Curb Your Enthusiasm showrunner on how the show might address Larry in a post-pandemic world
Exec producer Jeff Schaffer also weighs in on the odds of an 11th season, handling the loss of Bob Einstein, and managing Sean Penn with birds.
The fire has been put out, the Purell is gone forever, but have no fear, Larry David’s spite will surely live on. The season 10 finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm left Larry with a new set of self-inflicted problems, ranging from a burned-down starter business to his bitter rival Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra) moving in next door to him along with Larry's aggrieved and victimized assistant, Alice (Megan Ferguson). On the plus side, Larry did inspire a cottage industry of spite stores, including ones run by Sean Penn, Jonah Hill, and Mila Kunis.
Why did all that hand sanitizer have to go up in smoke? What adventures in people-alienating curmudgeonry await Larry next season? Actually, let's back up for a sec: There will be a "next season," right? David famously plays his cards close to his vest until he’s finally ready to flash them, and the pandemic shutdown certainly throws timelines into flux. In this time of uncertainty, we turn to Jeff Schaffer, showrunner of Curb (and also executive producer of Dave and Brews Brothers) to shed light on the finale's extreme birding, coping with the loss of Bob Einstein (a.k.a. Funkhouser), the odds of an 11th season, and how "Larry" would be faring right now with social distancing.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Larry is always noncommittal about continuing the show, taking it season by season. Then you two start gradually talking about the possibilities of another season, and then we get another season. Where are you at right now?
JEFF SCHAFFER: We've been doing a lot of FaceTiming, Larry and I. We're still in the talking about talking-about-it stage. Between every season, we have to replenish. Luckily, detailing the social shortcomings of the Westside Angelenos is pretty much an evergreen business. The one spanner in the works right now is that usually in between seasons, we go out into the world and embarrass ourselves or chronicle terrible people. But right now, we're all just stuck at home. So that's a little disappointing. But I will say we both discovered that we have very deep reservoirs of stories of us making fools of ourselves.
What's the best thing that's happened during those FaceTime sessions?
They almost all start out the same way. "Hey, how are you doing?" "I gotta plug in." And then there's literally, like, five or 10 minutes spent complaining about how outlets need to be at shoulder height. And how we can't be forced to root around behind our couch like truffle pigs just to plug something in. So we go through all of that, and then we're plugged in, and then the daily complaints start about whatever has been going on at our houses [laughs], and then finally we sign into work. Although sometimes those daily complaints lead right into a new story.
Well, that's good. One can easily picture the idea of Larry doing social distancing and the phobia of catching the virus. This guy was big on sanitizer way before everyone was using it. In fact, that was a crime that you guys burned that sanitizer in the fire —
By the way, here's the thing: The [real] world changed so much between episodes 7 and 10. When we burned down the store, everyone was just thinking, “Oh my God, what a waste of Purell!”… It's so insane how fast this came upon us. But look, Larry tried to tell everybody how to behave. He hadn’t been a fan of handshaking for a long time. He puts the Purell on the tables. He doesn't want you defecating anywhere near him. And he was practicing social distancing long before there was a term for it. I think he was born with it.
Are you talking about doing something with the way the world is now, with the social distancing and quarantines? Of course, by the time a new season would come out, who knows where we'll be or how tired it would feel? But right now, one would want to see Larry tackle that, in a quarantine or post-quarantine world.
Everybody wants to see how Larry would tackle these issues in this strange time. The tricky thing for us is, if we come out another year, what does the world look like? You don't want to be so timely when you're writing that you’re out of touch when you air. But a situation like this isn't just going to go back to normal, sadly. So people are going to be acting differently — and Larry is going to be there telling you how to act…. The way we'll address it will have to be very specific and unique to Larry, and not the thing that everyone's talking about all the time. No one wants to see us do the same thing that everyone just did. So we'll do something that's unique to Larry, and unique to the show that will, of course, address the changes that world has gone through.
But if you were to do another season that would air now, how do you think Larry would be handling social distancing?
The coronavirus has done what Larry was never able to do, which is come up with a perfect reason for him to not have lunch with you. That's all we ever talked about. The freest a human being ever can be is when someone asks you to lunch to just say, “No.” And when they say, “Why?” to just say, “Because I don't want to.” That's true freedom. When Henry David Thoreau wrote, “All good things are wild and free,” I think he was talking about not having to go to Emerson's poetry reading, because he didn't want to. [Laughs] Not to get philosophical, but man in his natural state doesn't want to have lunch with another man. He doesn't want to attend another man's poetry reading. But we have such a problem as a society just saying “No.” So what do we do? We lie. And Larry's mantra has always been, “A truth is better than a lie, but a really good lie is better than the truth.”
This is another version of the MAGA hat [which Larry used in season 10 to socially distance himself from friendly acquaintances, including Phil Rosenthal]. It really gives you the ultimate excuse to get out of everything — and lunch.
Right. And by the way, that's one of the issues for us. We've just done a story where we've used something that’s in the universe as a people repellent. So we have to figure out a new way to do it with the coronavirus. But rest assured, even in isolation, there are still a lot of very, taxing social obligations. Anything social and mutual online — it's enough.
How hard was it to pull off these guest cameos for the spite stores in the finale?
We knew that the spite store was an arc that was going to take us from episode 1 to the finale. But we weren't quite sure how to end it once the store opened and it was starting to drive Mocha Joe out of business. We knew things had to end poorly, but we weren't quite sure what we were going to do with the store. So I said to Larry almost as a joke, “What if other celebrities start doing the same thing, like spite stores catch on? And he goes, “Oh, no, we should do that!” [Laughs] I was like, “Okay! All right, we're doing that! That's fun.” So we reached out to Jonah, who’ve I've known for a long time. No one is better at being casually spiteful. [Laughs] He's so funny, just one of the funniest people on the planet. So we thought, “All right, we've got that.”...
We knew it wasn't enough to just present this idea that celebrities are now running stores for spite. We knew that this had to screw Larry up somehow. So we had woven in that the end of the story, and Mila was someone that we just always wanted to have on the show because she's so funny and so acerbic. So once we knew that the spite store was going to work into the watch plot, we’re like, “Oh, this is perfect for Mila.”
And then we wanted a celebrity running a store that you would never expect him to run. And our thoughts immediately went to Sean Penn — and frozen yogurt. We were thinking in our head about Sean Penn and frozen yogurt. And then one of our producers said, “Hey, you know, there are two exotic bird stores right next to each other on Wilshire Boulevard.”
I know where you're talking about. Omar’s Exotic Pets!
At Wilshire and Centinela! I was like, “Oh my God!” I had this bizarre flashback because I’ve thought about that place all the time and I never thought about it for this. I'm like, “That's right. There's a bird store. Then there's a tuck store. Then there's a bird store.” I feel like all of Los Angeles has two bird stores and they’re right next to each other. What is going on? So then it was like, “Oh, well, this we have to do! Sean Penn and exotic birds! Let's do that.” So we talked to Sean and he was like, “Great, let's do it.” He showed up and he wanted to get to know the birds. So he spent some time with the birds, holding the birds, and looking at each one and learning about them. And then we just let him run the store. And it would be such a successful store. [Laughs] Sean would do such a good job selling birds. No one ever thinks about Sean that way, but they should, because he would be a bird salesman extraordinaire. But for me personally, all I wanted out of this was for Sean to scream at those birds. And once Sean screamed at those birds to shut up, I was so happy.... There's some very funny outtakes that we didn't use for time. There was so much good stuff about a woman coming in and asking him questions about the bird, and he's answering all these questions very thoughtfully. And then she says, “Does it matter if I have a cat?” And he just looks at her with the iciest stare and just says, “Get out.”
After the fire, the big question is, Will Larry rebuild? Will the spite go on?
Well, here's what I'll say about Larry. It's like the force, right? It’s like the spite is strong in this one. [Laughs] It didn't end well. He’s got Mocha Joe right next door throwing parties. He's lost a lot of money. But… yeah, I think he'd do it all again. The spite is strong in this one.
I did want to ask you about Bob Einstein [a.k.a. Marty Funkhouser], who passed away last year. He was sick when you were starting to film...
We had shot for at least two months while he was sick. Right before Christmas break, we heard the good news that he was going to be better by February, and he was going to be recuperated and we could shoot him in February. So we had been holding off all of our Bob stuff because we didn't want him to be written out of earlier shows. So we've been holding off all this stuff, and then over Christmas, we got the bad news that things have taken a turn for the worse, and he was not coming back at all, which was so sad. So we were in the middle of our season and we had to do a lot of narrative gymnastics to try to figure out who was getting his stories, and how we were going to address this. So a few things went to Leon and then Vince Vaughn came in and was amazing as Freddie Funkhouser.
The one thing we couldn’t do was say he was gone because it was too sad for us. And it was too sad for the show. We didn't want to admit that he was gone, so we said he was in China. We just wanted him to be happy in China. Honestly, it made it easier for us to think about it because we were right in the middle of the season.
That's a really nice sentiment. Do you feel like it might never be addressed and he’ll just be happy in China?
I don't know. It's a string that we haven’t fully tied yet. We have to think about it. Every time we think about it, it's so sad because he would've been so funny in the episodes. It's twice sad. We’re sad he's gone, and we're sad he wasn't there to be brilliantly funny.
Finally, would you be surprised if there wasn't another season? I know Larry doesn't like to over-promise, promise, or even under-promise, but what would you say are the odds that there will eventually be another season?
Here’s what I would say: Larry doesn’t want to do another season until he has enough great ideas to make a season he’s 100-percent happy with. But I wouldn’t bet on him running out of ideas.