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On the last day of filming on the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David had a request.
It was May of 2021 and because production had begun in November of 2020, even prior to COVID-19 vaccines becoming available, everyone had been wearing masks (and many, face shields) for months.
“The thing that was often annoying is that you can’t see anyone on the crew’s faces,” says executive producer Jeff Schaffer, recalling to The Hollywood Reporter an anecdote from that final day. “We were going to shoot the scene outside — everyone had been vaccinated by that point — and the whole crew was there. Larry said, ‘This is crazy. Everybody, take off your mask. I want to see your faces!’ Everyone took off their mask for a second and he looked around and went, ‘All right, put ‘em back on.'”
That “meh” reaction is exactly what viewers of the long-running, Emmy-winning comedy might expect from its star and creator, who plays a fictional version of himself on Curb. (The crew, says Schaffer, were also amused.) But in the Oct. 24 premiere, Curb returned with an 11th season that did not include masks or social distancing. TV’s Larry David, as Schaffer explains, is back in full form in a post-COVID world. The show’s time period is right now, “if everyone had the brains to get vaccinated,” he says. So, in Curb‘s alternate reality, the pandemic happened, but now it’s in the rearview mirror — and it didn’t change Larry one bit.
“We chose to aim the show’s ship at where we usually do, which is the wish-fulfillment of the selfish and the self-righteous. The things that Larry deals with, while they might be microscopic and petty, are still timeless and universal,” says Schaffer, who is adept at explaining the Curb way. “Here’s the thing: Whether people are vaccinated or unvaccinated, have COVID or don’t have COVID, they’re still selfish and terrible a lot of the time.”
Speaking with THR, the executive producer talks about getting David on board to film during a pandemic, teases the storylines and guest stars that have him feeling excited, and leaves the door wide open for more Curb after this 10-episode season wraps.
When we spoke in November, before vaccines, your hope was to make it through production without any main actors testing positive and forcing a 14-day shutdown. Did you?
We had one slight scare that cost us one scene that we made up later. Other than that, we skated a completely clean program, and that’s a testament to our producers from last season, Michelle Deschamps, and this season, Jen Corey, setting up the strictest protocols. No one had shot yet when we went into production. All through the summer, we were going through these protocols of how to keep the set as safe as possible because everyone had one big idea in mind, which was, “Well, hey, let’s not kill Larry David.” (Laughs.) And also, by the way, we have to first convince him to do the show! We went through all of this stuff and then presented to Larry, “Hey, I think we can do the show in COVID without vaccinations; I think we can do it safely and here’s how — it’s just going to cost a lot more.” And he was pretty cool. He listened to everything and he said, “Yeah, all right, let’s do it. And, by the way, if it doesn’t work out, just say something nice about me at the funeral.”
How much longer did it take to film season 11 amid the pandemic compared to a usual year?
We started filming in November and we wrapped in May. When we were discussing all of the COVID protocols, we basically added one day to production for each episode. It was traditionally a seven-day shoot; each became eight days. We didn’t know how long it was going to take for everyone to get tested in the morning, or how much longer it would take to get to lunch when only three people can fit in the van. Everything was going to require more time. So it ended up being an extra 10 days. And we took January off because it was so bad then and everyone had gone away. It seemed like, why weather the worst part of the storm? By the end, everyone was vaccinated.
You said you started researching in March of 2020 for your November shoot. What do you credit to making it through without any major incidents?
We were able to skate a clean program because of two reasons. One is resources. You have a big bubble where everyone is getting tested every day — and that includes the driver, who is the only driver who is allowed to take the actors, [and] the only PA who is allowed in trailers to get wardrobe. It was a big bubble and that didn’t change even when people were vaccinated; the rules are still the rules. People were a lot less anxious once they knew that everyone around was vaccinated, and that they still have to wear the mask and that we’re still taking all of these precautions. The other reason we made it through is because the crew was so responsible when they weren’t shooting. We said. “Look, we’re a big family here and we want to make sure the whole family makes it through the end. So, everyone be careful and responsible and know that you’re going to come back and spend the rest of your week with this family.” And everyone was super, super responsible.
How was Larry David, a known germophobe, on set?
Once he heard about all of the protocol and bought into it, he was completely unfazed by the threat of COVID. Everyone asks, “How did you get Larry to shoot during COVID? All on location and in people’s houses?” And it’s a testament to how much we don’t like writing. We had already written the season. If we hadn’t, I don’t think we would have shot! But the fact that it had already been done — writing is such a painful process — once we had done all that torture, it was like, “Let’s have some fun and do this thing!” I’m not going to let it sit for a year. We had already done the hard part.
You started writing this season in January and then shifted once COVID happened. How did you and Larry make the decision to set your story in a post-COVID world?
Some of it was practical. Meaning, we have to see our actors’ faces. And it’s going to look very weird if our actors are not in masks, but everyone sitting around them at the restaurant is. So, either our actors look like the only irresponsible people in Brentwood — or the only Republicans in Brentwood — or we had to do something else. It just made a lot more sense to place this season in a post-COVID world. When we wrote last spring, we knew we were going to come out in the fall of 2021 and we said: Look, there will be vaccines so everyone in California will be able to act normally — or at least act like people in Florida have been acting for the last two years.
You also said you assumed Biden would win the presidency. Does that mean Curb gets less or more political this year?
When we came back for season nine after being gone for six years, the first day of shooting was the day Trump won. Then, the first day of shooting on season 11 was actually Election Day 2020. And I was like, “We’re doing this again?” Everyone was excited to be back, but [the 2020 presidential election results] weren’t a slam dunk yet and I was sitting there thinking, “Have we just jinxed the election by doing this on the same day?” We thought Biden would win and that things would return to so much normalcy. We had done some stuff on the show last year, like when Larry wore the MAGA hat out of social obligations. In the premiere, we had to take one more crack at Trump [with the Don Jr. exchange between Larry and Jeff]. This season, Larry is going to get more politically involved on a local level, which I think is the kind of grassroots change we can all get behind. And we even address some issues of anti-Semitism and hate groups this year, as only Larry David can.
What was that sparked by?
We see the things that are around, we read the news. And the first question in our head is always: Well, what would Larry do? That comes later in the season.
In a self-serving way, one might presume?
Maybe it’s selfish selflessness.
At the premiere, you shared some anecdotes about your days working virtually on the season. How would you describe working with Larry David during lockdown?
One of the greatest compliments I can give Larry is that he has no charge anxiety. He is the same carefree person at 3 percent charge that he is at 80 percent charge. I would be a wreck. But he just blithely goes through life and when the device shuts down, it shuts down. We’re so used to writing the show in a room with dry erase boards. That’s how Seinfeld got written, that’s how all the Curbs got written; just trying to plot these things out. It’s like a three-person team: Larry, me and the dry erase board. And it was very weird to not have the actual board and to not have the tactile feeling of crossing stuff out, circling stuff you don’t like or physically drawing an arrow to where it should move. I know I sound like a 90-year-old man missing a typewriter, but it’s faster that way. So things took a little longer this season to write, but we also had the time because there was literally nothing else to do and nowhere else to go.
Did he enjoy not having to see people?
I think he very much enjoyed the lack of obligations, as we all did. I don’t know if it was Thoreau who said, “Man is never freer than when he can turn down a lunch.” But this time, we didn’t even have to. We were in our natural state of no obligations. It was great.
How would you describe the post-COVID world you created for season 11: What time period is it?
It’s right now, if everyone had the brains to get vaccinated.
We haven’t seen many comedies tackle a post-COVID reality. Now that you’ve released and have gotten some feedback, does it feel like you made the right decision?
We didn’t want to be the last person to dinner dining out on COVID stories. It just seemed so obvious. But we did still want to tackle it. And in the premiere, with Al Brooks being a COVID hoarder and ruining his own funeral, that seemed like a fun way to do it. There are a few other little things like that. We almost killed off a former guest star by saying he was such a stubborn idiot that he refused to wear a mask and got COVID and died. But, then we realized we may want that person around at some point and we didn’t do it.
Can you name that guest star?
No, I can’t. But he knows, and he was happy to not get killed off. You asked about if we made the right choice. COVID is in our rearview mirror and we touch on it in an interesting way. Everyone has issues with toasting behavior. Our issues are completely relatable. And that’s the beauty of Larry. Everyone sees what Larry is doing, telling people off or being indignant about things, as wish-fulfillment. In fact, even Larry David sees it as wish-fulfillment. We wanted a quote for the HBO press release and he said, “Why am I coming back? Because I realized it’s more fun to play Larry David than it is to be Larry David.” We wanted the tone to say that we’re aware of what life has been like for the past two years, but we still want to do Curb.
How has the COVID era changed Curb’s Larry?
I think Larry, many, many years ago, was vaccinated against learning. So, it did not change him at all.
It’s surprising Larry wasn’t revealed to be the COVID hoarder.
Larry has other problems in this first episode! We’ve already been so germophobic, like last season when he had his coffee shop. We didn’t need to hammer it home again. He was already prescient with his design of Latte Larry’s — and the only thing that didn’t come true is that restaurants are still allowing defecation. Other than that, he was fairly prescient! The consequences of last season sort of start you off for this season. Even when we’re not talking about it a lot, there is the idea that he got into a whole bunch of lawsuits over the spite store and that probably cost him a lot of money. It’s good background noise for how this season starts.
This first episode sets up many storylines to come, including Larry pitching a show, called “Young Larry,” to Netflix and coming up on some casting complications. Why did you want to return Curb’s Larry to the world of making TV?
Poor Larry. He finally gets back to work and it’s fraught with problems. When we end this episode, Young Larry is getting made the way so many projects do in L.A. — on the shaky foundations of compromise. There’s this old story that I love that is a great depiction of Hollywood, and the way they talk about Hollywood is that it’s like sitting down at a table and they give you the best meal you’ve ever had; a plate of all the food you love. The only thing is that there’s a piece of poop on the plate. And the best metaphor for Hollywood I’ve ever heard is everyone just goes, “Eh, I’ll eat around it.” And so, this season, let’s see if Larry can eat around this. We weren’t trying to tackle Hollywood, per se, we just wanted to figure out how many eight balls we can get Larry behind to start a season. And, how much poop can we serve him on that plate?
How big of a role will his new star, Maria Sofia (Keyla Monterroso Mejia) and her father (Marques Ray) play in Larry’s life as his Young Larry production moves forward?
Maria Sofia and her father are going to be following Larry around like a bad credit score. Keyla was a total newcomer and a revelation; she does bad acting so well. All of those lack of choices or too many choices are all a choice. You are definitely going to see more of her terrible acting. A fun fact: Marques played the concierge at the hotel last season in episode four, when Larry was trying to buy the coffee beans. We wrote this role with him in mind and were wondering if people would notice, but COVID gave him a whole new haircut and no one is the wiser.
What sparked the show idea of Young Larry?
Between seasons, Larry and I had fooled around with doing a show about his life as a young stand-up comic. We decided instead to just put it in Curb. A lot of Larry’s Young Larry pitch is true. Larry David was actually a chauffeur to a blind woman, he did have an odd uncle — whether or not Larry decided to kill him is for the courts to decide. A lot of it is based on Larry as a young man when he was living at home and trying to do stand-up. We will definitely see part of this show as we move forward and learn a little bit more about Larry as a young man in Brooklyn trying to be a stand-up comic.
Larry also walks through a glass door and is viewed as feeble by his younger girlfriend, played by Lucy Liu. Will Larry begin to view his dating life differently?
Larry knows what age he is, and he wanted to have a little fun with it. Especially when we’re casting and doing stories, Larry is very aware that he’s a certain age, and he wants to make sure that his dating co-stars aren’t too young. He knows that looks weird and inappropriate. But he wanted to play a little bit with the idea that he is an older guy dating, which can be fraught with peril. This story is a little accident and, all of a sudden, you’re not seen as a sexual partner — you’re seen as someone who needs a caregiver.
Is Lucy done with Larry?
Lucy is done with him. Lucy can’t un-see what she saw and has moved on to a better place.
Larry and Susie Greene (Susie Essman) continue to face off, this week, over her being a “couch plopper.” What’s in store with those two this season?
Larry accuses her of being a plopper; Susie is quite sure she’s not one. That was a chance for the two of them to go at it. Susie just keeps going after him about how his arms are too puny to hold a glass and watching Susie yell, “Puny! Puny! Puny!” at Larry is super enjoyable. You’re going to see this season that the two of them have some amazing confrontations. Even more amazingly, they’re going to have some scenes where they have to play on the same team to get what they want. There’s a lot of quid pro quo this year.
What are some storylines that really excite you for this season?
I’m very excited for people to see the episode where Larry tries to get Woody Harrelson to be in his show. It sets up a game of lying Pachinko that is really, really funny. Vince Vaughn is back as Freddy Funkhouser and is in four episodes. We get to see many more sides of the Freddy-Larry relationship. They flirt with getting into business together, they try to help each other in the dating arena — with negative effects — and they squabble over some of the most petty things you can imagine, and they do it really well. Watching those two together this year is one of my favorite things about the season.
Woody Harrelson, Bill Hader, Julie Bowen, Tracey Ullman, Kaley Cuoco, Albert Brooks (brother to Curb star Bob Einstein, who passed away in 2019) and Jon Hamm are just some of the guest stars. How did you pull of such a star-studded roster in the pandemic?
In a way, the pandemic made it easier to get bigger guest stars. Usually, when someone is coming in for a part, they audition with Larry and we couldn’t really do that this year. There were a few parts where we tried a virtual audition with Larry and it’s a weird thing to do an improv audition over Zoom. The poor actors were doing improv with whoever is in their house. It became pretty obvious that we had to get people who we knew and who we could count on. That had us doing more big-game hunting than we normally would have and I’m so glad we did, because all of these people that we got on the show, from Kaley to Seth [Rogen] to Josh Gad to Hader, were so incredible that this season’s guest cast really makes the season.
Do any of them have a larger role?
Tracey Ullman came in, we got her in from England, and she has a major arc. Watching her work was like a master class at how to get under Larry’s skin. It was incredible. The pandemic had us making offers to lots of bigger names, but it also made it much harder to schedule things. In a regular season, we’re doing two-episode blocks. Then we go down for a week to scout. And there are five two-episode blocks. But in the pandemic, we made a decision to take any scene that had a lot of extras and move to the very end because we were hoping things would look a lot better by that point. So in block one, instead of shooting episodes one and two, we shot parts of all 10 episodes. Which, is insane for an improv comedy. We might shoot scene five from an episode in November, and scene two from the same episode in May. It was a lot to keep track of.
Ted Danson returns, and he’s still in a relationship with Cheryl David (Cheryl Hines). What does that mean for Larry and ex-wife Cheryl?
Larry has come to peace with Cheryl and Ted. He no longer has a bone to pick with Cheryl or Ted for being able to date freely after a divorce. But, being the person he is, he’s able to find other avenues to irritate both Ted and Cheryl.
When can viewers expect to see Richard Lewis?
He’s in episode seven. I’m so happy we got him. He had surgery and had been going through physical therapy, and he didn’t feel ready when we started. In his typical way he said, “I’m so bummed, do it without me.” But Larry said, “No, you’re going to make it.” Toward the end of the season, he was feeling 100 percent better and we were able to get him in. Larry is so funny with Richard. They’ve known each other so long. There are things he says to Richard that he wouldn’t say to any other person, and it was great to capture on camera.
Were there any guest stars or big stories that didn’t work out because of COVID?
The amazing thing is that there are two or three roles that I’m thinking of that were very, very ambitious for differing reasons. In each one of these cases, we had one very specific celebrity in mind — and we actually got them all and got them here to L.A. and were able to pull it off in the middle of a pandemic. One in particular was another one of these parts that we wrote for a specific person — and it had to be that one person. The logistics with guest stars were daunting this season. But we seem to do this, where we write something for a specific person and we have no plan B. Now, we’re emboldened. We just think it’s going to happen, and we got really lucky again, because it happened.
How would you compare this season to seasons past? Did you do anything you’ve never done?
One thing we did slightly differently this season was how we open. Usually, we’re opening with a fun, little discussion that is just a slice of life about how annoying it is to be on earth in the year of our Lord 2021. But this year, we thought opening with this moody, noir-y death would be a surprising and interesting way to start the season: waking up with Larry finding a guy dead in the pool. It’s a non-comedy scene that is going to start the ball rolling on a lot of comedy scenes.
Will this season come full circle?
There is so much stuff we’re setting up in the first episode that is all going to be important as we move forward. Even with Leon [J.B. Smoove], who has lost his Mary Ferguson. He’s sitting there holding an expensive ticket that has the name Mary Ferguson on it, so needs to find a Mary Ferguson to fill that seat and go with him to Asia. He’s going to be trying to fill that seat throughout the season. And Larry will be very helpfully unhelpful in that endeavor.
In spite of the COVID of it all, you said you and Larry set out to make the show you wanted, no compromises. Do you feel you accomplished that?
Somehow, in spite of crazy scheduling and shooting things so out of order — production was mind-bending — we were actually able to make the exact show we wanted to make. And, no one got sick. I think both of those things are an amazing achievement. It would have been an accomplishment to just make it through without anyone getting sick, but I think we made it through and made a really great season, too.
You and Larry seem to feel the same way after every season: He says he is out of ideas, but you are more confident he will come up with enough for another show. How do you feel about a season 12 right now?
I feel about season 12 the way people feel about the afterlife. I have no proof that it exists, but a lot of people believe that it’s there.
And, you’re a believer?
Yeah, I guess I’ll be devout today.
So, you and Larry would go through another production with COVID-era protocols?
People used to never wear clothes. Our ancient ancestors didn’t wear clothes and somebody said, “Put on clothes,” and it probably seemed irritating a bit before you realize that it’s not really so bad. And now we wear clothes all the time. The COVID protocols are just something you get used to. We know how to do it now and we know it’s not that onerous. And the most important thing is we know it didn’t affect the comedy on set.
Curb premiered 21 years ago. Why do you think the show is so long-lasting and feels like it could go on forever?
Because of Larry David. The reason why it exists, the reason why it’s so relevant, and the reason why it could continue is all Larry. Because Larry’s going to continue to interact with the world and the world is going to keep coming up short.
The 11th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm airs Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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