Is the last “Larry David Moment” the end of humor?

Curb Your Enthusiasm-Larry David- Photo: Twitter
Curb Your Enthusiasm-Larry David- Photo: Twitter

As the world went mad about halfway through Curb’s run – snowflakes to the left of me, MAGA to the right – it is a wonder it managed to survive

My first “Larry David Moment” came in college. My roommate was holding court in the cafeteria with a group of young women listening rapt to his well-worn tale of how his father survived Auschwitz. I muscled in and offered: “You must be very proud.”

“Sure,” Lawrence replied, trying his best to project melancholy (not so easy for a Canadian). “Wait! Why?” Whereupon I quipped: “It’s like the Harvard of concentration camps.” I remember the shock this caused. I remember my satisfaction at the shock this caused. Somewhere in the world, another Lawrence was starting out in comedy.

The college memory came back as I watched the apparently last-ever episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the vehicle for Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, which many consider brilliant and boring people find insufferable. For the former there is no more pleasurable use of their time (with one exception) than to watch old episodes. That will soon be all there is, because David seems to be calling it quits after a 12-season, 25-year run which I am seriously suspecting will mark the end of humor on TV.

Considering that the world went mad about halfway through the run – snowflakes to the left of me, MAGA to the right – it is a wonder David managed to survive, as there is almost no group he avoided trying to offend. David is a tribune for the liberal center that can stomach such a thing and that can introspect – but he’s not for the faint of heart.

This is a man who takes in a family called the Blacks displaced by Hurricane Katrina (to  curry favor with his wife) and is then is surprised to an awkward extent that they turn out to be black. When he explains that it is as if he were named “Larry Jew,” the humor comes from the very wordlessness of their reaction as they ignore everything he said. “Well, we really do appreciate y’all letting us stay with you,” says Auntie Rae as Larry gets the bags.

Much of the humor is Jewish. That is, of course, part of a long tradition in America, from the Marx Brothers, Lenny Bruce and Carl Reiner to Mel Brooks, Jerry Lewis and Woody Allen. But it is uniquely Larry David (although it’s also pretty Jerry Seinfeld). And in this aspect as well, it just might be the last (with all due respect to Sarah Silverman).

One episode featured a survivor of the Nazi genocide competing for tragedy credit with a hunky graduate of the “Survivor” reality show. “I was in a concentration camp!” cries the old man. The youth is unimpressed: “We had very little rations, no snacks…  I couldn’t even work out (and) they certainly didn’t have a gym.” The argument is somehow unresolved.

In “Palestinian Chicken,” an attractive Palestinian woman is smitten with the much older Larry because he insists one Funkhouser remove his new accessory, a yarmulke, prior to entering a chicken restaurant full of Arabs. “You’re a Jew, yes? And you still told him to take off his Jew cap. What’s your name?” The reader’s imagination should suffice for the rest.

In another episode, Larry is stranded on a malfunctioning ski lift with a Jewish woman so religious that she cannot permit herself to remain alone in a confined space with a man at sundown, because “the Torah says so.” She insists one of them will have to jump. Larry lets her go ahead. She breaks her legs and ankles; Larry munches on his snack.

But it’s hardly all about the Jews. Larry’s supremely sensitive insensitivity actually covers quite a range. One episode features an ex-girlfriend who invites Larry to an incest support group (Larry’s skeptical wife cannot interfere with that) only to have him discover that the trauma stemmed from verbal advances from a stepfather who was not only younger than her mother but also younger than herself (Larry wonders whether this counts). In another instance he struggles with whether it is legitimate to break up with a person about to receive a cancer diagnosis (he must outrun the doctor to the house).

The many philosophical explorations include whether it is OK to ask a sufferer of dementia for the return of a $6,000 loan. At another juncture, pre-injury Salman Rushdie convinces Larry that a fatwa can be convenient, because women find danger sexy.

In one episode from the sublime final season, there is discussion of whether one can “fat-shame” a dog, given that the portly canine can neither understand the insult nor feel shame. When the late Richard Lewis tells Larry his girlfriend attempted suicide after their breakup Larry is skeptical, asking him if he really believes he is “suicide material.” At one point Larry tries to disentangle himself from an unjust #metoo situation by offering his accuser an introduction to Bruce Springsteen, but when the harried Boss is curt the woman expands her accusations to include the novel concept of a “failed introduction.”

Indeed, Curb has generated an array of veritable behavioral concepts that are now part of the recognized fabric of society (at least among the show’s oft-shunned fanatical devotees):

The “Stop-and-Chat”: These are the awkward encounters when you run into someone you know and feel obligated to engage in small-talk even though you prefer to keep walking on your way. The other person is invariably persistent.

The „Social Assassin”: This refers to a person – like Larry – who is willing and able to say or do things that many people wish they could were they not too polite or restrained. For example, Larry simply advises a woman that saying “LOL” instead of actually laughing is wrong, with disastrous results.

The „Chat-and-Cut”: This concept involves engaging in a conversation with someone in line at a store or a public place – even if you barely know them and are essentially feigning friendliness – in order to cut in line. The people behind you grapple with the no-win choice of accepting the outrage, or making an issue.


The „Sample Abuser”: This involves taking too much advantage of free samples in grocery stores or at food fairs, making others wait while sampling with unreasonable gusto. Similar to the “chat-and-cut,” this behavior can enrage the impatient. This, to me, is a cousin of the “double-dip” from Seinfeld, the faux-pas whereby one dips a food item (such as a cracker) into a communal dip, takes a bite, and then dips once more.

„The Big Goodbye”:  This gambit is deployed when a person – say, Larry – ignores an irritating acquaintance all night at a party. Knowing the other guest has noticed, he then stages an extraordinarily theatrical encounter precisely before needing to leave, pretending that he wishes he had time for a more profound conversation. When ideally executed, “The Big Goodbye” benefits from plausible deniability.

And, of course, the classic „Larry David Moment”: These involve Larry’s character either inadvertently offending or causing awkwardness with his blunt honesty and lack of social grace—or, as it is otherwise known, indifference to giving offense.

In an especially meta Larry David Moment of my own, I was trying to persuade my staff at The Associated Press to watch an episode called „Crazy-Eyez Killah,” which involves a discussion of the titular rapper’s favorite kind of … something or other. On Brick Lane in London, I chose to perform the entire scene, with the accents and actual stipulation of the thing. Let’s just say that I found myself being stared at by younger persons.

Yes, it may just be a generational issue. I am starting to suspect that no one born after 1994 can understand any of this. And if Larry seems offensive to younger readers, or any readers, then I can only agree. But I am not shocked by offense. Humor is the spice of life, and while it should not be cruel it must also have the space to breathe.

Pivotal moment on Iran – but also on Gaza


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here