9.12.08

The Idiot Box: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Despite my love of books, I'm not often a library guy. I usually like to own the books I read, because I can put them on a shelf and make it seem like I'm cultured.

Of course, sometimes I don't read them at all, as Dan Gibson pointed out on a recent visit. "Wow, you have almost the whole series of McSweeney's Quarterlies," he deadpanned. "And most of them are unwrapped. I'm impressed."

In all fairness, have you ever tried to read a McSweeney's Quarterly? It's like, more pictures, please!

Anyway, Mindy and I made a trip to the Phoenix Central Library the other day. We knew it was off Central Avenue near downtown, so I had Mindy look it up on the Garmin we got for this strange new city.

"It's not showing up," she told me.

"What? It has to be in there. It's that huge, architecturally cool building. We've driven by it before."

"There's a Burton Barr Central Library, but that's it."

"Is it on Central Avenue?"

"Well, yes. And it's near downtown. But the others say 'public library', and this one doesn't."

"So, you're telling me this might be some sort of rogue library system separate from the bureaucratic public infrastucture?"

"Wow." She blinked at me. "It's amazing how much I hate you sometimes."

We have fun. But what does this have to do with television?

One of the books I picked up was a yellow tome titled Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Book. It's basically a recap of each episode, but the book is also loaded with interviews and tidbits of inside information. For a book rehashing episodes I've already seen, it's remarkably interesting. The book also features a biography of the life of Larry David, possibly the greatest comedic mind of his generation (and that's saying a lot considering his contemporaries).

Before "Seinfeld", David toiled fitfully in the '70s on the New York City stand-up circuit. He was a "comedian's comedian", a nice way of saying he didn't get on well with audiences, often screaming at patrons if they weren't paying attention to his act.

It's particularly fascinating, since the comedy world has molded itself around Larry David in the last two decades.

Think about it. Between 1989 and now there have been a handful of truly influential television comedies:
  • "The Simpsons": 1989 - Present
  • "Seinfeld": 1989 - 1998
  • "Frasier": 1993 - 2004
  • "South Park": 1997 - Present
  • "Curb Your Enthusiasm": 1999 - Present
  • "Arrested Development": 2003 - 2006
  • "The Office": 2005 - Present
("Friends" doesn't count because A. It didn't influence anything and B. It was unfunny at least 95% of the time.)

Larry David created "Seinfeld" and "Curb". Ricky Gervais has long stated "The Office" was directly influenced by the improvised documentary style of "Curb", and it's difficult to imagine "Arrested Development"'s self-obsessed Bluths getting airtime without "Seinfeld" setting the precedent years earlier. If you take out "The Simpsons" (which heavily influenced "South Park") and "Frasier", which was sort of its own thing, you've got a list of show's which wouldn't have happened without a particular awkward, balding, caustic, Brooklyn-born Jew.

All this is more or less an excuse to post an excerpt from Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Book which had me laughing for a solid two minutes. Richard Lewis, David's long time friend and fellow comedian, is being interviewed about David's early days.
Do you remember the first time you saw him perform?

I remember I walked into the back of Catch a Rising Star and the first thing I saw was a bit about how he was ill at ease with dating, and how the only way he could conceivably pick up a woman at a bar was to walk in and say "My name is O'Banion! And I want a companion!" It was dark and funny and twisted and I immediately thought, 'Anyone who can come up with a premise like that I want to know and become his friend'. By that point I never wanted to hear another premise, but I had to see Larry.
No kidding. I'll close with my favorite "Curb" scene of all-time. It contains the word "bull$#!^" if you're squeamish about those things.

4 comments:

  1. Friends didn't influence anything? Jordan, you and I both know you had "The Rachel" hair-style for most of the late 90's.

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  2. Just so long as it didn't influence a bunch of Ross imitators. I swear, that character was one of the worst in television history.

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  3. I think he influenced Toby on The Office

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  4. a) That's my favourite Curb scene too! The fact of his happiness coming from everyone hating him is, well, it's something to aspire to.

    b) You should read more McSweeney's! I know you're half-joking with your comment, but they're all awesome. Except maybe the war ones.

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