Lately I have been on a bit of a Larry David/Jerry Seinfeld binge session. I've been re-watching Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm and I’m finding my everyday conversation seems to be sprinkled with more Yiddish terms than usual.
It got me thinking: What is it specifically about these masters of their craft that makes their work so endlessly amusing and effective?
“Character Larry” (the fictional version of himself in Curb) is even dubbed a Social Assassin by best-friend Jeff Greene (played by Jeff Garlin of The Goldbergs) because of his penchant for speaking the truth in a situations usually littered with forced niceties, unspoken conventions and insincere pleasantries. The real Larry has admitted that he wishes he had the courage to speak as frankly as his fictional self, but I imagine that his inner monologue in such real-life situations must be glorious.
In Australia, we are not exposed to many people of the Jewish faith, but being a Jew does not seem to be limited or, in some cases, even defined by their religion. It is their shared cultural experiences, such as food and language, which seem extremely familiar to me - especially as someone who grew up in a large Greek-Australian family. The mashugana antics of their families traverse many cross-cultural divides.
Their Leos, Mortys and Sauls are my Georges, Cons and Yiannis and for every surname ending with a “berg”, “witz” or “man” I know an “opoulos” or an “akis” who bears an uncanny resemblance to their Jewish equivalent. I laugh because I have been there and, on many an occasion, have wished I had the courage of “Character Larry” or the chutzpa that Jerry has in embracing his idiosyncrasies around others.
Of course the flip-side of their characters, which is also all-too familiar, is the incessant anxiety and self-doubt that plagues many of the characters in these shows. Years ago I went to a Woody Allen marathon at a local cinema. After three movies in a row I felt dizzy and nauseous. Sure, there were some hand-held camera moments, but it was more than that – somehow Allen’s neurosis had overwhelmed me and I couldn’t watch another minute.
I never get this feeling with Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld, and I think this is part of their genius. They somehow manage to take these insanely neurotic characters and moments and make them have broad appeal and instantly likeable. I would never stick on a Woody Allen film to relax, but I could easily consume hours of David/Seinfeld fare in a single sitting and feel completely at ease. What starts off as a light nosh, inevitably becomes a smorgasbord of show upon show.
Yesterday I spent a couple of hours demolishing all the available Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee webisodes, as the first episode of Season 5 was just released, and my “Fear of Missing Out” syndrome seems to be exclusively limited to TV and its off-shoots. There are many episodes of the show I love – including the ones featuring Chris Rock, Louis CK, Michael Richards, Jay Leno, Ricky Gervais and Sarah Silverman – but, for me, none will ever compare to the premiere episode with Larry David. I have watched it at least half a dozen times and it never ceases to engross me. The chemistry between these two one-time collaborators is a pure delight, and seeing them repeatedly crack each other up is a beautiful thing to behold.
One of the heralded features of both Seinfeld and Curb is the “dovetail” effect, where many seemingly unconnected storylines collide at the end of the episode, usually with hilarious results. In this episode of Comedians in Cars, you can easily see how this evolved, as the famed comedians call-back to jokes they have told each other in earlier conversations in an enchanting display of their quick-witted flair.
Sure I would love Seinfeld to create another TV show, or Larry David to finally get around to doing Season 9 of Curb, but I do appreciate that they have spent most of their lives performing for others, and if they have the luxury to live their lives as they see fit, more power to them. I see their collective bodies of work as a mitzvah to us all, especially on those dark days when we need humour to lift our spirits. Larry wants to play golf and Jerry wants to have coffee in cool cars with people who interest him, and I am just grateful that he lets us come along for the ride.