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The End of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
0:00 / 52:02
May 23, 2024

On April 7th, Larry David’s sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm—which debuted in 2000 and ran on and off for 24 years—concluded its twelfth and final season. For many critics, the finale marked not only the completion of a beloved show that sometimes seemed like it would run forever, but also the end of an era of American Jewish comedy, embodied by David and other comics of his generation. Curb follows the everyday antics of a fictionalized version of David, living a posh life in Los Angeles following the success of the iconic ’90s sitcom Seinfeld, which he co-created with Jerry Seinfeld. David’s avatar is an over-the-top archetype of a Brooklyn Jew raised in the mid-century, and the show is animated by the character’s dry affect and hyperbolic intransigence, which often put him at odds with reigning social mores, fueling absurd interactions with strangers, friends, and foes. Over the course of Curb’s long run, it’s had a profound impact on the shape of modern American comedy, while the caricature at its core has emerged as one of the defining representations of American Jewishness.

On this episode of On the Nose, managing editor Nathan Goldman, executive editor Nora Caplan-Bricker, contributing editor Ari M. Brostoff, and contributing writer Rebecca Pierce discuss Curb’s depictions of Jewishness, Blackness—and, in one famous episode, Palestinianness—and share their thoughts on the show’s final season and David’s comedic legacy.

Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”

Articles, Episodes, and Films Mentioned:

“The Ski Lift,” Curb Your Enthusiasm

“The End,” Curb Your Enthusiasm

American Jewish Comedy Sings a Swan Song,” P.E. Moskowitz, Vulture

“Meet the Blacks,” Curb Your Enthusiasm

A Serious Man, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

“Atlanta,” Curb Your Enthusiasm

“The Lawn Jockey,” Curb Your Enthusiasm

“The N Word,” Curb Your Enthusiasm

“Palestinian Chicken,” Curb Your Enthusiasm

“No Lessons Learned,” Curb Your Enthusiasm

“The Finale,” Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld Admits He ‘Sometimes’ Regrets the Seinfeld Finale,” Corinna Burford, Vulture


Nathan Goldman: Welcome back to On the Nose, the Jewish Currents Podcast. I’m Nathan Goldman, the managing editor of Jewish Currents, and I’ll be your host for today. On this episode, we’ll be discussing the sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm, which debuted in the year 2000 and ran on-and-off for 24 years, concluding its 12th and final season last month. The series was helmed by the American Jewish comedian and writer Larry David, who rose to fame as the co-creator of the iconic 90s sitcom Seinfeld along with Jerry Seinfeld, and follows the antics and everyday life of a fictionalized version of David. At the center of the show was Larry’s dry affect and hyperbolic impudence and intransigence, which often put him at odds with reigning social mores and animate his absurd interactions with strangers, friends, and foes. Over the course of Curb’s long run, it’s had a profound impact on the shape of American Jewish comedy (and American comedy), while the caricature at its core has emerged as one of the defining representations of American Jewishness. To discuss the end of Curb, the legacy of the show, and what it has to say about Jewishness, I’m joined today by Nora Caplan-Bricker, executive editor of Jewish Currents,

Nora Caplan Bricker: Hi, thanks for having me.

NG: Contributing Editor Ari M. Brostoff,

Ari Brostoff: Hi.

NG: And contributing writer Rebecca Pierce,

Rebecca Pierce: Hi, it’s great to be here.

NG: Thank you all so much for being here today to discuss this show. I wanted to start by asking all three of you to say a bit about what your relationship is to Curb Your Enthusiasm, and perhaps to Seinfeld, and to Larry David is a figure—whatever these things have meant or not meant in your life. So what’s your history with the show and with his work?

NCB: Yeah, so I think I have had parallel experiences of getting into Curb and Seinfeld, which fundamentally was just the experience of really not liking either one—initially—and then somehow getting absorbed into the particular narrative grammar of these two shows and watching enough of them that suddenly, some kind of switch flipped, and I went from finding them just totally unwatchable to finding them not only very funny, but also very soothing to watch.

So, I think I have a kind of funny backward experience with the Larry David Extended Universe, which is that I got into Curb (which is the later and sort of weirder and less popular show) first. I watched it growing up because my dad, who is a cantankerous Jewish man who does not like to follow social norms (Hi, Dad!), really likes it, and he and my brother used to watch it. And sometimes I would watch it with them for like ten minutes and then get kind of icked out by how cringy it is and stop watching. And maybe in the last four-ish years, one of my friends was doing a full watch-through of Curb, and I watched some of it with her, and, for some reason, just decided that I actually thought it was great, and then watched a bunch of it. And then, on the strength of starting to like Curb—and also working at Jewish Currents and being surrounded by people (including you, Nathan, notably) who feel that Seinfeld was really formative for them and for their understanding of Jewishness—I decided to go back through and watch Seinfeld, having also a really negative impression of Seinfeld and a feeling that I thought Jerry Seinfeld’s opening bits in particular were unbearably sexist and lame. And, somehow, I started thinking Seinfeld was amazing, and just watched the whole thing.

RP: I grew up with Seinfeld constantly on in the background of my house as a kid, which is funny because my parents, if you ask them, will say they hate Seinfeld. But it was always on, and I remember this kind of collective experience as a family of watching it, kind of booing at Jerry’s stand up at the beginning, and then not being able to turn it off. Everybody loves Elaine, and Julia Louis Dreyfus is just incredible. And I also think there was clearly something that we did like, and didn’t want to turn off, and didn’t want to turn away from—as much as there were many things that I think were obnoxious about that show, maybe intentionally so. And then when Curb came on, it was something my dad and my grandfather loved. My parents got my Jewish grandfather a Curb DVD set at one point and it was one of his favorite gifts, and he was always watching it. And I remember really not liking it. When it first came out, I was maybe 10 years old, so it just reminded me of watching my dad and my grandpa arguing, and I found that grating enough in person. I didn’t need a TV show. But as I’ve gotten older (and also become a comedy writer myself), it has become this touchstone for me. It’s like whenever I’m writing for a show, I’ll put it on because I think that it has perfect comedic structure and timing in scene, after scene, after scene—and the payoff is always so good. And it is kind of this masterclass in comedy writing for me. And I now find that cantankerous old Jewish guy shtick very comforting, very relatable. Ss much as I used to not like it because Larry’s an annoying old white guy, much like the ones in my family, it does feel like home. And even just being Black and Jewish, there’s nothing more comforting to me than watching a bunch of Black people yell at Larry David. It feels like me and my Mom ganging up on my Dad, and usually, he deserved it. So there’s something very special about the Black-Jewish relations stuff that I’m sure we’ll get into.

AB: I would say my relationship to Seinfeld is very normie. It was on a lot; it was one of the first shows not for kids that I would turn on myself. I think I loved it in a way that felt just really straightforward and unproblematic at the time—and then, later, and rewatching, realized how much the racism, and sexism, and homophobia, and so forth that it channels can be really (in my experience of it) less deeply upsetting than just affectively grading. But you know, I also still love it. With Curb, I think the weirdness of it hits me in a really particular way that I’ve never quite figured out what to make of. Because the world of Larry David’s Los Angeles, and this kind of image of a world where Jewish New York is getting manufactured and brought into the representation factory in LA (and specifically in extremely wealthy precincts of the West Side), it’s just a really weird thing for me to encounter—being from LA, but from an LA that is so different from that LA, and then living in New York now, in the New York that—actually, I think my New York that I currently inhabit actually does feel, in many ways, a lot like Seinfeld. But my LA feels absolutely nothing like Larry David’s. But it is recognizable to me. Despite all of that, I do feel a kind of kinship with Larry David as a character, to the degree that the Curb theme song plays in my head—I would say probably almost on a daily basis. And all of that is true despite the fact that I’ve watched maybe like 20% of the show.

NG: I, like all of you in various ways, grew up with Seinfeld. I think of it as the most formative show for me and pretty important and constitutive in my sense of Jewishness from a pretty young age. I would watch the show with my dad—and, I think, with other members of my family, but I really remember it as a me and my dad thing. And I remember watching episodes that I wasn’t equipped to understand the humor of, and so he would explain it to me, and that being a way of introducing a lot of different concepts. Both things that were kind of adult topics around explaining the sexual humor, things like that, but also a lot around certain aspects of basic secular New York Jewishness, in a way. So I grew up in the Midwest, in Kansas City, but my dad is from Long Island. I think of it a lot as a kind of key form of his transmission of New York Jewish culture to me, unfolded through watching Seinfeld, talking about Seinfeld, thinking about the reference points in Seinfeld. So I watched it pretty obsessively as a kid, I would say, and so it’s really a huge comfort show for me—definitely watched like all of it, over and over. And then Curb, I really only started getting into in the past like three or four years, because my wife, Bridget, was for some reason getting into one of the later seasons of it. And I started watching some of it with her, and then from there I ended up going down this rabbit hole of watching all of it—I’ve seen all of it. So that I really got into as an adult, but in a way that both felt like it really put me back in touch with all of my sentimental feelings around Seinfeld. But I think also, there’s a way in which I appreciate Curb more, or like the ways in which it is so much more over the top and direct and self-conscious about its Jewishness, and just its escalation of the comedic spirit of Seinfeld, feels to me like there’s this weird experience of both speaking to the child in me from that Seinfeld experience, while also—I don’t know, feeling like it more corresponds to a certain adult formation or something.

I think we all, in different ways, have already spoken to the question of Curb’s relationship to Jewishness and, for the purposes of this conversation, we assembled a syllabus of some episodes that deal with Jewishness very explicitly. I’m wondering if there are moments or tendencies that stood out to you from some of those episodes or from other ones, to kind of begin to be able to talk about like: What’s so Jewish about Curb? What do we make of its picture of Jewishness?

RP: I think for me, Curb is a show that’s about unpacking obligation, which I think is a very Jewish thing, like, mitzvah obligation. These are really important concepts in Judaism: What do you owe other people. I think Larry, as a character in that show, is someone who, on one hand, actually feels very deep obligation all the time, and he’s trying to negotiate it and set limits. And sometimes, he’s going too far on that in ways that backfire for him. But I think that central question of like: What do you owe other people—you know, in the parts of the series where he’s trying to get a kidney for Richard Lewis, he doesn’t want to give the kidney. He will do anything to not give the kidney. But also, he knows his friend needs a kidney, and he was gonna go to extreme lengths to get him one, like trying to get in good with the Kidney Association. It all blows up in his face, and he ultimately has to give a kidney, but that for me was really, really Jewish. Or this question of like, What do you owe other people? When is that too much? And I think he, a lot of times, is pointing out how social expectation and social obligation is kind of arbitrary and unfair in certain ways. And also, at the end of the day, we do owe people something, even if it’s just to save face a lot of the time for his character. I think that that central idea of social obligation is also very central to Jewishness.

AB: I really, really agree with this. And to me, that’s the part of the Jewishness that’s interesting, and there’s also a part that’s not interesting. I think the interesting part is the way that Larry is obsessed with obligation—and I would say Talmudically obsessed with ethics—and is also outrageously bad at navigating ethics and human interaction in its actual, everyday material form, and that the tension between those aspirations and realities are what creates the humor of the show. Maybe that’s even further underscored by the fact that he lives such a plush existence, and is completely unable to find relief in it anywhere. And then it was funny watching the most explicitly Jewish-coded episodes for this conversation, because it made me realize that, when Jewishness gets explicitly thematized, I often start finding it incredibly annoying. Like, there’s a lot of unprocessed cheap shots, a lot of, I don’t know, making fun of Orthodox people. It just feels defensive, I think, and I don’t know, a little smarmy, or something.

NG: Yeah, it’s really interesting, because I don’t feel the same way in principle, or as a rule, but I totally know what you mean. I think this idea of obligation and ethics as chorus of the show’s Jewishness and the characters’ Jewishness are really interesting ways to look at it, and really helpful for me. And it was making me think, I feel some of the ways that Jewish observance comes up whenever there’s a synagogue plot, or there’s a rabbi around, or someone kind of getting more into their Judaism—I feel like sometimes, the show was deriving some of its comedy (I think, often, in an effective ways) from setting Larry’s version of his personal halacha or whatever, his way of doing things that is very set for him and he will not budge on, running up against a traditional Jewish form of that. I think of the episode “The Ski Lift,” which is what Rebecca was referring to, where he ends up trying to get in with this Orthodox Jewish head of this kidney consortium in order to get his friend Richard Lewis moved up the donor list. And the climax of that episode is around him ending up on the ski lift with the kidney guy’s daughter, who can’t be alone with him after sundown.

[Clip from Curb Your Enthusiasm]

Larry David: Who said so?

Rachel Heineman: The law? The Torah says so. Hashem says so.

LD: Hashem?

RH: Don’t you know anything?

LD: No Hashem, I know. Anyway, but it’s okay. There’s extenuating circumstances,

RH: There’s no such thing as extenuating circumstances. Somebody’s going to have to jump.

LD: Oh, stop.

RH: Stop what? I can’t be with you here after sundown. There’s no other way. somebody’s gonna have to jump. You’re gonna have to jump.

LD: What are you fucking nuts? What are you doing?

NG: And she ends up jumping off the ski left and getting injured. And so I feel, on the one hand, there is cheapness to some of the humor, where a part of the humor of this episode is also Larry basically putting on Jewface in the way he’s pretending to be more observant and speaking fake Hebrew or Yiddish. Like the punch line is all these people follow these ridiculous rules, or whatever. But there’s also a way in which it’s setting his intransigent secular Jewishness against another intransigent observant Jewishness that does feel like there’s actually friction to it are more interesting to me.

NCB: I’m glad we’re talking about the season with Richard’s kidney (which I think is season five) because I do think this is the most Jewish season of the show. And I agree with what you’re saying, Nathan, that there’s this really important distinguishing of Larry’s particular version of Jewishness, this secular Jewishness that takes all the Talmudic or hermeneutic tendencies that we associate with Jewishness and turns them on these petty matters of everyday life instead of living by any established law or set of rules. I think that the episode that popped into my head as you asked this question, which is one of the ones that we rewatched, is the last episode in that season, which I don’t think is actually a standout episode for the show. It’s this very strange culmination to this whole Richard Needs a Kidney plotline (which has been the A-plot for the season), which has had this B-plot of Larry wondering if he might be adopted and trying to figure that out. In this episode, he is wrongly told that he is, in fact, adopted, and there is half the episode or something where he thinks he’s not Jewish. And he becomes a very nice, normal person and decides to give Richard his kidney. And then he learns that he was not, in fact, adopted, and he is Jewish—and he becomes an asshole again, and he regrets the kidney gift, and various other things happen. But I do think that episode, it’s become this kind of key for me to what the show thinks Jewishness is all about or what role Jewishness plays in the show. And I think this is actually applicable to Seinfeld, too. Like the world is just a bizarro and relatively unforgiving place in these shows. And I think that Jews like Larry (or, really, Larry and Larry’s avatar, George and Seinfeld and Jerry and whatever), like the kind of protagonists of these shows who happen to all be either secular Jews or coded that way, are people who are actually interested in looking at the way that the world is. That seems to be Larry David’s understanding of Jewishness, that that’s the thing that sets you up to want to talk about why these absurd social mores operate the way they do, or why everything is as horrible as it is or as unpleasant as it is. And that’s the distinguishing factor of Jewishness. It feels to me like that’s encapsulated in the way that, when Larry thinks he’s not Jewish, he just wants to wear khakis and smile at people on the street, and he doesn’t mind being put in the emergency exit row in the airplane, and he’s very polite to everyone. And then the moment he thinks he’s Jewish again, he goes back to being this fundamentally tetchy, dissatisfied person who wants to actually deconstruct the layers of social life in the way that makes the show interesting and fun to watch.

AB: Well, it just occurred to me that part of what’s going on in the difference between how explicitly Jewishness appears in Seinfeld versus in Curb is that in Seinfeld, famously, the characters are not supposed to be Jewish (other than Jerry) yet read as incredibly Jewish. Whereas in Curb, where the Jewishness is often more explicit, the way that Larry’s character is isolated and wealthy to a point that it’s not just assimilation into whiteness or something, he comes off as quite WASPy in like, the way that he dresses—like, he loves skiing.

NG: He’s really into golf.

AB: Yeah, exactly. Real golfer vibe, you know, and I think that that, then, is the backdrop against which his naming of his Jewishness comes out. And that, in itself, is understood as part of the joke. And maybe that’s the part that I find a bit boring. Although I also think there’s an interesting side to it, which is that it does seem like it has something to do with his character’s continually-thwarted quest for comfort, that there’s some way that Curb is about the metaphysical problem of never being able to get high enough thread count on your sheets. I do think there’s something interesting there, like the idea that you can asymptotically approach this fantasy of WASPy Americanness and your sheets will still be scratchy because the scratchiness is the quality of your own body.

NG: I think this is really interesting. I mean, it’s making me think about just this question of comfort, like read two ways. I think Rebecca, you spoke earlier to the experience of like comfort watching the show. I mean, this is a really big part of my experience of Curb as well as Seinfeld. I think it was explained in a pretty useful way in this piece that PE Moskowitz wrote in Vulture about the end of the show where the lead is sort of all about the experience of like comfort in watching the show. And I think one of the examples they lead with is this scene that’s just watching Larry struggle to get comfortable on this day bed that he doesn’t know how to sit on. And I feel like I really resonated with that articulation of a correspondence between Larry’s physical experience and portrayal of discomfort, and then the experience of comfort of watching that because of the ways in which it feels so archetypal of a certain kind of idea of secular Jewish discomfort or something. Like what’s the relationship between that and my own Jewishness and experiences of comfort and discomfort in the world? Or like, what are the ways in which there’s an appeal to the kind of archetypalness or romanticization of this out of place in the world Jew, even if that’s not like my dominant experience in the world.

RP: I had similar experiences watching an episode that wasn’t on our list, where he’s struggling to open plastic packaging. Like, that has been a struggle my whole life with these things, and it’s something that I think even being rich and insulated in a lot of other ways, you can’t get around—like, sometimes you’re gonna have to open a stupid plastic box that you can’t get your hands into. But I think how that relates to Jewishness is an interesting question that we’re all kind of struggling to articulate, but there’s something about knowing that there’s this deeper struggle behind you in the past, and that somehow was invoked, even in something as silly as trying to open a plastic package. I think that’s part of what’s Jewish about the show, and what’s Jewish about the idea of struggle on the show. And being hyper wealthy in America is an historically WASP position. I think that’s why some of the things, like the golfing or whatever, read super WASP, but you can never be fully removed from the context of struggle that at one point did define Jewishness, and defined the generation of people that Larry is from (and just before his generation). So I think it comes out in watching him struggle with the package, or watching him beat a smoke detector off the wall rather than just untwist it like you’re supposed to. In the smoke detector episode, he has this Black family staying with him, knocks out the smoke detector in the kitchen, and then later, his house burns down because Vivica A. Fox puts a cigarette out on his dessert and he throws it away. It reminded me of A Serious Man a little bit, where all of these compounding little annoyances and the mistakes you make because you’re overreacting to a small discomfort turn into a catastrophe. That feels like a very Jewish narrative and weight to carry around the world that comes out in these little tiny moments of reacting to discomfort that we all can relate to.

NG: Yeah, maybe that’s a good transition into thinking about some of the relationships between Jewishness and Blackness on the show and the ways that they play out. I wanted to route that discussion through thinking a little bit about the final season. So the overarching plot of this last season of Curb focuses on this fallout from Larry becoming kind of an accidental modern civil rights icon. He’s on a visit to Atlanta, he gives a bottle of water to the aunt of his housemate, Leon; he inadvertently runs afoul of Georgia’s Election Integrity Act, which is a real racist law that was instituted in 2021 to target voting rights.

[Clip from Curb Your Enthusiasm]

Police Officer: You’re under arrest for violation of the Election Integrity Act.

LD: What? What are you talking about?

PO: It is illegal for anyone in the State of Georgia to provide food or water to voters in line at the polls.

LD: What? That’s barbaric. What kind of law—are you serious?

PO: I’m dead serious. You’re coming with me.

LD: Oh, no, you’re making a big mistake.

Leon: I’m sorry, baby, I forgot!

LD: I’m not even from here. I just came to make an appearance at a party. And I didn’t even get paid. I was just being cordial. I was being cordial.

NG: And Larry wants to plead guilty, but after this misunderstanding about a racist lawn jockey, ends up taking a stand against the law to appease Leon’s aunt. So this is a classic Curb plot structure rooted in misconstrual, but it also feels like a culmination, in some ways, of the show’s enduring interest in the relationship between white American Jewishness on the one hand and American Blackness on the other, where Larry becomes this parody of a white Jewish ally, is I feel one way to read it. So yeah, I’m curious what you all make of the way that plot plays out, the decision to focus there at the end of the show, and what we think about the show’s interest in those relationships in general. And one of the questions I’ve been asking myself and trying to look at more of those moments is: To what degree is the show self-aware and insightful about those relationships and commenting on them? And to what degree is it just reiterating familiar tropes, doing easy jokes, and that kind of thing?

RP: Well, I think it’s kind of both, in terms of being insightful and doing the easy joke. Like in “Meet the Blacks,” his whole thing about:

[Clip from Curb Your Enthusiasm]

LD: So let me see, your last name, your last name was Black.

Keysha Black: Yes.

LD: That’s like if my last name was Jew, like Larry Jew. Because I’m Jewish.

RP: I kind of rolled my eyes at that. But I think what gets Larry into trouble in the most recent season with the lawn jockey situation—they’re staying in an Airbnb in Atlanta, and there’s a lawn jockey outside, and he doesn’t want to look at it. And several of the characters try to move it and end up breaking it, and there’s an issue over the deposit at the Airbnb. And so he had a natural reaction against seeing something offensive. You know, there’s another episode, “The N-word” where he overhears someone being racist in a bathroom at a hospital, and every time he recounts the story, he says the n-word out loud, and people misconstrue and mishear him. And I think what’s so interesting about that is Larry, as a character, instinctually has the right instinct of opposing racism, but he goes about trying to fix the situation or address or respond in a way that just makes things ten times worse. There’s something about that that I find very honest and that I really love. Because he never—even while he’s doing the right thing, he never comes out the good guy or on top. And I think part of that is like being a little allergic to the glory that people get in these moments. And later in the season, the final season, we see Ted Danson is protesting in solidary with Larry, and Larry is kind of disgusted by his taking over the limelight. And some of that is for selfish reasons, because it’s his moment, but I think it’s also just a reaction against the white saviorism of a lot of people. I think what the show is saying, in the best moments that I like the most, is that reacting against racism is just the right thing. It’s not something you should get any kind of glory for, necessarily, it should just be this instinctive reaction and not something that you grandstand off of. I think that the attempts that his character makes to do that are so lame and paper-thin, and the way that they fall apart, that he’s just sort of modeling that over and over and over again. And you won’t be thanked for doing the right thing, because like, why should you be?

NG: Yeah, I feel like I really agree that moments that feel most cringy to me often are where the show isn’t doing anything interesting with these relationships, or when there’s an attempt to draw these really direct Black/Jewish parallels. I think there’s so many like that often unfolding, like Larry and Leon, who is his housemate for many of the last seasons (whom I love, and actually, I think their interplay is often some of the best parts of the later show). But then there’s also these moments—like, I think it’s in the first episode of the last season when Larry has a throwaway joke about comparing going to Israel and Black people going to Africa, which just feels very, very familiar, not funny, and I feel there’s tons of jokes like that. Those feel like often the moments to me, where it’s just reiterating mainstream narrative around forms of racialized suffering, where it’s just like: Yeah, let’s just draw this as a direct parallel. And then the moments, like the kinds that you were talking about, Rebecca, that feel much more fertile (and also funny) tend to be ones in which it’s much more leaning into the awkwardness of particular interactions. And, often, where Larry’s really ending up the villain in the interaction—whether through misunderstanding of his attempts to do the right thing, or often, just from him really being an asshole.

RP: The truth that’s at the center of these kinds of jokes where it does succeed is that there is a kinship between Black and Jewish people because of shared experiences of oppression, because of sometimes being on the same side of struggle—and the impossibility of that relationship, because of whiteness in America and what assimilation has changed for Jewish people. So I think that little kernel, when that kernel is the center of the joke, is one of the most successful for me.

NCB: That show’s whole relationship to race and relationships between different minority groups feels like the most confounding part of it to me, in certain ways. It really feels like a hall of mirrors, always, to try to pick apart like, when is the show just kind of being racist? And when is it commenting on being racist in a way that’s funny, or intentional, or actually revealing? I think there’s an element of this for me, even in the thing that we were talking about before, like the show’s relationship to Larry’s old-world or old-country Jewishness and the way that the show is both inviting us to enjoy this way that Larry (and maybe Jews more generally) are figured as a little bit outside some kind of social norm or consensus in ways that maybe are kind of flattering to some white Jews now, to kind of, instead of seeing themselves as fully-assimilated into whiteness and the American social body to understand themselves as like the eternal outside or never able to get comfortable, as we were talking about before. Like, there’s both something a little bit self-aggrandizing about that, and maybe also something funny about the way that the show satirizes the way this group of uber-wealthy, Los Angeles, entertainment-industry Jews want to understand themselves as oppressed outsiders. I think that duality is everywhere in the show, and it’s part of why the show is interesting, and also part of why the show kind of makes me uncomfortable to watch.

I definitely feel that in all the relationships between white Jewish characters and Black characters on the show—and actually, maybe sometimes even more strongly in Larry’s relationships to Asian characters or other minority characters, where I sometimes feel like it’s a little less intentional. There’s this whole thread through a lot of the show of Larry’s relationship to the guy who owns the golf club that he goes to, Mr. Takahashi. I think he’s Japanese. And it’s all just a joke about this guy having this authoritarian personality and also an accent, and like Larry imitating his accent. And it’s like: Is this self-aware? Is this commentary, or is this just Larry David actually thinks this guy’s accent is funny. I actually can’t tell after watching so many episodes of them interacting. But I do think the best episodes do something really rich with your inability to disentangle the threads of self-awareness (or lack thereof). I think the episode where Larry keeps saying the n-word is such a good example of this, because I definitely know white people of Larry David’s generation, and white Jews of Larry David’s generation who just want an excuse to say the n-word so that they can have the frisson of saying the n-word, and also so they can talk about how they would never say the n-word. It’s like, there’s just something about the transgression of it, that they just want permission to do it. And I feel that Larry David, in making that episode, is actually doing that; like he wanted to make the episode and get to say the n-word. And he’s also satirizing an old white Jewish guy who is constantly saying the n-word because he thinks he has this social opening to say it. And it’s like, I’ve never seen that depicted in that way. And it felt very astute, and it also felt icky and hard to watch. And so I feel like the show is doing both of those things in that episode,

RP: That’s a really interesting distillation of that. And I think watching that episode, one of the things that struck me was like, the other thing that happens is every Black person who hears him saying the n-word is suddenly incapacitated. Like the doctor who’s walking by him in the cafeteria in the hospital when he’s telling that story later goes in and shaves Jeff’s hair when he’s supposed to be doing like a tonsil surgery or something, because he’s so overcome by hearing the n-word—which I think is interesting, because I couldn’t figure out like, how serious is this? Are you saying that people lose the ability to think through this stuff? Or is this just the universe getting back at you and your friends for this bad behavior? I will say, though, there is something about—the reason we don’t want white people just say it, even if you’re describing another person using it, is because it doesn’t make it less hurtful to hear that word, in any context.

There’s the issue of people getting some satisfaction out of being able to say something transgressive, and there’s also like, even the suggestion of experiencing racism can really mess up your body somatically. I almost was relating to that doctor and how upset that would make me. I think part of the issue is like—I don’t know if there’s black folks in the Curb writers’ room, or whatever. But it’s just weird to see that experience—it is a real experience, and part of why we don’t want people to say the word—rendered comically. Although it is very funny on some level, and I think that’s sort of the ambivalence of the show that we’ve been struggling through on this podcast episode, which is like, how much of this is self-aware? How much of it is just doing a bit? To what extent does it matter for the intention of the people writing the show, for the viewers’ experience? But when you get into these thorny issues of race, it’s just very fraught. I think, on one hand, I do respect not wanting to shy away from that because it is this part of life, and I think there’s a truth to the ambiguity in all of these interactions. And the way that it plays out in art itself is very interesting.

AB: Can I ask what everybody thought about the “Palestinian Chicken” episode?

RP: Yeah.

NG: Yeah, we should. Let’s talk about that.

[Clip from Curb Your Enthusiasm]

LD: Hey, want to try out that Palestinian chicken place?

Unknown Speaker: Let’s do it. That’s all I’ve ever heard, is how great it is.

LD: Fantastic.


Jeff Greene: I’ve never had chicken like this.

LD: What about this place? Look at these posters.

JG: Yeah, they do not like the Jews.

LD: We’re probably the only Jews ever walked in here.

JG: Ever. What these people should do is send their chicken over to Israel.

LD: For the peace process. They’d take down all those settlements in the morning, believe me. You know what? This would be a fantastic place for Jews who are cheating on their spouses to come to because no Jews ever come here. They’d be so safe.

JG: No one you know is going to ever see you here.

LD: Looks like they’re planning on the next Intifada at this table. But look at this woman. Could be the next Mrs. David. What do you think about that?

JG: If by some chance she’s gonna get over her antisemitism, odds are?

LD: Not with me.

JG: not with you.

RP: So the “Palestinian Chicken” episode came out when I was in college, in Students for Justice in Palestine. And people in my org loved it. And I found it to be very racist and abrasive, and I couldn’t really understand. I recently caught up with a friend of mine who—we were in the organization together back in the day, is Palestinian, we also lived together, and was constantly watching Curb. And he talked about how at the time for him, it was really about representation. There was almost no acknowledgement of Palestinians outside of a very specific terrorism narrative on TV at the time, so just seeing Palestinians on TV, he said, was exciting for him. I think the other thing he pointed out for me was on the walls of the restaurant, there are these real posters that are real slogans and real artwork that do express some level of what Palestinians have experienced. And then, I think we both kind of agreed that it was a very cartoonish portrayal that’s—on one hand, it’s how Curb portrays everyone, as being selfish and bigoted and only rooted in your own perspective of things. But it was also, when you look at what the actual reality that Palestinians are experiencing, it’s very stereotypical. And for me, rewatching it now, I still have that discomfort. I’ve never liked that episode, to be honest, because of how cartoonish it is, the sexualization of the character that he’s sleeping with. But the little kernel of truth that I think is great is when they’re debating at dinner whether or not the Palestinian chicken place can open up a restaurant next to the Jewish deli.

Marty Funkhouser: How in the world, can they dare open up a Palestinian chicken restaurant next to the sacred land of that deli?

LD: Hey, this is America, they can do whatever they want. What do you mean?

Ilene Solotaroff: It’s just chicken.

Ron Solotaroff: I mean, they can legally do it, true, but should they?

LD: Yeah, they should. Yeah, they should.

RP: And I think that that reaction against the social obligation that’s being pushed in this moment—like you’re Jewish, you should support Jews over Palestinians. He’s like, actually, they have every right to do what they’re doing, which is just existing in America. For me, that’s the best part of that, and that’s the critical Jewish lens that Larry is bringing. He’s rejecting the social pressure in that moment to say, “Well, Palestinians shouldn’t be able to like be next to us in public,” because he just feels that it’s stupid. So for me that’s the one little kernel of truth in an episode that I do really struggle with because it’s just so detached from the reality of occupation and oppression and apartheid—and now genocide—that Palestinians live under.

NCB: I loved this episode previous times I had watched it. It really exemplified why Curb was great for me. And it’s kind of like, no holds barred, everyone comes in for critique and no one looks good kind of approach to social and racial and identity politics. And then I rewatched it, as this genocide in Gaza is ongoing, and in preparation for this episode, and I just could not—I almost couldn’t get through it. I found it very hard to watch. I think the thing that I’m coming to—listening to you talk about it, Rebecca—is that the truth in that episode for me is that the critique or the satirization of the Jewish characters is great and on point, and the satirization of the Palestinian characters is actually quite bad. Like, the Palestinian woman who runs a chicken restaurant who just wants to have sex with Larry so she can like yell at him that he’s a dirty Jew. It’s like, ew. Like, why is this what he decided to do with this episode? But then everything about the Jewish characters—like the whole premise is that if you want to have an affair as a Jewish person, you’re gonna go to the Palestinian chicken restaurant because there won’t be any other Jews there, and of course, Larry immediately runs into his friends there. And then these people who are meeting up to cheat on their spouses at the Palestinian restaurant also show up at the protest to be like “it’s antisemitic that this is going in next to the deli.” The whole entitlement victim narrative complex that the Jewish characters are in feels so right and funny and unsparing in its look at them. I feel that dynamic—where Larry’s really good at satirizing his own friends and his attempts to satirize other people are wildly hit-or-miss—is kind of true of the show as a whole, and ratcheted up to this extreme level in this episode. It’s very apparent there, but it might just actually be a general condition for Curb.

AB: I’m so glad you said that, because I really was trying to make sense of what it could mean that I feel like half the jokes in that episode land perfectly and the other half are like, total duds. I think that’s what it is. It’s just like, who’s speaking? Which is a real bummer, because I want to root for that episode so bad. It’s such a good premise also, about the way white people in cities approach “ethnic” food, or get obsessed with hole-in-the-wall restaurants. It’s really onto something, and then it falls apart the minute the Palestinian characters actually have to respond in some way to this comic situation. The fact that we get to think that it’s funny and interesting that Larry does feel so at home in this Palestinian space (despite being totally ignorant and racist about his explicit ideas about Palestinians), but that same insight cannot be extended to the Palestinians who run the restaurant—that they might actually feel quite friendly toward these Jews showing up for the most cheesy liberal reasons that you would think that episode is trying to celebrate. Of like, they do just like want to break bread together—they literally run a restaurant. I don’t know, it’s just very frustrating,

NG: Actually, it feels like there’s a way in which the episode—it refuses to even actually make fun of its Palestinian characters. It feels like the picture is so stereotypical and flat that it doesn’t, to me, even feel like they’re being mocked in a way that might be generative or something. It hinges on this idea, basically, that the proprietors and other Palestinian people who are eating at this restaurant, the idea that they’re antisemitic. That’s repeated over and over and taken as a premise in the episode. And that has no basis; all the examples they point to are literally just expressions of like anti-Zionist politics. There’s nothing that makes any sense except, like, the things that Shara (the woman) says when she’s having sex with Larry. They’re not funny, they’re not heightened versions of something someone would say. They’re just racist stereotypes. That misconception feels like it’s important for some of the humor of the episode in relation to the Jewish characters. Because to me, part of what feels funny about the episode is the way that they all have this idea that the people who run and are in the restaurant are antisemitic, and yet, they clearly have no actual fear. Like, they go into the restaurant, and so it feels completely performed. So part of the humor feels to me like it comes from that being such an obvious misconception, the idea that there is this fear but then they’re just like: Oh, we gotta go try the chicken. Like, they’re not actually afraid. But the other side of that is, it feels like it’s treated in a way, structurally, as a misconception for them, but then the show just reifies it by having them actually be portrayed as antisemitic in ways that make no sense and isn’t funny.

RP: Well, it makes me think of the moment we’re in now in a lot of the mainstream Jewish community, where Arab Palestinian spaces are seen as inherently threatening. It’s all about this projection of, like, we think the Palestinians treat us much like the Palestinians in the show would. And it’s just interesting that at this point, Larry was crossing that boundary, and not like he’s going to a protest camp or anything today. But yeah, I think it does go back to the joke of this being about that fragility, kind of, and at the end of the day, what those people are robbing themselves of is the best chicken in town. So there’s something kind of like great about that part of it, even as, clearly Larry (or whoever’s writing this) doesn’t know Palestinians and their own voice. And Palestinians and their own voice only really exist in the context of the posters on the wall there. Instead, they are just this little sock puppet to interact with the Jewish neuroses of the people that Larry is very good at making fun of.

NG: I want to end by talking about the actual conclusion of the show, and also the question of legacy a little bit. So the series finale is this episode that’s very self-consciously in conversation with the infamous last episode of Seinfeld (which is this trial of all the characters) and the Curb finale is this thing where Larry gets put on trial as a result of the Atlanta law violation. But it becomes a trial about his character with lots of people from famous episodes of the show coming back and just talking about all the ways that Larry is an asshole. And he winds up in jail, but then it inverts the conclusion of Seinfeld (which was sort of maligned for ending with all the characters in jail) by having him get out on a technicality. And Jerry Seinfeld’s in it, and it’s very self-referential.

[Clip from Curb Your Enthusiasm]

LD: You don’t want to end up like this. Nobody wants to see it. Trust me.

Jerry Seinfeld: This is how we should have ended the finale.

LD: Oh my gosh, you’re right. How did we not think of that?

NG: I would start by saying about the finale, I both really enjoyed it and felt like it’s a bit much or falls flat in a lot of ways. I like the Seinfeld finale, also, which I feel it’s very hard for me to unpack what’s just sentimental reasons, but I have fond memories of it. And I feel the ways in which the Curb finale is harkening back to it and making jokes off it feels targeted to me in a sentimental way. So there is a way in which I like that trick, and I do think there’s something nice about the way in which the finales of both shows are interested in really pressing on the amorality of their characters and having it put into this over-the-top frame where they’re literally being judged in a legal context. But on the other hand, I feel there is something inherently bombastic about the approach that’s counter to the spirit of both shows—that complicates it. There’s this thing that Jerry Seinfeld actually had said, in a conversation with David Remnick from the New Yorker at one point, where he said something like: What’s hard about the finale is we had to go big, and big is always bad in comedy. And I do think there’s a truth to that, especially, maybe, in the context of these shows. And I think, maybe, especially with Curb, that really thrives so much on the little moments, these sort of tight plot machines or something. The idea of doing a finale that sums up the spirit of the show is inherently irreconcilable with what is good about the show.

And then, to think for a minute about what the end of the show means in a broader sense, I feel there’s a very—on the one hand, self-aggrandizing, and on the other hand, apt way in which the show’s end has been talked about as this end of an era in Jewish comedy and American Jewish comedy, with Larry David being one of the last of this very influential generation of Jewish comics with a particular vantage on assimilation and the particular background from Brooklyn. So it seems like the end of the show is this end of something. And on the other hand, it and he have had this deep impact on both American Jewish comedy and American comedy writ large. So I’m curious, in addition to the literal finale, if there’s anything that we want to talk about around what it means, as this end of something that also has had this great influence.

NCB: I felt really viscerally, watching this season, that this was the end of this show and probably also Larry David’s long and storied and excellent career. There’s a way in which Seinfeld was explicitly a show about nothing, and then Curb kind of ups the ante by being a show that asks whether people—who, as we’ve discussed, are just so insulated from the world by their extreme wealth and the frictionlessness of their very wealthy lives—asking whether those people could possibly have anything to say when they don’t experience anything outside of a very tight bounds. And it’s kind of unbelievable that the show wrings as much interest as it does out of that for decades.

Watching this season, I was like: Yeah, I think it’s done. I don’t think there’s more to say here about these characters, in this world. I think something about the decision to echo the Seinfeld finale really reinforced that for me, that it’s like: There is nothing new to say here, we’re just gonna make a joke about a different joke that we made a lifetime ago. There was an exhaustion inherent in that that made me feel like yeah, the show—it’s time for the show to end. And at the same time, I didn’t really like the finale (and I don’t really like the Seinfeld finale), but this was actually funny, insofar as it has this recalcitrant spirit of Larry defending a bad finale that he made for a previous show by making it again, even though he knows everyone hated it the last time. Like that, on a meta level, was the perfect note for this show to go out on. So props to everyone in the writers’ room for deciding to just stick it to the audience at the very end, like that made total sense. And it was right.

AB: Yeah, and I think that there’s something, too, about the implication that it simply could not be otherwise. I don’t know if it necessarily worked as a great TV-watching experience. But the fact that there is simply no other option than for him to be judged for his sins, and that that will itself feed the echo of the end of Seinfeld that everyone hated—because there was no option there either. That is very Jewish, almost like a ritualism or something, of like, that is how you have to end this show. The gun of ethics was put on the wall of episode one, and there’s nothing else to do. So I feel like I sort of endorse on that level.

RP: I think like: Is this the end of an era? I mean, certainly, because the show has been on for decades, and Larry David has been a defining Jewish voice in comedy—and a defining voice and American comedy in general. Like, incredibly mainstream, everyone watches this stuff, and the people who don’t watch it are watching stuff written by the people who watch this. So that is an end of an era. I don’t have the same existential pangs that some people do, because I think his influence continues, and I think there’s a lot of Jewish comedy happening now, actually, that’s very interesting and incisive and is picking up the torch. I don’t know, I spend a lot of time watching stand up on Instagram or whatever, and there’s lots of young Jews who are grappling with the next generation of these questions, and what does it mean to be in a relationship with other communities. I think more contact with Palestinians is making some of this humor a little better, and different relationships to Black folks as well. So I think I don’t have a scarcity—I think I’m very thankful, in some ways, for the show. And as a Jewish comedy writer, what it’s given me and helps to ground a lot of my understanding of the tools and rules of comedy and Jewish culture. For me, that is really special, and it’s something that I’m gonna continue to rewatch and carry with me. But also, there’s 12 seasons to watch again, and again, and again. I think we’re gonna be okay guys.

NG: I think that’s a great place to end. Thank you all for joining me today, and thanks to our producer Jesse Brenneman, and to our listeners. Please rate review and subscribe to On the Nose and subscribe to Jewish Currents and find us online at JewishCurrents.org. See you next time.

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