Is it impossible to cancel Larry David? I’ve been puzzling over how he almost treats this show (and Seinfeld before it) as a personal diary, and indeed a diary of his most humiliating and ridiculous moments. On one level, it’s funny to me that he was always a TV comedy character and he simply needed the right environment – where his impulsiveness and wilting self-image were advantages – in order to thrive. More importantly though, I’m intrigued by the consequences of throwing so much of yourself at your weakest and dumbest into literal public spectacle. I’m always surprised when I meet people who don’t seem to get self-deprecating humour – like, I’m not being mean about myself, I’m making jokes that happen to be themed around my personal qualities. Larry David has taken this understanding to its most extreme; perhaps the reason he comes off as a True Neutral is because his highest priority is being funny, and he’s willing to use a funny story no matter how it makes him look.
What’s interesting is that it’s acted almost as a social armour. I’ve noticed a lot of stories of the real life David committing faux pas – I think particularly of his half-assed attempt to distance himself from Cheryl Hines and Robert Kennedy Jr without really distancing himself, or his disastrous cryptocurrency ad – that have been laughed off as ‘the most Larry David moment imaginable’. He has so strongly associated himself with his schlemiel character – in part, by putting so much of himself in it – that people are happy to write off when it happens in reality. Of course, if you’re willing to buy into the show’s premise, you probably don’t take that much offence to these kind of faux pas in the first place. But I do think that Curb articulates how little these kind of moments actually, really matter.
I’m also intrigued by this intense autobiography as a creative impulse. Many writers make use of autobiographical details to fill out their stories; indeed, its something of a cliche that debut writers write about aspiring novelists wandering through the world making observations. Many sitcoms – How I Met Your Mother, Newsradio, The Goldbergs – initially began as autobiographical stories filtered through a sitcom structure before evolving into their own thing. Studying Curb and the way it pushes this to an extreme has made me more open-minded to autobiographical inserts; I always thought of it as a crutch for lack of creativity, and it still kind of is but that’s not a bad thing.
Certainly, it helps that Larry has led an interesting life, but it’s made me see even banal experiences through the lens of storytelling. With respect to a certain Quentin Tarantino, it’s not the details that sell a story, it’s the intensity of desire married to the plausibility of obstacles to that desire, and the only thing that’s 100% plausible is something that’s already happened, naturally. Now, I’ve gone out of my way to live an uninteresting life in a journey that has only taken a greater clarity of purpose, and besides which I like to think of myself as chasing creative invention, but I’ve found that propping up parts of a story with autobiographical details is a useful way to maintain energy when my creative energy is tapped. I’ve also found that it makes me see historical details and genre cliches the same way; not the main structure, but a load bearing wall that props up what I actually deeply care about.