Now that I've completed "Portnoy's Complaint" at long last, I'm finally getting around to all the reading I've been ignoring in the interim. One of the pieces I had been meaning to read was the article on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in last week's LA Weekly. Right off the bat, it became clear that I was meant to read these things in a particular order:
LARRY DAVID IS THE PHILIP ROTH OF situation comedy, unafraid to reveal just how devious, petty, annoying, argumentative, selfish, boorish and insensitive he can be.
The Jewish comedy chain is taking on a certain clarity for me now. I know Philip Roth didn't invent Jewish humor. Far from it. From Vaudeville to the Catskills to the Friars Club, Jewish comedians have fueled American comedy for over a century. But I believe I can now pinpoint a seachange in the history. Lenny Bruce ushered in a new era of Jewish humor that is much darker in tone and content. Philip Roth built on what Lenny Bruce had started, Woody Allen pushed it even farther, and now Larry David has taken it to yet another level. As the Weekly article colorfully states:
Larry is a one-man universe of bad karma, a human banana peel
I actually have a personal anecdote about a real-life encounter with the eccentric Curb creator and Seinfeld co-creator that illustrates why his show is simply a heightened version of his friction-filled day-to-day existence. In February of 1999, Columbia Pictures was celebrating its 75th anniversary with a film festival at The Cineramadome. "Lawrence of Arabia" was the opening film, it was only running for the first two nights, and I had never seen the classic. So, despite the fact that I didn't have a car at the time, I vowed not to let the opportunity pass me by. I hopped in a cab and had the driver drop me off in front of The Dome. I anxiously walked up to the box office only to discover the show was sold out. Now what? As I was prone to do at the time, I lit up a cigarette and milled outside the theater hoping against hope that I would find some way in or they would release more seats or something. Puffing away, who do I spot but Larry David also milling about outside the glass doors. Somehow I instinctually gleaned from his body language that he was caught in the same predicament I was, only he most likely had a car to make his escape in. As he paced by me, I casually said "Hey, can't you pull some stings and get us some seats?" He grimaced and shrugged and I pushed it a little more: "Just tell them who you are and I bet they let us right in." He said he didn't feel right doing it and I, having nothing to lose, kept nudging: "Then slip 'em a twenty." Larry scoffed, "No, it's too embarrassing." Although I was broke and couldn't even afford to own a car, I countered: "I'll do it." Larry perked up: "Really? You'll do it?" I said "Yeah, I'll do it." He considered it for a moment, then neurotically backed off: "No, we can't do that. We'll get caught." Barry: "We won't get caught" Larry: "No, I can't do it. You do it if you want to, but I can't." Larry strolled away, but stayed in the immediate area, purposefully peering inside. Minutes later, he wandered back over to me and engaged me in a little chit-chat. "So, what do you do? You a writer?" I told him we knew a lot of the same people because I used to work at Castle Rock and I worked in sitcoms and yada, yada, yada... we had established a rapport. We wished each other luck on getting in and that was that. Or so I thought. A few moments later, I see the usher escorting a handicapped person and their companion inside through one of the secondary glass doors. Right behind them, Larry David, sneaking in under the pretense of accompanying the handicapped person. Classic George Costanza. Emboldened by Larry's enterprising delinquency, I decided to make a play of my own. Without a ticket, I approached the usher at the main entrance and pleaded my case. "The box office is sold out and my friends are inside with ticket for me. Can I go in and find them?" After some additional coaxing and desperate facial contortions, the head stickler usher called over a subservient usher named Mario to escort me into the theater to find my friends. As Mario walked me in, I whispered: "Even if I can't find my friends, will you let me stay for the movie?" Under his breath, Mario replied: "Yeah, that guy's a dick anyway." We walked into the The Dome and almost immediately passed Larry David in the walkway between the front section and the balcony. I said, "Larry, hey, you got in?" Larry shot back, "Hey, you did too." Apparently, Mario thought that Larry was the friend I was looking for and left me alone. I asked Larry if he found his friends, he said he hadn't but he was staying for the movie anyway. I found a seat in the balcony, the lights dimmed, and pleased as punch with myself, I watched the first half of "Lawrence of Arabia." At intermission, I saw Larry once again, approached him and queried: "So, what do you think?" "You know, I couldn't sit through the whole thing when I was a teenager and I can't sit through the whole thing now. I'm taking off. I'm going home." Shocked and amused that he went to such great lengths to sneak into a movie that he couldn't even sit through, I laughed and gave him some shit. After a few more minutes of chatting, Larry asked me my name again and wished me luck as a writer. We shook hands, Larry threw his signature scarf around his neck and left the building. I returned to my balcony seat and watched the second half of the 217-minute masterpiece. Still riding the high from my very own Seinfeldian episode, I walked all the way back to my apartment on Formosa from The Cineramadome.