Winging It with ‘Enthusiasm’

by David Bianculli

Even though Larry David is both the creator and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm, his new comedy series on HBO, he freely admits he doesn't know his lines when he arrives on the set each day.

Then again, neither does anybody else.

Curb Your Enthusiasm is constructed in an unusual way. It purports to show David at work and at home in real life (much like Seinfeld, which he co-created), with actors portraying his wife and manager. Some celebrities appear as themselves; other performers portray Larry's friends, acquaintances and oddball encounters.

Yet not one of them has a script. Before a scene is shot, they know only the basic point of each scene; even David, who constructs the seven-page outline of
each 30-minute show, knows only the basic conflicts he envisions before each scene is filmed.

"It all happens on camera. All I have is an outline, a story," David said yesterday. His cast members, from Cheryl Hines as his wife and Jeff Garlin as his manager to such guest players as Louis Nye and Ted Danson, do the rest.

"They're making everything up," he said of his actors. "We're winging it."

This results in some moments that are rare for TV — including genuine laughter. In one scene, Richard Lewis, playing himself, gives Larry a deadline to call him
"before sundown." Larry laughs at Richard, asking him if he thinks he's Gary Cooper — and Richard, caught equally by surprise by Larry’s remark, laughs right back.

"In this show," David said proudly, "you see people laughing because (as an actor) you're hearing somebody say something funny for the first time.

"If that was written down in a script, that Gary Cooper line, nobody would laugh. You'd have already heard it 50 times. You'd have already said it 50 times."

Several takes — often with intentionally different tones and pace — are shot of each scene, then shaped in the editing room. It's a mix of improv comedy and character acting ("A lot of times you do have to act," David said almost reluctantly; "I hate to say it, but it does require some acting"), with a lot of work to make it all flow naturally and look natural.

"There's a huge ratio of (raw to used) footage," said Robert Weide, who filmed the premiere and several subsequent installments. "The real work is in the editing room."

Seinfeld, by contrast, was "like putting on a play every week—a huge production, a big night," David said. Every week was running the same gauntlet of getting the script in shape, getting the actors ready, warming up the audience and performing the show.

"This thing," he added, "is just very calm. You go into work, there's nobody around, and it's just very relaxing. It's different."

Asked if he had intentionally designed his career to take a constantly different path, from repertory member of ABC's live Fridays series 20 years ago to co-creator of Seinfeld a decade ago to star of his own series to start the millennium, David smirked at the mere thought.

"To tell you the truth, I never tried to think about what was going to happen to me, because it was a little too frightening to me," he said. ''Anyway, I'm so busy lamenting the past, l really don't have time to think about the future."

Home > Filmography > Curb Your Enthusiasm > HBO Series

curb montage