The Hilarity and Horror of Curb Your Enthusiasm

By Delingpole, James | The Spectator, September 30, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Hilarity and Horror of Curb Your Enthusiasm


Delingpole, James, The Spectator


James Delingpole celebrates the unrivalled hilarity - and horror - of Curb Your Enthusiasm

The best episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm are the ones that make you want to hide behind the sofa, cover your ears and drown out the horror by screaming: 'No, Larry, no!' I'm thinking, for example, of the one where our hero attends a victim support group for survivors of incest and, in order to fit in, decides to concoct a cock and bull story about how he was sexually abused by his uncle. This, of course, comes back horribly to haunt him when out one day with his blameless real uncle...

But no, I shan't try to elaborate, for the plots in Curb Your Enthusiasm are as convoluted as any farce. And besides, you should see it for yourself. So long as you don't mind writhing in embarrassment, and wishing the ground could swallow you up, there really are few things more excruciatingly funny than Curb.

Some people, I know, revere it because it is so groovily (and influentially) postmodern. It purports to show the further, true-life adventures of Jewish comic and writer Larry David -- played and written by himself -- following the massive success of his surprise hit 'comedy about nothing', Seinfeld. As a viewer, you feel as though you're in on a sophisticated joke -- something that the show's distinctive and rather odd tone (part naturalistic, part archly knowing) encourages.

Underneath all that fancy, self-referential stuff, though, what you have is a very traditional comedy of character in extremis. Sure, Larry isn't exactly Everyman, with his fame and his multimillion-dollar lifestyle and his complete lack of filter. Nonetheless, more often than not you find yourself thinking: 'There but for the grace of God go I.'

Take the infamous scene where he bumps into some white American friends with their adopted oriental toddler in a pushchair. Short of something to say, he asks them whether the child is any good with chopsticks. The friends -- this is PC Los Angeles -- are mildly appalled by this racial stereotyping. But Larry digs himself deeper by insisting that this is a valid question.

As indeed, I'd argue, it is. The comedy, as so often in Curb, lies in the gulf between what people really think and what they're allowed to say. As David once told Ricky Gervais: 'We all have good thoughts and bad thoughts, but nobody ever expresses the bad thoughts. We just think them and don't say them... But the bad thoughts are funny.'

'Curb Your Enthusiasm' has two meanings. Partly, it's a fairly typical piece of downbeat David life philosophy -- 'Always keep to it. To not is unattractive. It's unseemly,' he once said. Partly, it was a warning to fans to keep their expectations in check: 'Don't expect another Seinfeld.'

It wasn't. It was possibly something even better -- though its groundbreaking originality isn't so obvious now that it has spawned so many imitations. Ricky Gervais's Extras, for example, was an obvious homage -- especially in the scenes where Gervais's character has excruciating encounters with real-life superstars (e.g. David Bowie) playing pastiche versions of themselves.

There's a danger that after a while it can start to look a bit smug, a bit 'see how famous my friends are and how willing they are to appear in my show'. This has felt increasingly the case in later seasons, such as the last one's finale where David conducts an escalating dispute with the man who lives above his New York apartment -- Michael J. …

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