'I promise if we do it again, it won’t be as long of a wait,' says Jeff Schaffer
After all the Trump administration-shouting sex, unhelpful restaurant managers, pickle jar diversions, shucker negotiations, Uber driver spats, tap water tantrums, insufficient thank-yous, and desk jockeying, Curb Your Enthusiasm wrapped up its ninth season on Sunday night with the unveiling of Fatwa! The Musical.
Make that a funeral for Fatwa! The Musical. Having apparently beaten the fatwa that placed on him for mocking the Ayatollah — you never know when defending someone in a buffet line might pay off — Larry David (Larry David), was in prime position to produce a hit musical starring Lin-Manuel Miranda and F. Murray Abraham. Instead, he wound up feuding with both — not to mention, an in-demand stage manager (Nick Offerman) — and ultimately engaged in a duel with the Hamilton mastermind that ended with Larry accidentally firing a paintball into the throat of Miranda, thereby scotching the whole production. Plus, he missed Sammi’s wedding, sending a surrogate speaker (Casey Wilson) to deliver his substandard speech. Worse still, news of a fatwa removal can take time, and the final scene of the season featured Larry being chased down the street by a man who clearly didn’t get the memo.
How did this season come to involve a fatwa and a doomed musical? What was the toughest scene to pull off? Is there more Curb coming your way? For these answers and more, we (outfit-)tracked down Curb Your Enthusiasm executive producer Jeff Schaffer.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Don’t leave us hanging: Does Larry get away from the guy trying to kill him?
JEFF SCHAFFER: Every season is the last season of Curb. So that scene was built to be the last scene ever… unless it’s not. I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see. I do want to comment on Larry’s running form, which is excellent.
More on that in a minute. But before that: What appealed to you and Larry about building the season around a fatwa? What were the challenges and concerns? And congrats — it seems that a real-life fatwa has not been placed on him, so far.
The fatwa seemed like a perfect Curb arc. For eight seasons, Larry’s had a contentious relationship with the world. Let’s try a season where the world doesn’t just annoy Larry — it actively wants him dead. Of course, the final step in our plan was for the real Larry David to get a real fatwa for playing TV Larry David who gets a fatwa for writing a musical called Fatwa! about Salman Rushdie getting a fatwa. We are still working on that part. But I think we’re close…
How hard was it to land Lin for this guest arc?
From the very beginning, we wanted Lin-Manuel Miranda in Fatwa! The Musical, and to end the show with a Hamilton-style duel. And that’s what we wrote. One small problem… we hadn’t ever bought any of this to Lin’s attention. We wrote the whole thing without talking to him. And there really was no Plan B — other than having only eight episodes. So we just kept telling ourselves, “He’s going to say yes, he’s going to say yes.” the way the high school nerd psyches himself up before asking the head cheerleader to prom. Thinking back on it, we had a better chance of getting the actual Ayatollah of Iran to guest star in the finale. I guarantee he’s a lot less busy than Lin. (I am still trying to get Larry that fatwa!)
Larry called him up, and luckily Lin was a fan of the show. Of course, the entire time we were going to be shooting our season, he was going to be shooting Mary Poppins. In London. So, we turned our shooting schedule into a pretzel — we snuck in the scenes from episode 9 in the agent’s office while he was in town for the Oscars. But it was so worth it. Saying Lin-Manuel Miranda is talented is as obvious as saying puppies are cute — or men’s tennis is boring — but damn, did he deliver! And I love that duel. Larry David is the Burr of our times!
You do have Justin Hurwitz, who wrote the music for La La Land, as one of your writers. Did that give you the confidence to tell this musical story — and to write your own songs?
Larry and I had written Larry’s remedial version of “There’s a Fatwa” before we brought Justin in. But we knew Lin’s versions of these songs would have to be professional-grade. Justin is a great comedy writer who happens to moonlight as an Oscar-winning composer. Justin would bring in his keyboard and we would spitball lyrics. And we wrote a few other songs that never made it into the show — including the number for “Fatwa Sex.” That one might have been my favorite.
How much did Lin — whose resume isn’t so bad, either — contribute to the musical?
Sending musical demos to Lin is like sending your idea for a hand-held computing device to Steve Jobs. Lin had a great note about making “I Do Not Like This Man!” feel less like Hamilton and more dramatic, which was completely the right way to go. As for Lin rapping in the agency, we sent him a bunch of options, and he wisely said: “I think I’ll just freestyle it.” And he did. And every take was different, and every take was brilliant. It was like watching someone dunk. You just say, “Well, I can’t do that.” He verbally dunked on us.
What was the joke that you guys were most nervous about pulling off this season? We saw Larry pretending to have Asperger’s, telling the mechanic that he was surprised that he was black…
Larry says the trickiest ones for him are the dating scenes — because he has to come up with dating small talk that he feels could actually work. Also, we could have never pulled off Fatwa! numbers without bringing back the brilliant Susan Stroman to choreograph them. We had a pretty good idea of what we thought they would look like. But when she got a hold of them, it was like seeing something in color that we had been imagining in black and white. People would think that those are the trickiest scenes to shoot, but they are actually like a vacation. We actually rehearse, the singers and dancers hit their mark every time; it’s the exact opposite of covering a Curb scene where you don’t know who is going to say what when.
Certainly, something we discussed a lot was the scene where Larry meets Jeff’s friend, the mechanic, and says, “Oh, you’re black.” What we wrestled with was, “Why was Larry surprised?” Internally, we needed a reason for Larry to be surprised about that that wasn’t because the guy was black. Larry doesn’t care if a guy is black or white. He will insult anyone no matter your race, ethnicity, color, anything. The surprise was that Jeff didn’t mention it. We had to work through that because Larry wanted it to come from a real place, and the real place ended up being, “Of course Larry was surprised that he was black because if Jeff had a black friend, he would have been bragging about to everybody.”… We struggled for that a while and we finally came upon a solution, which felt totally true, and let us do all the other stuff we wanted to do,.
Curb had done a season involving The Producers, so you had ventured into the realm of the theater before. Though the two stories are different, were there any initial concerns that this could feel too similar in subject matter or arena?
I don’t think we were afraid of the Producers season because the main difference was that Larry was not performing. This was Larry, creator, butting heads — and losing — with Lin.
What story line or joke from this season worked even better than you thought ?
I was talking to Larry about this, and a few things come to mind, the courtroom scene with the judge talking about donkeys and field chickens, and warm pocket candy. All the “disturbance in the kitchen” stuff with Steve Rannazzisi and Rich Fulcher, the Romanian Uber driver, and, of course, June Raphael as Bebe the bladder girl on the airplane. I told our prop people to load up her bag. Larry had no idea just how much stuff she had in there. He laughed his way through every take, I am amazed we had any usable footage.
And what scene or story didn’t work as well? Perhaps you ran out of room in the show to develop it, or maybe there was one that you were surprised didn’t get a bigger reaction?
There was a little scene with Salman Rushdie and Larry, where Larry was saying he would like a butler and maybe even a female butler. Salman scolds him and says, “Rule No. 1, don’t f— your butler.” It never fit in the show, but it was supremely funny.
It was fun to see Larry watch Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) start dating their friend Ted Danson (Ted Danson). Was there something bigger planned for that couple? Seems like you’re setting up something…
There actually were a few other ideas we were entertaining with Cheryl and Ted, but with everything else we had going on this season, we just couldn’t make them happen. If we ever do another season, we’ll see…
These episodes brought back many familiar faces from Curb. Was there anyone from a previous season that you wanted to bring back but couldn’t?
There are so many great characters we talked about bringing back, but the stories just didn’t line up that way: Wanda Sykes, Phillip Baker Hall, and Richard Kind, for starters.
At the beginning of the season, Larry sounded optimistic about making more Curb beyond this year. What percent chance is there that another season of Curb will be coming? And if so, do you promise that audiences won’t have to wait as long?
I don’t like giving percentage chances because that’s math and I am not good at math… There can only be a new season if Larry feels creatively like he’s got the ideas. Personally, I wouldn’t bet on him never getting in another awkward situation, would you? We are talking about talking about it. I promise if we do it again, it won’t be as long of a wait.
By the way, what really did happen in Tahoe? How bad was it?
Larry and I had a lot of discussions about what happened in Tahoe before we realized that the whole story was much funnier if we never mentioned what happened in Tahoe. So we never had to settle on what actually happened. I think if you asked Larry and you asked me, you would get two very different versions of what happened in Tahoe. But trust me, neither of them are flattering to poor Larry.