. I couldn’t go up and even say hello. My bedside manner was lacking. I’d say hello, but I couldn’t sell it, I couldn’t kiss their ass the way I needed to kiss it to really get them on my side. But even if I would have gone up and said hello in the right way, it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway.”
Later, he says that he regrets “every single word” he said on this subject: “I’m making excuses. If I was any good, I would have done well. So I probably wasn’t any good.”
After leaving Seinfeld, he made his first film, the unsuccessful Sour Grapes — and was planning a return to stand-up when he ended up making the Curb Your Enthusiasm HBO special that led to the series. Now, in his Curb downtime, he’s started to work on stand-up material again. “I’ve always gone up as part of a showcase night with other people, or if I was with one or two others — they still had no idea who I was,” he says. “I think it would be a great experience to be able to go up and have an audience there to see you, an audience of fans. It would be very different for me, and it’s something that I’ve never experienced.”
THE NEXT DAY, DAVID AND JEFF Garlin are sitting together at another restaurant, interrogating a waitress. It feels like cameras should be rolling, but this is, as best as can be determined, real life. One of the few clues is that while David is wearing another outfit from the show — sport jacket, V-neck, khakis — Garlin is in jeans and a Fahrenheit 431 T-shirt. The restaurant is located inside the complex where David has his office, so he is on a level beyond “regular” here: He orders his own off-menu salad, known, appropriately, as the Larry David. Garlin asks the waitress about the ingredients — for the record, mixed greens, ro-maine, radish, green onion, carrot, avocado, cucumber, tomato, pine nuts, regular vinaigrette — and orders it too.
Lately, David has been comically obsessed with “the pour” — servers’ insistence on pouring bottled water instead of letting him do it himself. “Are you man enough to tell her not to pour?” he had asked me the day before. Today, David is man enough.
“Why would you stop the pour?” Garlin asks.
“I don’t like it.”
“Why don’t you like it? She’s a server, she’s being very nice, we’re being very respectful to her.” “I don’t like it.”
When the waitress comes back, Garlin puts the question to her: “Is pouring a hassle to you, are you, like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to pour. . . .'”
WAITRESS: No, it’s just…
LARRY: Is it a policy? Have you been instructed to pour?
WAITRESS: If your glass is empty and there’s a bottle and my manager saw that, yeah, I’d get yelled at.
WAITRESS: Because I should be pouring it.
LARRY: Why should you be pouring it?
JEFF: That’s the manager’s policy!
WAITRESS: I guess they feel that that is part of the job, the territory.
LARRY: Is it also because they want us to finish the bottle so I could buy another?
“I rest my case,” David says, pounding the table in triumph.
I can’t help pointing out how TV-ready this exchange is, which the two men don’t necessarily appreciate. “I’d be way too self-aware in our conversations if I thought like that,” says Garlin.
David used to carry a notebook to capture these kinds of moments for future use, but he’s switched to his BlackBerry. “My last BlackBerry died, and I lost a ton of stuff,” he says. “And once I lost one of my pads and that was awful. A lot of those things that you write down, you won’t think of it again.”
In 1999, Garlin had the idea of directing a TV special of David’s return to stand-up — instead, David turned it into a fictionalized documentary called Curb Your Enthusiasm, and cast Garlin as his philandering manager. Their chemistry was instant — and what David calls their “solid, unbreakable” friendship on the show carries over to real life.
The conversation somehow turns to LeBron James, whom Garlin can’t stand. “On his back he has a tattoo that says CHOSEN 1,” Garlin says, starting to shout. “‘The chosen one,’ across his back! I’m sorry I’m so loud, it makes me crazy.”
“How do you think Gentiles feel about the Jews?” David says. “That’s why!”
“One thing we don’t do,” says Garlin, “is wear tattoos.”
We bid Garlin goodbye, and walk through a parking lot under the blazing sun back to David’s office. He’s sorry to see Jeff go — he likes having an interview buffer so much that he calls Cheryl Hines to try to get her to join us, too. But it turns out she’s in New York, to his dismay. “It’s just easier to do this when there’s another person around, you know? It should be three, two is not enough people to interact. I think the Mormons have it right there, with marriage. Two wives, that’s what I need to have successful relationships. I interact much better when I’m not one-on-one.”
Putting his feet up on his computer-free desk, David says he’s highly unlikely to ever get married a second time. “It would be a silly thing to do. Why would I do it? Why would I want that contract? I already have kids. The best situation is being a single parent. The best part about it is that you get time off, too, because the kids are with their mom, so it’s the best of both worlds. There’s a lot to be said for it. You get married, you have kids — you should plan this from the beginning. We’re going to have these kids, then we’ll get divorced when they’re four. All right, six.”
He gave up a sizable chunk of his not-insubstantial fortune in the divorce, but he’s not complaining. “I don’t want my ex-wife to be unhappy. I don’t really mind. She deserves it after putting in that time with me. Of course, if she was the one who had the money, I’d say I deserve it, putting in the time with her.”
It could be argued that having kids is the key difference between David and his Curb character. “That guy couldn’t have kids,” says David, who nevertheless isn’t sure that being a father has changed him much. “I don’t really think it has. It gives you some insight into who you are under these circumstances. You don’t really know what kind of father you’d be, and now I know that I’m not a very good one.” He laughs.
Really? “I think I’m probably too easy. I can be talked into anything, really, and the kids know that if they persist, they know that I’ll cave. And I do. For me not to cave, it’s got to be a monumental thing,” he says. “But it’s interesting that all of a sudden that these are the two people in the world that you’re closest to, and you never expected that that would be the case. But there it is. These are the two indispensable people in your life. It’s odd.”
When he’s not trying to sell preplanned divorce and single parenthood as an ideal life option, David does admit to some pain around the split. “At the beginning, yeah, it was difficult,” he says, looking uncharacteristically pensive. “Your life is in upheaval, and you’re used to a certain thing, and then all of a sudden you’re no longer in your house, you’re no longer doing your routine, all of that has been overturned, and now you’re someplace else doing what, buying silverware? I think it’s because you’re thrown off your routine. I guess there’s also something about. . . I just spent 17 years with this person, and what does that all mean?”
David doesn’t want to talk about dating, but he does address Howard Stern’s recent assertion that he found it shallow to go out with women who were attracted to his fame. “Who cares? That’s fine with me if they’re interested in fame, that’s great! Bring it on, what do I care? I’m happy for it! Otherwise, what, do you expect somebody to like you for who you are? I was who I was for a long time, nobody seemed to care for it. Why else would somebody approach me? Who’s going up to a bald guy, an old bald guy? Nobody! If I wasn’t on television, who’s coming up to me? People would run from me, are you kidding? If I tried to flirt with a woman and she didn’t know who I was, she would run away.” He pauses. “And who’s not shallow, by the way?” I point out that his work demolishes the pretense that people aren’t shallow, aren’t selfish, and he nods emphatically. “Hear, hear,” he says.
LARRY DAVID HAS BEEN YELLING at me for the past five minutes or so, and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to stop anytime soon. Thankfully, he has the rare ability to smile while he shouts. An innocent question set him off: What was it like, after years of struggle, to become a wealthy man with the success of Seinfeld! It’s a reasonable query: David used to be so worried about his financial future that he’d scout out good spots to sleep on the street.
At first, he answers thoughtfully, talking about how cash eased some of his worries. Then he starts to get pissed. “But, by the way, I’m not the only person on television who has money,” he says. “It seems like it’s not an issue with anybody else. It seems to be public with me for some reason, and, by the way, the numbers are so far off. I don’t have anything near what I’m reputed to have. My wife got half of it, the whole thing is ridiculous, and yet people are obsessed with the fact that I’ve made millions of dollars in syndication. It’s almost like I shouldn’t have the money: ‘Who are you to have the money? Why you? Somebody else should have it, not you, Larry!’ It’s OK for all these other people you’ve interviewed to have it, but not me? Why are they entitled to it and not me? Jerry’s not asked about how much money he has. Only I am. It comes down to ‘Jerry deserves it, he starred in it, you got lucky!'”
He’s turning cartoonishly red now, laughing a little, but still shouting. “I haven’t heard anyone say, ‘Bruce Springsteen, you have all this money.’ Somehow, I’ve stolen the money. You know what I mean? It’s almost like, ‘You’re from Brooklyn, how dare you make money like that? You don’t deserve it.’ Everybody you see in the movies and on television has plenty of money. Ray Romano’s got a lot of money — ask Ray! Does anybody ever talk to him about it? No!
“It doesn’t suit me, that’s why, it’s uncharacteristic for a person with my personality to have it, that’s what’s askew, right? It doesn’t fit, it’s not a good fit, I should be poor. That’s what it is, I shouldn’t have it, it’s a mistake somehow. It seems off, something’s off, and I agree with you. I shouldn’t! It’s an anomaly!”
People love to ask David if he’s happy now, and not just in interviews. “People who knew me 20 years ago ask me, ‘Are you happy now? You must be happy now. You’re happy, right? Are you happy? You have all this now, you must be happy.’ Yeah, I am.”
And while friends say he’s changed very little with his success (“Part of my frustration was my inability to change him in any way,” says Laurie), he does see some shifts. “I’m not as viscerally hostile as I was, or as contemptuous,” he says. “Because I became everything I was contemptuous of. Anybody who was remotely happy I detested. So I see all these people who I was contemptuous of, and now that I’m around them and know them, they’re not so bad.”
Some of this season’s Curb Your Enthusiasm was filmed in New York, so David spent more time in his home city than he had in two decades. “It’s odd to say it, but when I’m there, I feel like I’m home,” he says. “It’s just a sense of being comfortable.” He might move back to New York permanently someday if it weren’t for the winters, which would interfere with his only real hobby. “I don’t know what I would do without golf, on nonwork days, in New York. I don’t know what people do. It’s not fun for me to just walk around and have cocktails and go to museums and plays. I get nothing out of that.”
Shooting in New York, David got a glimpse of how beloved he’s become. As they shot a scene outside the downtown bakery Veniero’s one Friday around midnight, a crowd of hundreds gathered. “We love you, LD!” they’d yell, applauding after every take. At one point, he took a bow.
One night during his stay, he went to Yankee Stadium to see a game with Berg and Mandel. His image went up on the big screen as Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s theme song played over the big speakers. An entire stadium of fans stood and cheered for the hopeless case from Brooklyn. It should have been a life-defining moment, the redemptive final scene in the biopic. But as it turned out, not so much. As David left the stadium, a guy drove by and yelled, “Larry, you suck!” “That’s, like, literally all he heard,” Berg says.
David spent the ride back from the Bronx obsessing over that moment, running it over and over in his mind. It was as if the other 50,000 people, the ones who loved him, didn’t exist. “Who’s that guy? What was that?” he asked. “Who would do that? Why would you say something like that?”