1:17pm PT by Jackie Strause
'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Boss on #MeToo Story and Why They Kept Larry David's MAGA Hat Under Wraps
[This story contains spoilers from the season 10 premiere of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, "Happy New Year."]
Larry David is back. And he returned to HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm on Sunday by wearing a MAGA hat as a people repellent and getting #MeToo-ed.
The two hot-button plots — which intersected by the end of the episode when Larry (played by David), donning a bathrobe and the pro-Trump "Make America Great Again" cap, does an ill-timed impersonation of the president's famous "grab 'em by the pussy" line and sends his female assistant running — had been in the can for months, which made executive producer and David's Curb partner Jeff Schaffer nervous while he awaited premiere night for season ten.
"When you decide to put a show on a shelf and hold it for like four months, you definitely have these moments where you’re like, 'Oh no. What if someone does this story?'" Schaffer, who also directed the premiere, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "But we actually had a long talk about it, and we weren’t that concerned that someone else was going to have their lead character be #MeToo-ed in a comedy."
A joke from the premiere sees Larry dodging wishes of "Happy New Year!" weeks after Jan. 1. That bit prompted David and Schaffer to hold the season until early 2020, even though the episodes were locked and loaded in the fall of 2019. And that timing happened to line up well for the premiere's #MeToo plot, with Harvey Weinstein's criminal trial beginning earlier this year.
"Usually I say that every season of Curb is the final season, and when we’re done there will never be another one," says Schaffer, reiterating what he told THR after the end of last season (season nine aired its finale in December of 2017). "But Larry had so much fun in season nine that, completely out of the ordinary, he was ready to do another one right away. We were actually done with this season in the fall, but we wanted to hold it until January because we wanted the 'Happy New Year' stuff to be relevant. We didn’t want to air that in October. [And] by holding, Weinstein also reared his ugly head again. The Harvey stuff was a bonus."
Below, in a chat with THR, Schaffer explains the origin of the premiere's Weinstein joke, remains shocked at being able to keep Larry's MAGA hat scenes a secret while shooting around Los Angeles, reveals how long the "star-crossed lovers" reunion between Larry and Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) has been in the works, and explains how the opener sets up the rest of the season, which may or may not be the last: "We’re definitely talking about talking about it."
What was the timeline for creating this 10th season?
We were sitting in the edit room finishing the "Fatwa!" [season nine finale] episode. We finished on a Friday, and Larry turns to me and goes, "All right. I’ll see you on Monday. We’ll do another one.” I said, “Okay, so we’re doing that. Let me cancel a few things." The creative process was exactly the same in that just because we say we’re going to do another season doesn’t mean we’re actually going to do another season. Larry never wants to feel like he’s forced to do something he’s not proud of. It’s really not until we’re seven or eight shows in that I say, "Hey, we should really call HBO and tell them we want to do another season so we can crew up.” (Laughs) Otherwise, people won’t be available. "And also, maybe we should tell the cast?" I know it seems like it’s been a big break, but for us, two years is a little break. Cicadas come every 17 years and fuck everything up — we’re way faster than that. I’m not going to feel guilty.
There has been a continuing culture shift in the two years plus since you've been off the air. Even during last season, we discussed the minefield of Larry David walking throughout the world. Is that ongoing challenge why you wanted to start the season off with a Larry #MeToo story?
Here’s the thing for us: Nothing is really off limits. I think it’s just how you do it. Any subject is totally fair game; it’s how you execute it. Larry is willing to address issues other people just might not want to touch at all, and I think there’s a very good reason for that, and that’s that he doesn’t care if you watch. There are so many people worrying about all the big things, and we’re built for the little things. But we also breathe the same air as everybody else, and we’re also creatures of our surroundings. We just look at all the really terrible stuff that’s happening in the world and think: "What if that happened to Larry?"
Can you share the origin of the premiere joke of Jeff Garlin being mistaken for Harvey Weinstein?
When news about Harvey Weinstein and all of his awful behavior broke, I said to Larry, “How soon before Hallmark calls Jeff to play Harvey Weinstein in some made-for-TV movie?” We laughed about that and then said, "Wait, why give this to Hallmark?" So we started thinking about it, and then I said to Larry, “We have to call Jeff to see if he’s cool with this!” (Laughs) He said, “For you guys, of course.” He was totally down. And I have to say, it’s one of the biggest laughs in the episode. I don’t know if it’s ever really happened to him. But once Harvey did the walker, I think that helped Jeff a lot. The bad news is that if Jeff ever hurts his back, he’s fucked.
Larry accidentally gropes a waitress, and his oddball ways similarly offend his assistant. Why is Larry the perfect character to represent how the culture has changed?
Because Larry has never changed. Every science experiment needs a constant. (Laughs) That’s why that works. The first show is always a tricky one because you're trying to make a really entertaining episode but you’re also trying to set up all these things that are going to play out through the rest of the season. And that’s one of them: Larry is in a little bit of hot water with his assistant, who thinks he’s a sexual harasser. Because we felt like no one else was going to touch it, it made it a really attractive story to do. And that’s going to weave through the rest of the episodes. That story keeps moving forward. I can’t tell you more, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but keep watching the next few episodes. I promise you that no potted plants were harmed in the making of this season.
A few other arcs that we set up this episode will also carry through. Larry is going to open up a coffee shop next to Mocha Joe’s called Latte Larry’s [as he threatened in the premiere]. Yes, it is a "spite store." And that spite store gives Larry a chance to take a real, hard look at the service industry experience. We always say, he’s not an inventor; he’s an improver. So he’s going to flex that muscle in the coffee arena. And then, of course, Larry is also cuckolding Ted [after sleeping with Cheryl]. He’s never cuckolded someone before, let alone Ted Danson. So that’s fairly invigorating. Although, Larry doesn’t see it as cuckolding at all, because he and Cheryl were together before. I don’t know if anyone else agrees with that assessment! But that’s how he really sees it. So all of these stories will intertwine with tons of other things throughout the season. But don’t worry — it all turns out great in the end, and everyone is very happy. (Laughs)
Will Larry learn anything about how he treats women, or people in general, after these accusations?
Are you asking if Larry will pause and have a moment of self-reflection? (Laughs) You know how there’s certain kind of bacteria that’s resistant to antibiotics? Larry is resistant to learning. It’s not going to happen. He’s a very strong strain of Larry!
Last season had a big arc with Fatwa! The Musical. This season, you said you were going back to more classic Curb. What did you like about last season’s approach, and why did you want to change things up going into this season?
I loved last season, and so did Larry. Getting a chance to do a musical with Lin-Manuel Miranda and F. Murray Abraham was just an amazing dream come true. But because we had done something that big the season prior, you never want to feel like you’re repeating yourself. The reason why we wanted to get back to a more what I’ll call a “classic Curb season” was to differentiate ourselves from the season prior. It’s not like we have a ton of ideas for musicals! We’re not really turning this into Larry’s Glee. But even though there isn’t one giant, overriding idea — like Larry has a fatwa on himself for writing a musical about a fatwa — there are definitely, as you see from this episode, some big stories that are going to gear up and follow us for all ten episodes.
What real-life headlines did you have to navigate when crafting Larry's season ten journey?
When you’re writing that far in advance, we were afraid and very hopeful that Trump would no longer be around, and we would have happily re-shot a whole new story. But that didn’t happen. And with the Harvey stuff, we were thinking when we were writing, "When is this trial? Are people going to remember this?" So that timing just worked out. When you decide to put a show on a shelf and hold it for like four months, when you’re done with it, you just want it to come out so everyone can see it. But you definitely have these moments where you’re like, “Oh no. What if someone does this story?” But we actually had a long talk about it, and we weren’t that concerned that someone else was going to have their lead character be #MeToo-ed in a comedy.
We didn’t have to change the big stuff, it was more the little stuff. Originally we couldn’t decide whether Larry was going to knock over the Bird scooters or break the selfie stick. (Laughs) We had this discussion about it and I said, “Let’s do the Birds, because I hate them more.” They’re like the new cigarette butts — they just get thrown everywhere. Larry wanted to do the selfie stick; I wanted the Birds. In the end I think he was right — the selfie stick was a little funnier. I’m very glad we did both. I’m supposed to send him an email saying, "You were right." Spoiler alert: I’m not going to send that email.
What was the experience like of filming Larry David wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat all around Los Angeles?
We had a total security concern, because Larry David in a MAGA hat is quite a photo op. We’re shooting on location out on San Vicente, and that walk-and-talk was on Pico; we were out in the open. We were always on the lookout and asking, “Please, no photography.” Because we really didn’t want to ruin that image, and we got really lucky — that would have been a huge spoiler. Larry told all the extras in the sushi restaurant to please not say anything, and everyone played along, which we were really grateful for. Larry in the hat is such a dissonant image. You realized when he put it on that you just never see a person in a MAGA hat in Los Angeles. It’s like spotting a double rainbow of intolerance. He wanted to wait until the last minute to put it on when he got on set, so it really had a good effect. It was like seeing your uncle the banker doing cosplay, it was bizarre.
With David now known for his Bernie Sanders impression and being a part of the pop-culture conversation around politics, did that make the MAGA hat bit more enticing for him to do?
They’re separate. He loves doing Bernie. Everyone asks if he’ll do Bernie on Curb, and we’re like, you can’t mix those things. It gets too muddy. So just to tell everybody: No, he will not be playing Bernie Sanders on this season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The genius of Larry is taking something and making it about himself first, but by making it about himself, he’s really saying something about everybody.
Are you pleased by the reaction to it? Trump hasn't tweeted yet...
Yes. I’m really happy that people are happy that we’re back. And I’ll speak for Larry — we’re just so excited to show everybody this season. I feel like we’ve been sitting on this egg for so long. I’m glad this selfish, neurotic chick hatched. And I don’t have a Twitter account — but I hope he does! [The president tweeted about the episode weeks later.]
As the season goes, were there ideas that prompted heated discussions, or was there something that was tricky to get right?
There are definitely a few more hot-button issues that we touch on. There is definitely the opportunity for people to be offended. And frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The premiere also sees a big reunion between Larry and ex-wife Cheryl, which is something the fans wanted last season. Why was it time to bring them back together?
Last year, you did ask if there was anything we didn’t do. And I said there was definitely a story that we wanted to do but we didn’t fit in the season, and this was that story. It couldn’t fit with season nine, but we always wanted to do it. Now we could give it the oxygen it needed, and you’ll see (laughs) how these two star-crossed lovers wander through the next few episodes. This was definitely something that was a last-season holdover that we always wanted to explore and just never had the space.
Their chemistry is obvious in how amused she is by him. But what does she see in Larry romantically?
I think Cheryl explained it so well in the episode. When she’s with Larry, she feels superior. When she’s with Ted — Ted is such a good person who does everything right. It’s hard to be with someone who is perfect. It’s a lot easier, and maybe even more attractive, to be with someone who is so terribly flawed that no matter what you do, you come out on top.
In addition to the returning ensemble, there are many guest stars set to appear — Vince Vaughn, Isla Fisher, Mila Kunis and Laverne Cox, to name just a few. Do actors approach you when you’re plotting the season to come on the show?
There are some roles where we think as we’re writing them, “Oh, I know who this should be.” There are some people like Fred Armisen, who comes in later in the season; or there was an episode with Nick Kroll or Abbi Jacobson or Tim Olyphant where we were like, “This person is going to be perfect.” Jon Hamm, same thing. As we’re writing, we hope the person is available, and we ask and usually they’re fans of the show. Then there is another group of people who we would never think would watch the show, let alone like it. But every once in a while, you get those calls. We heard that Clive Owen was a huge fan — we thought that was impossible — but we were told Clive Owen loves the show, and we were writing an episode and thought it would be perfect if Clive Owen could play Clive Owen in the season. We just got totally lucky that this amazing movie star has a fondness for Curb, and boy, he knocked it out of the park. Jonah Hill also plays himself — and he’s hysterical. In terms of guest cast, it’s just an amazing year. And they’re all so funny.
Mocha Joe was a nod to the Seinfeld reunion episode on season seven of Curb. How many Easter eggs will you lay in this season?
There will definitely be some Easter eggs this season, and a few other blasts from the past that I can tell you right off the bat. Richard Kind is back as cousin Andy, and Kaitlin Olson is back as Cheryl’s sister Becky. Fans of the show will definitely recognize some echoes of things from seasons past. We do that only when it works. The soul of the show is the stories and how to tell the stories in a funny way, so everything revolves around that. If you haven’t seen a person in a while, that’s because we didn’t have the right story. Larry is loath to wedge someone in just because people want to see them, and it’s the same with stories. Parts of the show get taken out if we don’t need it. We’re pretty brutal in the edit room.
How will you address the passing of longtime co-star Bob Einstein (who played Marty Funkhouser)?
The passing of Bob will definitely be addressed. It was a real shock to us. We were obviously all so sad to lose one of the funniest human beings on the planet. We thought that there was actually a chance that we were going to get him back. He had been on the upswing and we thought we were going to get him back after Christmas, but obviously that didn’t happen. We had saved a lot of scenes because we wanted him in the show as much as possible. We had written stories specifically for him, and then we had a lot of sad narrative gymnastics to re-figure out a few things on the fly. It was doing a thing you didn’t want to do for a terrible reason. But he’s definitely addressed, and certainly missed.
So, is this the final season? What have your discussions about doing more entailed?
(Laughs) I’ll say this: Every season is the final season, but we’re definitely talking about talking about it.
That sounds familiar, Jeff.
Yes, I know!
Is the end of the season building toward something? Does it set up more episodes?
All the stuff that got set up in the premiere, plus a few more things that are about to happen, are definitely building toward an end where all of these things intertwine to one bigger moment. There are definitely some things this year that I sort of can’t believe that we pulled off.
How many ideas are left on the table for a potential 11th season?
We definitely have ideas that didn’t fit in the season. Whether they’ll fit into a next season is really hard to say.
David has said that Curb will end without ceremony — unlike the series finale of Seinfeld. Did that factor in this year, where you make a finale that could function as the last?
I have a theory about season finales, having done it before on The League. We try really hard to make it a really good episode of the show, as opposed to trying to make it something different from the show itself. I think that’s always a mistake, to think the finale has to be a completely different show or a different tone from the show that people actually liked. And I think Larry agrees with me — let’s do a really fun episode. And since it’s the tenth of ten of whatever that year is, it’s going to wrap up a lot of story strands and themes you’ve been dealing with in that season, so there should be a sense of completeness anyway. If it’s ultimate completeness or not, that’s up to him. But every season feels like it should tie up the entire season in a good way. That’s what season nine did. It made everyone feel like, “Oh, that episode worked as the end of this season, I feel like that was a good season.” And that’s really all you can hope for.
You will reach the 100th-episode marker with the finale of season ten. Did you go into it any differently because of that milestone, or was there already pressure because it's a season ender?
Larry’s really counting on syndication! (Laughs) All the 100th episode meant in terms of any pomp and circumstance is that we were able to multiply ten times ten. The end of the season has its own pressure because it has to wrap up the entire season in a really interesting and unexpected way. So that’s the pressure: the pressure of the stories. The rest is nothing.
You directed eight of these ten episodes. From behind the camera, what impressed you most about David and the cast?
I’ve been working with Larry on and off for about 25 years. And Larry likes to say, “Ugh. You know all my moves.” But I have to say, there are a few things this season where he just totally surprised me. Where I went, “I never thought you were going to do that.” (Laughs) Directing these episodes, you go into every day with a plan of what you think you’re going to shoot, but these magical digressions happen and things change, and you know you’re going to throw half that plan out the window. Just like you are writing it live, you’re going to be directing it live. That’s why I always say it’s a live-comedy sporting event. You just know every day that you have a funny story and you have these really funny people, and you’re going to make something really funny — but you may not know know what it is yet, and that’s okay. In terms of the cast, it’s such a fun environment because you’re only working on, “What’s the funniest thing?” There’s no bullshit. As Alec Berg always used to say, “There’s no ‘they.’” On a network show, everyone is always like, “Will they like it? I don’t know if they’ll let us do this.” There is no "they" here, it’s just us. And you just get to make something up that makes everybody laugh. The cast was amazing this year. If you’re a fan of Leon's (J.B. Smoove) or Susie's (Susie Essman) or Jeff's (Jeff Garlin), they have great stuff to do.
I’m super excited for people to see Curb, finally. And I’m also really excited for people to see other things that I’ve been sort of EP-ing. Dave is a really interesting show, and I think people are really going to like it. It’s not just for fans of Little Dicky. People are going to be really pleasantly surprised at how much it has on its mind. And Brews Brothers was really fun. It was so much fun to work with my brother [Greg Schaffer], and it’s a really hilarious show.
Interview edited for length and clarity.