The social wisdom of Larry David on ‘Curb’

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Last week, HBO announced an impending ninth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the beloved brainchild of “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David. The HBO comedy series began in 2000 and its last season concluded in 2011, making it HBO’s longest-running series of all time. On the show, David plays a fictionalized version of himself also named Larry (though you get the sense fake-Larry is eerily similar to David’s real-life persona). Larry lives with his (also fictional) wife Cheryl in Los Angeles, but “Curb” illustrates hundreds of exaggerated social mores that resonate with similar exactness in Durango.

Larry is a protagonist who rails against the social absurdities of day-to-day life many of us hate but are still willing to facilitate (because we’re too cowardly to rock the boat). He asks the real, heroic questions: Why should a person be allowed to throw a birthday party for themselves (gifts expected) several weeks after their birthday has passed? “There’s gotta be a cutoff point,” Larry points out. “You’re so desperate for a party that you have to have a party two weeks after? Wait till next year, you missed it!” He doesn’t think teenage girls should get away with trick-or-treating sans costumes on Halloween (“You can’t go around to people’s houses and bilk candy from them!”) And of course, Larry cannot abide the dreaded “Stop and Chat,” a ritual during which you feel obligated to stop and make small talk with an acquaintance you see in public.

Larry is chastised when a random guy tries to stop and chat with him on the street, and Larry greets him with a “Hey!” then keeps on walking. Sure, it would technically be polite to stop, but Larry feels he doesn’t know the acquaintance well enough to come up with on-the-spot conversation points. In a small town like Durango, running into people you know can be a daily occurrence. It happens everywhere: The grocery store. Durango Joe’s. The bathroom at Steamworks. For extroverts, it’s a fun way to interact with lots of different chums; for more introverted souls, the whole thing can be pretty stressful. It seems rude not to gab with someone you know, no matter how vague the connection. You’re pressured to ask how they are, what they’re doing, what they think of this weather we’ve been having. But wouldn’t it be nice if none of us felt any obligation to talk to each other? If we only exchanged words when we actually had something to say? Maybe that’s a pipe dream.

Another collective custom Larry protests: Small talk. He would rather talk about something meaningful (or say nothing at all) than swap vapid pleasantries. “I don’t even know how to write in cursive anymore,” a man seated next to Larry at a dinner party tells him. “Hmm. So how’s your marriage?” Larry counters. The man is taken aback, but Larry persists: “I’m trying to elevate small talk to medium talk. How often do you have sex?” The stranger’s face falls. “Almost never.”

There’s a brilliant website called “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” created by a man named John Koenig. On the site, Koenig invents new words for universal sentiments previously considered too complex to summarize. (Go check it out). This discussion of small talk reminds me of one of his made-up words, “adronitis,” a noun with the following fanciful definition: “The frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone – spending the first few weeks chatting in their psychological entryway, with each subsequent conversation like entering a different anteroom, each a little closer to the center of the house – wishing instead that you could start there and work your way out, exchanging your deepest secrets first, before easing into casualness, until you’ve built up enough mystery over the years to ask them where they’re from, and what they do for a living.”

“Curb” captures something we’ve all experienced: The sensation of the world viciously misunderstanding you. Larry gets misunderstood a lot. But I love “Curb” because its leading man is uninterested in all the B.S. supposedly rendering us decent human beings. Many of those annoying patterns are put in place as necessary gestures of civility; but lots are pointless, redundant or phony. Larry is never phony. He’s a curmudgeon, but an honest one. He’s selfish, but there’s a certain honor in resisting societal expectations.


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