He’s beaten up Elmo on live television, nearly swore on the Today show (again) over a question about Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift, told a group of photographers to shut up and bristled with journalists for asking why it’s the final season.
It has seemed almost like a bonus episode of the long-running HBO comedy.
Despite this, it probably is the last we’ll see of Larry David as that Larry David. But it would be pretty on brand to have gone through all of this only for the show to return, at some point, for Season 13.
“There’s nothing more Larry David than saying it’s the final season, having all this hoopla and then slinking back,” exec producer Jeff Schaffer told Deadline.
Schaffer said ultimately this season, particularly the final episode, which airs on April 7, is funnier if we know it’s ending.
There’s still nine other episodes to go through before we get there, though. [SPOILER ALERT] In the season opener, Larry is, as always, somewhat aggrieved by the things going on in the world from Siri not helping him to the phrase ‘Do you know what I mean?’ and hotel cleaning policies.
But what’s really got him worked up is the success of Young Larry, the Netflix show that he pitched in Season 11. Not only is it a hit but Maria Sofia, played by Keyla Monterroso Mejia, the niece of the burglar that drowned in his pool, who is only on the show because his fence was too small and he’s being extorted by the burglar’s brother, has become a massive star. He’s also still dealing with Irma Kostroski, played by Tracey Ullman, who he can’t break up with yet because she’s still in alcohol recovery.
In amongst all of this Larry, Maria Sofia and Leon head to Atlanta, ostensibly for a party thrown by a rich African (South African, mind), where Larry inevitably causes some trouble. There’s also the return of Auntie Rae, played by Ellia English, Leon’s aunt who we first saw in Season 6 when The Black family moved into Larry’s house as a result of Hurrican Katrina.
Then, Larry is arrested for the crime of delivering water to someone standing in line to vote. It’s surprisingly the first time that Larry has been arrested on the show, despite plenty of other run ins with the police.
All of this is to set up a number of situations that pay off later in the season, a season that, as ever, includes a roster of A-list guest stars. There’s Conan O’Brien, Sienna Miller and Steve Buscemi as well as Toast of London star Matthew Berry, among others.
Schaffer talks Deadline through the final season and also reveals his funniest moment working on the show, when he realized Larry was serious about ending the show, and what really makes Larry break.
DEADLINE: When did you find out Season 12 would be the last season?
JEFF SCHAFFER: As has been well documented, every season is the final season, right? Even when we’re writing the new season, there’s no guarantee that that season is going to exist. Sometimes we’ll have written seven episodes, and, this has truly happened, I say we should tell HBO we’re doing another season, because we’re going to have to get the cast and crew together. But he just has no desire to be forced into something that he doesn’t love. So, you end up writing most of the season before you really know there’s going to be a season. That’s the first hurdle. It’s not that is this the last season, it’s is this a season?
This year, as we were writing, in the beginning, it wasn’t that we were writing the final season. We’ve been dead and buried so many times. We’re like a cat with nine neurotic lives and I think I think we just got to the ninth. When we were writing, in the middle of the season, we sort of figured out how the season was going to end and it felt like it was funniest, if it was the end. That sort of cemented it. That was not the plan when we started.
DEADLINE: Did that inform the rest of it?
We’re always going back and readdressing as we write the season. One of the things that I admire most about Larry, is that he’s willing to just start. We have a few ideas, let’s just see where it goes. I’m like, ‘But we don’t even know if these are the right ideas. How do we know?’ Let’s just try it.
He’s willing to jump in the water bravely where I would be standing on the deck. We’re always readjusting, especially those first few episodes, as we go, because we didn’t really know where we were quite going yet. There’s always a big, big give and take dialog between every episode as we’re writing. I’m always thinking about where does this end up and he’s willing to start but I’m always thinking about how it finishes. I think that that combination of his boldness and my cowardly calculations, makes the show.
DEADLINE: You’ve talked about tying a bow around this season; what does that mean?
SCHAFFER: Well, in one sense, it means that in an interview, I will just spew bullshit and I don’t really know what I’m saying. In a deeper sense, when we’re writing a season, we go wherever is funniest and where this takes us, it was a really funny way to end, not just the season but the series. It felt complete. That’s what I mean by tying a bow around it. It’s funniest if this is the final one. That’s what it comes down to. Now Larry has time to pursue his other passions, cross country skiing, making bird cages out of wire he finds on the side of the highway and completing his collection of kerchiefs from turn of the century dandies. He is an Oscar Wilde away from completing the set.
DEADLINE: This is a generalization, but Americans have a major obsession with series finales that I don’t necessarily think others do. Seinfeld and The Sopranos are examples. For comedies, does it matter as long as it’s funny?
SCHAFFER: Americans love to eventize things. So, the finales of shows, especially beloved shows, are now supposed to somehow be the Super Bowl of the show. They’re not, it should feel like an episode of the show, a really funny episode of the show. It should feel like you just watched a great episode of Curb and it does.
DEADLINE: Larry seems particularly aggrieved in the opening episode of Season 12 with Siri, with certain people. Is that accurate?
SCHAFFER: The first episode sets up a lot of things and we set them up pretty quickly. [Young Larry] didn’t fail, in fact, was a success. Everyone loves Maria Sophia, so that’s an issue. He didn’t get rid of Irma, in fact, he’s got to stick with it for six months, so that’s an issue. I think what you’re seeing is, we’re setting up a lot of agony balls for him to juggle. That’s always the trick with the first one, we’re setting up stuff that may not pay off in this first episode, but will pay off down the line.
Just to talk about Keyla, who plays Maria Sophia, she was so amazing last season and this year, she has to play basically an entirely different version of her character. But one that is still abhorrent to Larry and she pulls it off so well. She’s still so new to the business. She was continually thanking us for changing her life. That is so wonderful but Maria Sophia has none of those qualities. She will never thank Larry. She thinks she did it all herself. America loves her. She’s doing everything right.
DEADLINE: Often between Curb seasons, there’s a soft reset, but this season there’s more of a continuation, is that fair?
SCHAFFER: Sometimes everyone in America gets a neuralyzer between seasons. But we felt like there were two reasons: the way we ended last season, with a little bit of what’s happened and we wanted to answer that but in a very funny way. So, in those first 90 seconds of the show, you learn that people love her. This show’s a hit because of her and Irma’s back. Every year we’re doing it a different way, we just thought let’s actually pay off last year with a twist right at the top. That was one thing. The other thing is these are two really funny characters and we wanted to keep playing with them.
DEADLINE: Tracey Ullman’s Irma is one of the best characters to come into the Curb world in years.
SCHAFFER: Tracey is a genius. She built a character that was designed in a lab to make Larry uncomfortable. On set, in the scene, she gets right in his face, she makes him so uncomfortable. It’s so funny.
DEADLINE: How often does he break in those moments?
SCHAFFER: He breaks like you and I belch, it’s just it’s a bodily function. You can see it start to go in his lip.
DEADLINE: It was nice to see Auntie Rae back; was that a nod to getting some classic characters back or was that more specific to that character?
SCHAFFER: We started with the story of someone taking your glasses and trying them on on your gigantic head and we knew we were going to be in Atlanta. We also wanted to bring JB to Atlanta so we thought how can we do this in an organic way and all of a sudden, it was like, let’s bring Auntie Rae back. Her relationship with Larry was always fun. It worked perfectly. There was a line that we didn’t use in the show, it’s like she ate her twin in the womb and their heads fused together into one giant head. Watching those two go at it was great. It started with the story but she was the perfect person to bring back into our world that had a great dynamic with Larry.
DEADLINE: That story sums up Curb, it’s a daft moment based on experience.
SCHAFFER: It’s wish fulfillment for the audience. But it’s wish fulfillment for Larry too. If real Larry did all the things TV Larry did, real Larry would be serving time in jail and not just for bringing water [to an election polling line]. He would have already been in jail. Larry said it best, it’s much more fun to play Larry David than it is to be Larry David.
DEADLINE: Some viewers jar with Larry initially but soon you find yourself agreeing with him more often than not.
SCHAFFER: That’s the thing. Then what you start to do is you start to think ‘I’m just like Larry’. The amount of times I fill in this madlib: my brother, uncle coworker or boss is Larry David. He’s not Larry David. He may be annoying to you. But there’s only one Larry David and that’s why the show is great. Your uncle is just a bald guy who bugs you.
DEADLINE: You’ve got some fun guest stars this year including Conan O’Brien, Sienna Miller and Steve Buscemi. What’s the process like? Do you have a list of people you’d like to work with or do people volunteer themselves?
SCHAFFER: Some of the people that we had this year are people that we’ve always wanted to work with and it’s never worked out but they’re great improvisers like Rob Riggle, Ike Barinholtz and Greg Kinnear. These are just people that we’ve always talked about if we have the exact right role. People are busy and we often call at the last minute. Then there are people that as we’re writing the scenes, we think this would be the perfect person but I have no idea if they’re available. That was Sienna Miller, who was just exactly what we wanted for this role and she came in and was just amazing. Luckily, she was a fan of the show, which is great. It’s an easy call and then it’s just a scheduling issue. We have Matthew Berry this year. Larry loves him. We had the perfect part for him and we hoped he could do it. It’s always a combination. There’s definitely a list of people that we love that we’ve never gotten to use and then there’s people that we call and just hope they like the show.
People are super excited to play with Larry. At the beginning, it’s always strange to go into a set that’s improvised. There’s an outline, we’re shooting way out of order, their first scene on set could be their last scene. There’s no rehearsal and we just try stuff. Sometimes people are a little nervous at first, but you can’t fuck up. You literally can’t screw up. Another way to say it is in improv, every scene is a live rewrite. We’re just writing as we’re shooting, and it’s the most fun thing, the set is the most fun set to be on because you’re just making it up as you go and people are bringing up things you didn’t expect. It’s a live comedy sporting event. I’m directing and writing, Larry’s acting and writing. One of the most fun things is you’re in the middle of a scene, and Larry starts to laugh, he’s laughing at what he’s about to say, he knows he’s about to throw something in that’s going to be really funny. He has an amazing ability to write and act at the same time and see the scene from above.
DEADLINE: JB Smoove seems to have a particular way of fucking Larry up and I know the rest of the cast love working with him.
SCHAFFER: He’s always surprising Larry. Larry wants to be surprised. The show is made in the same way that Larry moves through the world, which is the world is against me. The whole show is against him. Everybody’s against him. There’s surprises. I’m rigging things. People are going to say things and he doesn’t know what it is. You’re getting him interacting with a human obstacle course but JB has the power to just stun him. He’ll bring something up and Larry just starts laughing. We’ll come back in a minute, because we’re done for a little while.
DEADLINE: Are there people who have come into the show and haven’t been very good or didn’t get it?
SCHAFFER: One, it’s self selecting, for the most part, the people that want to do it are there because they really want to do it, so they’re game. Two, Larry and I have a big safety net. You don’t have to think of everything, I’ll whisper in your ear, I’ll load you up if you need it. Everyone trusts that we’re going to use the best stuff. Everybody has stuff that doesn’t work but you don’t see it. So, in the end, everyone looks looks great. Even with the best people, we want to explore. You can’t make a mistake.
DEADLINE: You and Larry have said that you don’t look inward very often or discuss the legacy of the show.
SCHAFFER: There’s no way I can answer this without seeming like a sociopath. I just don’t really care. We like doing these stories and making them work and figuring out what’s funny about them. It’s a puzzle. It’s always a challenge. But we like doing it.
DEADLINE: You’re just creating funny shit rather than thinking about your legacy.
SCHAFFER: That’s the central premise of everything we do, is it funny? There are a lot of great shows that don’t have that premise. I’ve watched many of them. They’re great. But our version of a comedy is trying to make you laugh all the time. That’s literally the main goal.
DEADLINE: What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed while making Curb?
SCHAFFER: Every day there’s a moment where you’re probably crying laughing. Last year, there was a joke in episode six [Man Fights Tiny Woman], and JB thought that the fat roofer had eaten his frozen chocolate popsicle things. He was talking to Larry, saying he’s not going to eat your shit, he’s not interested in your mung beans or vegetables or those olives, what do you call those olives with the little red thing inside? Larry says ‘pimiento?’. JB says ‘Yeah, the same thing that comes out of a woman when she has a baby’. That killed me, I laughed so hard. I literally went in the edit, on a super secret spy program to keep this unnecessary part of a scene just for that joke. I literally worked it around so we could keep it because I thought that may be the funniest one instance on the show I’ve ever seen.
DEADLINE: Vince Vaughan is incredible as Freddie Funkhouser. Vince is this big movie star but he seems so comfortable in Curb land.
SCHAFFER: Vince is a brilliant improviser. His syncopated fast-talking pattern is so different from Larry’s, but they fit so well together and he’s just lightning quick. I’m so glad that everyone’s seeing him being so funny. He kills it this season. There’s a scene in an episode this season that is also one of the funniest times I can remember laughing that hard, the two of them just going at it.
There’s two things that make Larry laugh the most. One is getting screamed at by Susie [Essman], that’s catnip for him, he giggles like a schoolgirl when he’s getting screamed. The other is when he has to confront the stony face of authority, like Philip Baker Hall [who played Dr. Morrison]. Watching him keep trying, the straighter Philip Baker Hall was, the more Larry laughed. He was Jello. He couldn’t get around him, he was just a laughing puddle every time he had a scene with him.
DEADLINE: Why do you think Larry said this was the final season? You said every season is the final season. Is there not something very Curb about doing the final season but not telling anyone it’s the final season?
SCHAFFER: Yes. Every other season was almost the final season but we never told anybody and we just were out. For this season, it won’t make sense until we get there. It’s just funnier when you know it’s the final season. That’s the reason, honestly. There’s nothing more Larry David than saying it’s the final season, having all this hoopla and then slinking back.