Paris wouldn’t hold Larry David for long. That much we knew. What we didn’t know was how long our antagonizing protagonist — who puts the quelle horreur! in every imaginable interaction — would hold out on us.
It has been six years since we saw Larry David’s Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, as he relocated to France to avoid Michael J. Fox’s children’s hospital event. But now, in what can only be construed as an act of charity to his fans, the Seinfeld co-creator is reviving his revered HBO comedy for a ninth season (beginning on Sunday) and he’ll return to L.A. to entangle himself in a fresh set of neurotic, self-consumed, awkward, nitpicky, privileged circumstances whilst offending and alienating all-new swaths of friends and strangers.
David says he forgot Paris — and the rest of Curb — while occupying himself in the intervening years by starring in the HBO movie Clear History (which he co-wrote) and Broadway’s Fish in the Dark (which he wrote), returning to stand-up, and turning in an amusing impression of Bernie Sanders on Saturday Night Live. So what made him suddenly become enthusiastic about another season of Curb, one that brings back Larry’s ethically dubious manager, Jeff (Jeff Garlin), Jeff’s agitated wife, Susie (Susie Essman), Larry’s put-upon ex-wife, Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), and his filterless, ubiquitous partner-in-crime, Leon (JB Smoove)? “I didn’t really find the stand-up satisfying enough,” says David with a shrug. “It doesn’t really suit me. There’s nothing to do during the day. Yeah, you can work on the stand-up, but it’s not as interesting as writing stories. So… ta-da!”
There was another factor in his waving a wand over the comatose Curb and reviving it: all those fans on the street who pestered him about the show’s return, clearly ignoring his distaste for the stop-and-chat. “It was relentless. I thought, ‘Maybe…'” says David, 70. “I started to miss it. Nothing gives me more pleasure than doing this. You’d think I would never have stopped doing it.”
He never stopped jotting down the comedic things that happened to him in his notepads, which he carries everywhere and which seed Curb stories. (At one point, he switched over to taking notes on his iPhone but switched back after people thought he was texting someone and being rude. In real life, he does care about such things.) He’s more than happy to show you his new mini-notepad, which boasts a pen on a chain (“The chain is a little pretentious,” he concedes), and he’s a little less than eager to let you peek inside and study the scribbles. “They’re little, small things that I could use or not use,” he demurs. “I take a piece of gum out at a restaurant, I put it in a napkin, maybe somebody’s coming by, and I say ‘Hey, do me a favor, could you throw this in the garbage?’ Some are even dumber and smaller than that, and others are bigger ideas. But I can take a small idea like that and do a lot with it.” (Witness Curb‘s seven consecutive Emmy nominations as Outstanding Comedy Series.)
One day last June, he told Curb executive producer Jeff Schaffer that he was indeed ready to revive the series. (“If he didn’t want to do it, I don’t know if I would have done it,” says David.) Schaffer saw great potential in that surplus of pregnant pages. “A lot can happen to Larry David in six years,” says Schaffer. “He’d been sitting on a mountain of uncomfortable situations like Smaug the dragon, hoarding these little bits of uncomfortable comedy gold. It was a Fort Knox of awkward situations.”
The pair began mapping out the 10 new episodes, continuing the Curb tradition of constructing outlines from which the actors all improvise. (This season is notable in that it contains the show’s first-ever fully scripted scene, for mysterious reasons of precision. “We needed exact information, exact lines and exact jokes,” says Schaffer carefully.) Securing commitments from the old gang of costars proved not to be a difficult task. “I knew they all wanted to do it because they were all bugging me about it,” says David. “Susie never stopped bugging me about it. She’d send me emails. She calls me Lah. She emails me, “Lah, come on! Let’s do another one! Lah! There’s nothing that’s more fun than Curb!” Richard [Lewis] was subtler about it, but I knew that he wanted to do it. And [Bob] Einstein clearly, clearly wanted to do it. He was on my case. JB for sure. I would talk to him and he’d say, ‘Come on, come on, man!’ I mean, I didn’t even need to call them. I could have written all the shows and just sent them the schedule, and they would have been there.” (The producers did have to do a bit of massaging to work around the schedules of Garlin and Hines, who were starring in The Goldbergs and Son of Zorn at the time.)
Season 9 began filming on Nov. 9 — the day after Donald Trump was elected President. “Could we have picked a worse day to come back to work?” he says. “No, you could not. But once you’re on the set, you kind of get into it. My first take was a little rough, and then the second take was like I had never left.” His costars report the same level of ease. “It was very natural,” recalls Garlin. “It felt good. I did feel a sense of ‘Boy, it’s a shame we hadn’t done this during the last five or six years.” It sounds like the vibe on the set after that political upset was pretty much what you’d expect. “You experienced the same thing that we did on the set,” says David, “except we had to be funny.” Perhaps not surprisingly, one episode does contain a scene revolving around a Trump joke. “I won’t tell you the context,” he says, “but there are some names bandied about.” (What will Trump think if he sees it? “He probably wouldn’t care for it, but it’s very quick.”)
What else lies in these 10 new episodes? Those details are being stored in the aforementioned and tightly secured Fort Knox. Yes, when it comes to season 9, David’s lips are sealed, much like Jason Alexander’s when Larry tries to coordinate a waiter’s tip with him. He likes to keep everything a surprise for viewers because that’s how he consumes his pop culture. (When David is at the movie theater and a trailer for a film that he’s excited to see is shown, “he’ll plug his ears and run out,” he says.) But if you want to see for yourself, watch what happens when we slide a few innocuous questions his way. So, what has Larry the character been up to these past few years? “I’ve been busy,” says David, with a restrained smile that indicates grand understatement. Any unusual production challenges this time? “Yes. I’m not at liberty to discuss. I’m sorry.” Does this season continue the show’s tradition of envelope-pushing (which has included Larry being mistaken for a racist after quoting someone else using the N-word, and Larry being mistaken for a pervert when a grateful little girl hugged him after he stuffed a water bottle down his pants)? “Yeah. Can’t be specific.” Asked for any cryptic clue about the season, he gives a word, takes it back, thinks about it some more, and then offers this one: “Disguise.”
Schaffer — who calls the ninth season “one of the most ambitious productions we’ve done” — opens the vault just a few inches more. “Everyone’s lives have progressed, while Larry has proven to be remarkably resistant to any personal growth,” he says. “Larry has spent the last five years working on a project. He’s very excited about it. But once he turns it in, he’s surprised to find others don’t feel the same way. Larry is not the kind to take criticism well, but this is a whole new level.” And then? “Things happen that send us in a wild direction. But even in that wild direction, you’d never expect where we end up.”
Along the way, you’ll find Larry and Cheryl (who has started a charity) out in the world, seeing other people. “Larry, for the most part, is cool with that,” says Schaffer, “until he’s really not.” As for Jeff and Susie, “he’s got a roving eye and she’s got a watchful one.” Their daughter, Sammi (Ashley Holloway), has a serious boyfriend, who has received the parental seal of approval, but, as Schaffer teases, “then Larry meets him.” Meanwhile, Leon is “unhelpfully helpful” to Larry.
Plenty of familiar characters (Ted Danson, Richard Lewis, Einstein’s Marty Funkhouser) will pop up, as will a new slew of famous faces, including two “huge” ones that are being kept under the tightest of wraps. (“We needed these specific people to do very specific things for a very specific reason,” says Schaffer, “and it could be only them, and we wisely had no plan B.”) Look for Larry to link up with Lauren Graham, who plays a rather unexpected love interest. “Larry’s always had a complicated relationship with NBC censors,” says Schaffer. “Now he’s dating one.” Elizabeth Banks, as herself, makes a different kind of impression on Larry. “We do a scene where, in the first time in the history of the series, I sat on a couch and didn’t talk,” marvels David. “She just took it over.” Elsewhere, Jimmy Kimmel recommends an assistant (Carrie Brownstein) to Larry, and Bryan Cranston pops up as his therapist. Is this shrink in over his head? “I’d say he’s a bit frustrated,” deadpans David. Also, Nick Offerman plays a co-worker for whom Larry does a good deed, “and because this is Curb,” says Schaffer, “Larry is punished for it, and then Nick is punished for it.”
As always, their punishment is your reward, and the Curb crew sounds prettay, prettay happy with this season’s bounty. “I don’t think people will be disappointed,” says David. In fact, he was pleased enough with the experience he’s already “strongly considering” doing a 10th season. “I remember talking to my agent about it and he says, ‘If we go 10 seasons…,'” recalls David. “And I said, ’10 seasons? Are you out of your f—ing mind? Ten seasons? Ridiculous! I’m lucky if I can do two or three!'”
We may live in an eager age of reboot and reconstitute, but how Curb will fit into the comedy zeitgeist in 2017 is anybody’s guess — and not David’s worry. “I never give that stuff any thought,” he says. Schaffer acknowledges the challenge ahead, though: “When you look at the movies that came out in 2011, there was a Transformers sequel, a Cars movie sequel, a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, a Planet of the Apes sequel. It was just a completely different time.”
Whatever the case, Curb will finally make its way to your eyes — and its demented circus theme song into your ears — on Sunday night. (Unless you already found it illegally online after the HBO hackers leaked episodes onto the web last month. “I was upset,” notes David. “They do it for money, is that it?” A shrug. “I guess everybody’s got to make a living.”) You are advised to brace for something bonkers, something outrageous — another creation of cringe that aims to surprise and subvert. “No one’s ever done something like this,” says Garlin, “at least comedically.”
To that end, David has truly overextended himself: Season 9 has been supersized, especially in later installments. “We stuffed 10 pounds of sausage in a five-pound bag and it blew up,” says Schaffer. “Like, there’s just meat all over.” Prepare to dig into a long-awaited meal, after you proceed to the back of the buffet line. No chat-and-cuts — or sharing — allowed.