Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan does a stop-and-chat with Curb Your Enthusiasm showrunner Jeff Schaffer on whether this is Larry’s Emmy year.
Season 10 of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm saw a return to form for the series, with a focus on Larry David opening a spite store next to former friend Mocha Joe’s coffee shop, simply to run him out of business. And yet while the series caught up with Larry and his shenanigans, after Season 9’s more linear Fatwa season, it did so with an edge, marking big X’s on some of the most taboo stories of the past couple of years, including Trump, #MeToo, and transgender visibility.
Jeff Schaffer is showrunner of two of the funniest comedies of the year, including Curb and Dave on FX, the latter which was recently named the most watched comedy ever by the network (surpassing Atlanta). I had the opportunity to ask him about whether Cheryl and Larry will ever get back together for real, how the Curb team worked with GLAAD and Chaz Bono on the transgender storyline, and what Larry David and Lil Dicky have in common other than their initials.
Awards Daily: After last season’s high concept Fatwa season, was there a pull to get back to the show’s roots, dealing with Larry’s petty shit?
Jeff Schaffer: Season 9 came out of us thinking, how do we explain the six-year interim? What has Larry been doing for six years? We started thinking about what he could be doing, and we fell in love with the idea that he was writing a musical about a fatwa with Salman Rushdie and he would get a fatwa for writing a musical about a fatwa. That provided a jumping off point, an explanation for where he’d been. When we started to talk about Season 10, the idea was, we’d just done a high concept season, so let’s do something different. We don’t want to do another season where Larry is afraid for his life. There was a thought of, let’s get back to a more traditional Curb season where the stakes are much smaller, like wobbly tables and dry scones, but they’re just as important to Larry.
AD: You didn’t address the death of Bob Einstein, but replaced him with Vince Vaughn, who actually fit in quite nicely. What was the process there with dealing with that and do you think they’ll ever address the loss?
JS: When we started production in the fall, Bob wasn’t well, but by Christmas, when we left for vacation, we had heard that Bob was getting a lot better. He’d be ready to play in February. So we’d basically held all of his stories because we wanted him to be in the show as much as possible because he’s super funny. Then by Christmas break, he was no longer with us. So in mid-season, having saved all these stories for Marty Funkhouser, we had to rewrite on the fly as we were shooting. Larry had the idea of bringing in Vince. Let’s bring in another Funkhouser, and it was an inspired choice. He slipped into the cast effortlessly and was so damn funny. In terms of dealing with Bob, we just said he was in China, because one, we’d already shot so much stuff that didn’t deal with his passing, and two, frankly, in the middle of the season, we were just sad. It was too sad. It was sad twice over. Sad he wasn’t there to make us laugh[on camera], and it was sad that he wasn’t there in life to make us laugh, with his amazing stories about the Golden Age of television. None of us were emotionally ready to deal with it in any way that would have been enjoyable on the show.
AD: That’s completely understandable. Every time I feel like we’ve seen the last of Cheryl and Larry, you bring them back together somehow. Is there a real future for them at some point again?
JS: We wanted to explore Larry actually getting to cuckold somebody. How exciting that must be—and to cuckold Ted Danson! It’s Ted fucking Danson! They should just replace Mount Rushmore with a picture of him. He’s an American institution. I personally thought it was very funny that Larry was cuckolding Ted Danson. Larry on the other hand saw it completely differently. “I’m not cuckolding. She was my wife. He dated her without my consent! So all bets are off.” We’ve been endlessly litigating this, even when we were in editing. In terms of just for our personal enjoyment and for the enjoyment of the Curb audience, you’ve got to have Cheryl around. Their dynamic is just so funny. The way she holds a mirror to his nonsense is priceless.
AD: They have such great chemistry. But the show would be completely different if they did get back together. Larry has become unhinged without her. I feel like J.B. Smoove’s Leon has taken on the role of his wife. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. (Laughs)
JS: Imagine how much trouble you’ll get into if the person who’s checking you is Leon Black. Not Cheryl David.
AD: You introduce a trans character this season, in the form of Chaz Bono’s Joey Funkhouser. There’s so much sensitivity around this subject. Were you at all trepidatious about it? How did you discuss it in the writers’ room?
JS: The writers’ room is pretty small. It’s Larry and me in a room. It’s Larry’s office or my office and a dry erase board. People always ask with Curb, do you know where the line is, about what’s proper and what’s not? I always say, “I know exactly where the line is, because I can look back and see it.” For us, we already set up in our universe that Marty Funkhouser’s daughter was transitioning, so it felt very organic to actually do a story with him. And as we were talking about the arc of the season and this spite store, we knew it had to end badly. We knew that it wasn’t going to end with a smashing success and Larry’s the Head of the Chamber of Commerce for Pacific Palisades. As we were thinking about how to end the season, then the story about Joey getting a penis that was too big for him came around and all of the sudden we were like, that’s it! Joey’s big penis is Mrs. O’Leary’s cow in the Chicago Fire of Latte Larry’s.
AD: How did Chaz react to that whole thing? Was he game for it?
JS: Chaz was great. We explained everything to him, and he was so helpful, as was Nick Adams, the Director of Transgender Media for GLAAD. I had great conversations with Nick, and we had great conversations with Chaz. His big thing was he wanted to make sure that the whole show just wasn’t about that. And we were like, it’s not. You’re in a Curb show. You’re having fights with Larry about tipping and water, respecting a drought. Everything else under the sun. It’s Curb. And Larry and Chaz had a great chemistry that I think made everything feel fun. The biggest thing for Chaz and for us was wanting to get the details right and wanting to make sure that we were telling a story about Larry not knowing what the hell to say and saying the wrong thing all the time. Which we seeded in early with Laverne Cox. And it was the same thing with Laverne. We were like, “Larry’s gonna ask a lot of stupid questions. Feel free to tell him how stupid he is.”
AD: You also tackle the #MeToo movement. You’re checking off all of these topics. Had you always noticed the similarity between Jeff Garlin and Harvey Weinstein? How did the idea to address it come about?
JS: When the Harvey Weinstein stuff broke, I walked into the office and I said to Larry, “How soon before Jeff Garlin is asked to play Weinstein in the Hallmark movie?” We laughed about that and then we said, “Why don’t we just do that? Why wait for a very special Hallmark movie about sexual harassment? Let’s do it ourselves.” I think this season, maybe we were more reflective of the world environment this year, between MAGA hats and the #MeToo movement. I think it was important that we did it our way. With Jeff looking like Weinstein and not wanting to give the choking assistant the Heimlich because you’re afraid to touch her chest. We shot the show and we were ready to air in the fall, but we wanted to wait until January because of the first show with the Happy New Year stuff. And as we were waiting so long, I was worried that someone else would do a big #MeToo story. Then I realized, what other comedy is going to have their lead character accused of sexual harassment? No one else is going to do that. That’s where Larry goes. He goes where few people dare follow. And then we were waiting on the Happy New Year, and we got very lucky that Harvey’s trial came about and he reared his ugly head, so people were more aware of it again in the late fall, which made our coming out in January perfect.
AD: I do want to ask you a couple of questions about Dave. Do you think LD and Lil Dicky have anything in common, besides their acronyms?
JS: Working with Larry David and then doing a show with Lil Dicky, it does make it seem like I’m limiting who I work with to two letters of the alphabet. That was a complete accident. Dave told me in the beginning, when I was talking about Larry David or LD, and he said, “Oh, people call me LD.” And I said, “You’re not LD. There’s one LD. And that’s not you.”
But there are a lot of similarities between Dave Burd and Larry David, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I was drawn to do the show with Dave. Yes, he happens to be a white, Jewish rapper from the suburbs who can’t record music if his nose is stuffed, but if he were an accountant, his stories and confrontations and observations about the world are very Curb-like, and that’s what drew me to his sensibility from the first time we met. I thought, Oh, you have funny stories that I think are funny—the way things happen to you is right in my wheelhouse. That was what actually got me interested from the beginning.
The other thing is that they’re both very similar in that they only care about the show. They’re both incredible hard workers who just want the show to be the best. There’s no extra anything. It’s just what’s the best thing for the show. And the third thing is, they’re both playing versions of themselves, and that’s an incredible asset when you’re improvising, and there’s a lot of improvising in Dave, too. He’s a tremendous improviser. They’re never straying from the character. When Dave’s improvising, he’s saying things the way Dave Burd would say them, because he’s playing Dave Burd. Not exactly, but a version. Same with Larry. You don’t have to worry about false moments.
AD: It’s an FX show about a rapper. Were you at all afraid of the comparisons between Atlanta and Dave?
JS: We pitched Dave to a few networks, and everyone was interested. We decided to go with FX because I had a great working relationship with them; I knew that they were smart as a network and think like producers. We asked them straight up in the beginning, “Is this insane to be going with you because you’ve got this amazing show Atlanta?” They said, “We see them as two completely different shows.” And we said, “We do, too.” Yes, their professions are the same, but there are a lot of doctor shows. Our North Star for Dave was authenticity, and I think Atlanta would say the same thing. Everyone’s being authentic to their own worlds, and there’s certainly room for that.
AD: I love the storyline with GaTa, involving him being bipolar. That’s such a powerful episode.
JS: GaTa and Dave deserve so much credit for having the bravery to be this vulnerable on camera. There’s no character for them to hide behind. They’re playing a version of themselves. They’re opening up about themselves on camera. It’s remarkably vulnerable, it’s remarkably brave, and it’s remarkably authentic, and I think that’s one of the things people have most responded to about the show.
AD: One final question: How overdue is Larry for an Emmy for playing himself? This has to be the year, right? And he might be going up against Ted Danson, which would be perfect.
JS: (Laughs) Are you asking if Larry can cuckold Ted Danson at the Emmys? Here’s the thing: Larry is a comedy genius. Those bonafides are well-established. What people don’t realize, because the way we do the show is so different than the way most shows are done, is that Larry is writing and acting at the same time, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Every scene we do is a live rewrite. I’m throwing out things. I’m whispering in people’s ears. Larry’s coming up with stuff. One of the funnest things is when Larry’s in the middle of a scene and he puts his finger to his lips and he starts laughing, and he’s not laughing at what was said—he’s laughing at what he’s about to say, the monkey wrench he’s about to throw into this argument, the crazy left turn that he just came up with. He’s able to see the scene as he’s acting in it, which is just an incredible achievement.
Curb Your Enthusiasm is available to stream on HBO GO, HBO NOW, and on HBO via HBO Max and other partners’ platforms.