January 26, 2009

Un-Curbed Enthusiasm: Larry David is My Idol

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As graduation edges ever nearer and the menace of the Real World approaches, it’s natural for us college types to imagine what we might be like as fully-formed adults with colon polyps and 401(k)s. Some might see a dapper executive in thousand-dollar suits and shiny loafers; others might envisage a laid-back hippie-type with granola and Birkenstocks. My own aspirations lie in a somewhat less conventional direction: when I think of what I’d like to be in 40 years, I think of Larry David.
David, the mind behind Seinfeld, has for the past nine years blessed us with the existence of his pseudo-reality show Curb Your Enthusiasm, a modest jab at social foibles and hypocrisy. Each episode follows a brief period in the life of its creator, allowing the viewer to watch as David makes an ass of himself in various mundane situations. An extra bit of pant material over the crotch causes a misunderstanding in the movie theater; a creative path to the carpool lane ends in marital problems. Throughout, David’s equal deficiencies in luck and social tact create dilemmas that are rarely, if ever, resolved.
The attraction of Curb is, of course, David’s character. A thoroughly honest man who is the victim of endless misunderstandings and inanities, he nonetheless discourages pity by adding his own measure of stubbornness and ineptitude to the mix. The show’s simple camerawork and improvisational style allow the audience to get close to David, and within the first few minutes of each episode one can’t help but empathize with — if not totally exonerate — David’s behavior. There’s an irresistible draw to his childlike manner, and one can’t help but feel that, freed from the demands of propriety, this is precisely how one would act.
But David can get tiring. For all his sharp wit and sincerity, there’s times when a little bit of courtesy, no matter how feigned, is called for. Enter Jeff, David’s agent and best friend, and the prototypically jolly fat man. Jeff is indefatigably loyal, professing his agreement with David even in the most absurd of situations and doing his best to extract his friend from his never-ending dilemmas. In terms of Curb’s thematic force, Jeff is absolutely essential: without him, David’s indiscretions would amount to little more than the foibles of a misanthrope, but with an ally in his oscillations, Larry doesn’t seem so crazy.
And so Curb offers a perspective on society seen elsewhere only in the likes of Woody Allen with its bumbling hero exposing the silliness of everyday life even as he stumbles through it. Those favorite targets of comedians everywhere — hypocrites, braggarts and morons — are dismissed with a scoff and a sigh, and anyone smacking of self-importance is deflated by David’s clumsy, unpresuming manner. Deep down inside, we all wish we could be like Larry: frank, naïve, unaffected by the opinions of others. He may not be the smoothest of operators, but he is certainly the most sincere.
And so Larry David is an admirable role model for those of us about to be thrust into adult society. Giving nothing of himself to custom or courtesy, he passes through life unencumbered by anxieties or troubles. Sure, he can be an asshole, but there’s something undeniably honest about that. In the big scheme of things, we could do far worse.