The Larry David Controversy Countdown, Continued
Posted on October 2, 2014
Earlier this week, Larry David spoke about the future of Curb Your Enthusiasm at a Q&A with David Steinberg. It seems there’s still hope for Curb fans – David hasn’t ruled out another series but feels his ideas might not be “good enough for a whole season” just yet.
I thought I’d celebrate this promising news with a countdown of David’s most controversial story-lines during his work on both Seinfeld and Curb. David has made a habit of finding humour in controversy – something he has managed to get away with in spite of network restrictions and later, at HBO, due to his fictionalised character’s honesty. You can catch part one of the countdown here for more on David’s controversial treatment of disability, ethnicity and mental illness, to name a few.
And so we continue the countdown here with number five, The Holocaust.
5. The Pony Remark: Larry and The Holocaust
Larry: A gay Jew in Nazi Germany. He must have had a hard time.
Back in 1989, David penned the sharpest episode of Seinfeld’s first season, The Pony Remark. Jerry offends his cousin Manya at a dinner party but, when she dies during the night, Jerry feels responsible. What is hidden within the dialogue is the suggestion that Manya is a Holocaust survivor – her having lived in Krakow during the War – while Jerry’s talk of immigrants also marks out sharp generational differences. For a show in its infancy this was a brave move, but it paid off, becoming the episode that put Seinfeld on the map.
The Holocaust reappears much more plainly in Curb’s season four episode, The Survivor. Larry mistakenly invites a contestant from the Australian reality show, Survivor, to his dinner party believing him to be a survivor of the Holocaust. The resulting scene – which sees a real Holocaust survivor and the contestant go head to head – is Curb gold.
4. On Being Jewish
Man: Are you Jewish?
Larry: You want to check my penis?
When Larry discovers an Orthodox Jew is the head of the transplant consortium, Larry embarks on a cunning plan to get close friend Richard Lewis moved up the kidney list (S8 The Ski Lift). Cue hilarious consequences as Larry dons his yamaka and mumbles Yiddish in a fake accent.
In the shows previous season Larry tried to sleep with a Hasidic Jew only to find his preconceived ideas about her sexual rituals were a myth (S4 The Survivor). Much of the comedy results from Larry’s cluelessness. As Nichols Mirzoeff points out in his book, Seinfeld, Curb sees the creator of Seinfeld – a show that was once described as ‘too Jewish’ – now play with the idea that he is not Jewish enough. It’s a shrewd move that focuses our attention on Larry’s – and our own – general ignorance.
Season five’s decidedly religious and, arguably, strongest arc sees Larry explore his faith and ethnicity when he believes God has spared him from drowning. It’s a theme that leads nicely to number three in the countdown…
3. Larry Learns About Christianity
Larry: Why is it before you have a meal you do the whole cross thing, but not for snacks?
Season seven and it was the turn of Catholics to be offended. Larry accidentally splashes urine on a painting of Jesus. His assistant concludes Jesus is crying. The joke was on those who too willingly believe in miracles without examining the facts, but had David gone too far?
David dabbled with Christianity in early Curb episodes, facilitated by Larry’s marriage to Christian Cheryl. An early season highlight saw Larry cause a religious feud by trying to save a man from drowning. It was, in fact, his baptism (S2 The Baptism).
It’s a fruitful theme that breeds plenty of misunderstandings and David frequently generates humour from the application of religious significance to inanimate objects. Take the season five episode, The Christ Nail – one of Curb’s most finely crafted and funniest episodes. In this comedic gem, Larry uses a prop from the movie Passion Of The Christ to hang a Mezuzah on his front door. All of the episode’s plot strands come together neatly to see Larry get chased through his office by an angry handyman – fittingly named Jesus – with a wooden cross.
2. Sex Offenders
Cheryl: We’re not having a sex offender over for dinner, no. You need to call him and say no.
Larry: Cheryl, what would Jesus do?
In the much loved Curb season two episode The Doll, David bravely takes on society’s concerns about paedophilia in his final gag. At a movie preview, circumstances result in Larry smuggling a bottle of water in his pants. Unfortunately he also happens to give a child a hug at the time. It’s a jaw dropping moment and, as the credits roll, we’re left wondering how Larry will ever get out of this one.
When Larry invites a sex offender, Rick (Rob Corddry), over for a Passover celebration in The Seder, David draws comedy from a different perspective. Despite his reservations, Larry befriends Rick after taking a golf lesson from him. While Larry is a picture of tolerance, much of the comedy comes from the reactions of Susie, Cheryl and his neighbours. That is, until Larry thinks Rick is going to make a confession.
1. Palestinian Chicken: Larry takes on Middle Eastern Peace
Jeff: What these people should do is take their chicken over to Israel
Larry: For the peace process – they’d take down all those settlements in a morning, believe me.
Should Larry and Jeff eat at a Palestinian restaurant when the walls are covered in pro-Palestinian, anti-semitic posters? And should Al-Abbas open another outlet right next-door to Goldblatt’s deli? Larry thinks so.
Fans were left contemplating whether David’s bravery as a screenwriter had no ends following the broadcast of this season eight episode of Curb, Palestinian Chicken. Now it’s considered one of Curb’s finest episodes for its return to such controversial subject matter.
There’s a sex scene littered with anti-semitic dirty talk as Larry is lured into the arms of the ultimate shiksa – a Palestinian woman who hates him for being Jewish. Something Larry describes as “a turn on”. And so Larry’s decision about the middle eastern question eventually comes down to a question of sex – should he side with the Palestinians and be sexually rewarded or join his fellow Jews on Goldblatt’s side of the picket? Well timed credits mean we can only ever guess what he’ll do.
Despite accusations that the episode demonstrates racist interpretations of Palestinians and Jewish women, it’s Larry’s tolerance and open minded nature that rescues this episode from the damaging effects of controversy. In the end perhaps Larry’s most provocative statement is that Al-Abbas should open next-door to Goldblatt’s simply because, “This is America – they can do whatever they want”.