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March 15, 2010

'Curb Your Enthusiasm'

By Erik Pedersen

PaleyFest first saluted the acerbic, irreverent and knee-bloodyingly funny "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in 2002. It's likely that back then, few in the room -- including its cast and creator -- figured the show would still be a factor in 2010. But 71 episodes later, it appears there will indeed be further adventures of Larry David and his cast of the put-upon.

The question of "Curb's" future was on most people's minds Sunday during the final night of the 27th annual TV festival. The answer was definitely probably.

Moderator Martin Miller of the Los Angeles Times began the session with an inquiry about more "Curb." But rather than quiz the group about a potential eighth season, he curiously asked whether there would be a big-screen version of the show, a la one-time fellow HBO comedy "Sex and the City." David's look was -- isn't it always? -- somewhere between puzzlement and incredulity.

"No plans for a movie," he said.

And no follow-up from Miller.

It wasn't until late in the session that the question of "Curb's" future came up again. Miller finally asked David, "Are we going to see an eighth season?"

David paused briefly. "I think there's a pretty good chance," he said, as the crowd burst into applause. "We're working on a couple of things."

So much for a definitive answer.

There was only one other reference to a potential continuation. When a crowd member asked whether viewers can expect to see more of Larry's Katrina-refugee roommate Leon -- uproariously played by JB Smoove -- David simply said, "I think so."

It seemed clear that David was uninterested in broaching the subject. He might as well have given the guy that patented Larry David staredown.


The Paley Center for Media's vp and executive director Craig Hitchcock introduced the "Curb" session as "a classic case of saving the best for last." The statement was obvious yet prescient as the six-person panel had the sellout crowd at the 80-year-old Saban Theatre laughing as if they were watching a "Curb" clips reel.

In fact, they did. Rather than the usual screening of a full episode of the evening's honored show, a greatest-hits montage from "Curb" served as the ideal opening act. Everyone has their favorite moments (What, nothing from the Tourette-addled opening night of the restaurant?!), but it was hard to argue with the quality of the selected scenes. Before that was another aperitif: a nugget from ABC's "SNL"-inspired sketch show "Fridays" in which Larry David -- sporting a sorta Art Garfunkel fading 'do -- plays the straight man to Mark Blankfield.

Miller's second question to the panel of David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, Richard Lewis and Bob Einstein (whose character Marty Funkhouser is the only one among them whose first name is different from the actor) was what they thought about the "Seinfeld" reunion on "Curb" this season and whether there might be another one.

"We think it went very well," David said politely. But then he slipped into the Larry David we love to hate and hate to love. "There'll be no more 'Seinfeld' references on the show. That's all over."

Then he put the kibosh on making this a PaleyFest panel about nothing. "I think 'Seinfeld' questions at this point are no longer appropriate."

Larry_david So the conversation quickly moved to how the various actors were cast on the show and its improvisational manner. Garlin, who plays Larry's obsequious but mischievous manager on "Curb" and also is an executive producer, noted that it began as a mockumentary about putting together an HBO comedy special. He said that on the first day of shooting, David told him, "Let's do this as a series."

He discussed the show's improv style, noting that though there is no scripted dialogue, there is an outline that describes story and action.

Said David, "People come to the set not knowing anything."

That setup suits Garlin fine. "I don't like rehearsal, I don't like memorizing lines," he said. "I just want to do it, just do it."

Hines, who plays Larry's recently back-in-the-picture wife, described the outlines as "a two-line description of a scene." She drew laughs when she said of her audition, "I met Larry, and I liked him immediately." She never expected to get the part because of a lack of experience; in fact, she was working as a personal assistant to Rob Reiner and his family at the time.

But it turned out that they wanted an "unknown" for the role. "It worked in my favor that I had nothing on my resume," Hines said.

Lewis, who recurs as Larry's mega-neurotic and ultrahigh-maintenance longtime friend, got a late start in the proceedings but took and ball and ran with it when he got a chance to speak. He said he got his start on "Curb" because he asked his old pal David if he "could be in two or three episodes of the first season" in 2000.

Throughout the evening, Lewis did his familiar shtick, often reminding the crowd that he's known David since they were 12 and how much he loves him. His manic rants were enjoyable as always, but he wasn't the star of the panel. Not by a long shot.

No, that would be Einstein, the veteran comic and TV personality who made his name as the inept daredevil Super Dave Osborne. True to his "Curb" character as David's superserious "best friend," Einstein's deadpan wit killed. He owned the room with expressionless gripes about how his character is mistreated and later rousted a couple of folks in the crowd during the Q&A session. In between, he had no reservations about delivering a pair of deep-blue jokes -- even though his co-panelists groaned, grimaced and rolled their eyes.

(For the record, both got booming laughs. But neither should even be paraphrased here.)

He also told one of the night's best anecdotes. He said David called to tell him his character's mother would die in the next season's first episode.

Einstein said, "I told him, 'That's true; my mother did just die.' "

After a pause, he said David replied, "I'm not changing the script."

Then Einstein addressed the other thing every fan of the show wants to know: Is the "Curb" Larry David like the real Larry David? "Larry won't like this," he said, "but he's a great guy ... a giving person, a decent person."

David harrumphed. Several panelists noted that he doesn't take compliments well, though he got them from everybody.

That includes Essman, who plays Jeff's profane, often hateful and always unflappable wife. She got a rise out of the crowd when the topic turned to how "Curb" fans react upon meeting her. "People come up to me anywhere -- in an airport in St. Louis -- and beg, BEG me to tell them to go fuck themselves."

The show's characters are famous for their bickering, sniping and general malice aforethought toward one another. Garlin recalled that a wardrobe woman once asked the cast, "Why can't everybody just get along?"

"People see us fighting on TV, but we get along off-camera," he said.

Einstein agreed. In a rare moment of semi-seriousness, he said: "We all genuinely like each other. You can't do improvisation if you're doing it with an asshole."

There were a few mock -- and maybe just a few not-quite-mock -- squabbles among the panelists as they seemed to slip into character, but most simply led to stories. Lewis groused about meeting David for dinner after they hadn't seen each other in months. He arrived early and told the waiter that he would be picking up the tab. David showed up and proceeded to order "about 30 entrees" -- then his cell phone rang.

It was Steve Martin, and it turns out that David had forgotten about poker night. Said Lewis, "He clicked the phone closed and was out of there after about 20 seconds. Never even said he was sorry."

David grinned a little. "Well, that's true," he said. "But when you play poker and don't have a sixth guy. ..."

After the laughs ebbed, he added, "Sorry, Richard."


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