Larry David is in trouble.
Not the fictionalized version of the “Seinfeld” creator who (dis)graces our screens in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but the real-life Larry David, who hosted “Saturday Night Live” this weekend and created the kind of backlash usually reserved for the character he plays on television.
On Saturday, David delivered the opening monologue on “Saturday Night Live.” Never one to shy away from sensitive subjects, David not only addresses elephants in the room, he coats them in fluorescent paint, puts bells and whistles on them and makes them the center of his universe.
Daring to go where no comedian – Jewish or otherwise – has gone before, David admitted to feeling a sense of unease about the spate of sexual assault allegations in Hollywood and elsewhere. Why? Because “many – not all, but many – of the predators are Jews.”
“I don’t like it when Jews are in the headlines for notorious reasons,” he continued. “I want Einstein discovers the theory of relativity. Salk cures polio. What I don’t want? Weinstein took it out.”
Wow. Did he really just say that? Did he really come out on national television and say what Jews everywhere have been holding inside for weeks? Yes, he did. Because he’s Larry David and Larry David doesn’t believe in sacred cows. Unless they have been pickled, salted and slapped on some rye bread with mustard and pickles.
And then, as if diving headlong into the most sensitive story of the week was just an entrée, he proceeded to the main course: a section all about checking out women in a concentration camp and which potential pick-up lines would work best. “When this is over,” he mumbles, “I’d love to take you out for some latkes. You like latkes?”
(David, of course, is not the first Jewish comedian to find material in the Holocaust. For my bar mitzvah, I was given a copy of “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor,” a massive volume containing thousands of jokes and anecdotes from biblical times to modern Israel. One entire chapter of that book contains nothing but jokes based on the Holocaust.)
Within minutes, Twitter was full of people complaining about the monologue. Presumably, these are people who have never heard David perform, never seen an episode of Seinfeld and are oblivious to the wonderful cringe-worthiness of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Complaining about Larry David being inappropriate is like complaining that Bob Dylan doesn’t know how to carry a tune. Of course he doesn’t – that’s the whole damn point.
Defending the indefensible
When the first episode of the ninth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” aired last month, I decided to withhold my review until the end of the 10-episode run. Partly because everyone was reviewing the show at the same time and partly because “Curb” is the kind of show which is best reviewed in retrospect.
Like an optical illusion, a season of “Curb” can only really be viewed and reviewed once it is over. Once the swirling story arcs come together in perfectly planned harmony, once the seemingly extraneous characters have fulfilled their narrative purpose, everything falls into place and the season can be examined as a whole.
David’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live” forced a change of plan, however. In light of the backlash against him, I feel obligated to mount a defense of the indefensible.
For anyone who has not been watching Season 9, here’s a brief recap of what you’ve missed so far: Larry has written a musical, based on the life of Salman Rushdie, called “Fatwa!” After promoting his musical on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” during which he does an impression of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Larry wakes up the next day to discover that the real ayatollah has issued a real fatwa against him.
In subsequent episodes, Larry meets with Rushdie and discovers that being the subject of a fatwa has made him much more attractive to women; he even goes out on a date with Elizabeth Banks. He refuses to thank a U.S. Army veteran for his service and gets a ticket after honking his horn at a police car.
One criticism that has been levelled against “Curb” is that, six years after the end of the previous season, it has not moved on, has become irrelevant. There might be some truth to that. The main narrative device for Season 9 is something that happened almost 20 years ago, and that could seem dated. In addition, there is – so far, at least – no mention of more current trends in American politics. In Larry David’s world, Donald Trump does not seem to exist.
Perhaps David believed – as many political satirists are discovering – that Trump is beyond satire and that including him in the crazy world of Larry David would be gilding the lily. After all, does a show like “Curb” really need to take aim at someone like Trump? Doesn’t Larry provide a big enough dosage of douche for most viewers?
Clearly, Larry David’s character on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is thoroughly dislikable. He’s petty, selfish, churlish, self-obsessed and painfully pedantic. You wouldn’t want him as a friend, a boss or even a passing acquaintance.
But, by God, he’s funny. He picks up – and then picks apart – the minutiae of modern life with all the skill of a top surgeon. When Larry latches onto some quirk of modern etiquette (the chat and cut, the sample abuser and the lack of respect for wood), he takes it to pieces and has his viewers in stitches.
So, spare me your outraged complaints about Holocaust jokes. When you book Larry David – be it for a 10-episode season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or the opening monologue of “Saturday Night Live” – you know exactly what you’re getting: a genuinely funny comedian who doesn’t care about being inappropriate.
It’s time to embrace the disgrace and to feel comfortable with the awkward.
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