Since the comedy series’ debut in 2000, “Curb” has amassed a staggering 51 nominations — including two wins — with the most recent season adding four noms to its total. After 110 episodes, “Curb’s” tightly plotted yet semi-improvised approach remains fresh and admired enough to continue its enviable showing at the Emmys, not to mention a point of pride to executive producer and showrunner Jeff Schaffer.
“Look, I know we’re not like a new sparkly, trendy choice and we’ve been around since the year 2000,” Schaffer says. “But I’m really proud that we’re still doing shows that are super funny and that we’re still doing things that people are talking about and are shocked that we’re doing, whether it’s Larry enlisting a Klansman to show Woody Harrelson a cow or using Alexander Vindman in ‘a perfect call.’”
Schaffer says Season 11 required an extra degree of commitment and ingenuity due to pre-vaccine pandemic protocols. “Larry David is a germophobe and doesn’t want to get it for sure,” but the team forged ahead largely because all the episodes were already written.
“We wouldn’t have shot in COVID,” he says. “But once we wrote them, it’s like, ‘Well, we have to do it. We already did the hard part. Let’s do the fun part.’”
Given the already people-averse nature of David’s TV persona, the show’s writers also made the unexpected but ultimately shrewd choice not to deal with the pandemic head-on.
“We decided to live in a world where COVID had happened, but people weren’t worrying about it anymore — basically like Florida,” Schaffer quips. “We didn’t want to be doing jokes that someone else had already done.”
The show is frequently at its best when delivering choice antagonists for David to tangle with, and its Emmy-nominated casting team of Allison Jones and Ben Harris offered a banquet of fresh adversaries, from comedy stars including Bill Hader, who earned a nomination for guest actor, to Tracey Ullman, Seth Rogen, Harrelson, Albert Brooks, Josh Gad and Vince Vaughn.
“This year, probably more than any other, we really benefited from having an amazing guest cast,” says Schaffer. “It was a team of comedy all-stars coming in to play with Larry, and I think the shows really, really have this energy of having absorbed all these talents into the ‘Curb’ world.”
Newcomers, including Keyla Monterroso Mejia playing the sublimely untalented wannabe actor Maria Sofia, provided surprise sparks as well. “She was a total revelation — she did bad acting so well, but she was completely in control of her instrument in doing it,” Schaffer says.
“We knew she was good for the audition, but once we got to play with her on set, she showed us so many more gears.”
Schaffer also says Hader’s nominated turn as the three presumable brothers David encounters almost didn’t happen. David had suggested him for the role, but Hader, while excited to be invited in, initially balked at shooting during the pandemic, even holding off production on the third season of his own HBO series, “Barry,” to write the fourth season in advance. After several months of shooting with safety protocols, the team persuaded him it could be done.
“He actually thanked us later, because it was like, ‘Oh, my God, I got to see how you could do a show in the middle of all these protocols and restrictions.’ He felt it gave him a huge boost of confidence to go in and go and do ‘Barry’ in a few months,” he says. “I got a front-row seat to listen to this accent genius going through trying to make [the brothers] all different, and he would just send me these recordings. Those scenes took a long time to shoot because Larry was laughing so fucking hard.”
Ultimately, Schaffer credits the longevity of “Curb’s” appeal to “all you terrible people out there” who watch. “People aren’t great. People are walking double standards. And so when the audience sees Larry do something selfish, they know in their hearts, they would do that, too. And when they see him like rail against a tiny injustice, they think, ‘Oh, I always wanted to tell someone off like that too.’ The show is wish fulfillment for people.”
He continues, “And in fact, it’s wish fulfillment for Larry. He said it best when we were coming back for last season: He realized it’s much more fun to play Larry David than it is to be Larry David. I always say documenting the bad behavior of the Westside of Los Angeles is an evergreen business. Until you can walk outside and not be annoyed by your fellow man, we’ll still have a job.”
Of course, “Larry motherfucking David,” is the reason for the show’s success, he adds, nodding to David’s ongoing facility, first mastered on “Seinfeld,” to turn everyday frustrations and quirky moments of pettiness into epic, intertwined tales.
“People still like that feeling of the stories coming together in a surprising way,” says Schaffer. In fact, he and David are already in the thick of crafting a 12th season.
“I’m talking to you from my office in Larry’s office, and I’m looking at a dry erase board that has an outline of an episode,” he says. “So, if we can figure out the end of it, yeah: another season. The bald Emily Post is back.”