The Incredibly Happy Life of Larry David, TVs Favorite Grouch

“There’s a few things you should never do in an audition with Larry,” says Schaffer. “One is that unless the scene absolutely calls for it, don’t start to cry, because then the scene is just over. Two, try not to touch his face. Just don’t. And three: There’s a difference between insults for comedy and just being plain insulting. Larry is sensitive.”

“I’ve been called terrible names,” David says. “ ‘Old’ used to really bother me, cut me to the quick.” He says he only expects that others abide by the same code he follows himself: “I never cross a line where I’m commenting on somebody’s looks. Never would I say anything that could personally hurt or insult somebody.”

I have always understood Curb Your Enthusiasm to be about the existential horrors of being rich. The show makes the most sense to me as the continuation, on some transdimensional plane, of the last moments of the Seinfeld finale, in which the four characters are revealed to be in an ever repeating hell of their own petty narcissistic making. The Larry of Curb, as I imagine him, is George Costanza set horribly free, untethered now to civil society by even the flimsy bounds of the need for employment: The Stranger in Brentwood.

An elaborate set of rules used to govern when David donned sneakers. These days they’re about all he ever wears.

David has worn his signature Oliver Peoples frames since the early ’90s.

LD’s belt, customized on the set of Curb with his initials.

“I was playing shortstop on the improv softball team,” David says of the discovery that he was going bald. “I went to scratch my head, and I felt a bead of sweat. What in God’s name is that? Oh, my God.”

This, David wastes no time in letting me know, is all nonsense. To his mind, TV Larry is no antihero. He is a real hero.

“When I was told that there were moments in the show that made people cringe, I was shocked. It never occurred to me,” he says.

“What do you think is the animating emotion of the show, then?” I ask.

“I just thought people were going to enjoy it. I’ll tell you this: If something made me cringe, I don’t think I’d put it in the show.”

“So Larry is just a truth teller?”

“Yes.”

“He doesn’t cross the line at all?”

“He’s expressing himself.”

“And it’s admirable.”

“Totally. When you think of the way we conduct ourselves in life, how much bullshit we have to endure, how much bullshit we have to listen to and how much bullshit comes out of us just to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. All these rules we set up for ourselves.… I don’t think I’m a bad guy. I’m honest. I’m not mean. I’m never cruel. Come up with one example where I’ve done something bad. I don’t think you’ll find it.”

I mention a scene, from season seven, in which TV Larry stops a little girl, Jeff and Susie’s daughter, from singing at a party. He smiles.

“To me that’s too funny to be mean. When it’s funny, it’s not mean. It’s just funny.”

Are there things TV Larry does that he wouldn’t do?

“I wouldn’t do anything,” he says. “Would I ever stop a girl from singing in my life? No. Would I stand there thinking, ‘Boy, I wish I could stop her?’ Yes! That’s why there’s a show.

Of course, as the Case of the Diluted Americano made clear, the line is hardly absolute—and less so all the time. TV Larry may have begun as an avatar for all the things Real Larry wished he could say but couldn’t, but the longer the former exists, the more the latter can get away with. This pays dividends for those around him too.

“We get a social pass,” says Ashley Underwood, his girlfriend of two years. “We’ll be at a dinner party, and Larry will take his last bit of food and just stand up for us to go. I just shrug. He gets the laugh, and I get to ride his coattails.”