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15 Pretty, Pretty Good Facts About Curb Your Enthusiasm

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John P. Johnson/HBO

On October 17, 1999, HBO aired a mockumentary special called Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm. They liked it so much that they picked it up as a 10-episode narrative series, which premiered on October 15, 2000 with a slightly truncated title. On and off for eight seasons (it’s been on hiatus since 2011), Larry David has played a very candid—if somewhat exaggerated—version of himself, with every episode revolving around him angering somebody. Here are some real facts about the improvised show, which will make its triumphant return to HBO tonight for a ninth season.

1. “LARRY DAVID” IS AN “IDEALIZED” VERSION OF LARRY DAVID.

Sure, there are some obvious similarities between TV Larry and real-life Larry, but David told Rolling Stone that it wouldn’t be smart for him to be TV Larry all the time. “The character really is me, but I just couldn't possibly behave like that,” he said. “If I had my druthers, that would be me all the time, but you can’t do that. We’re always doing things we don’t want to do, we never say what we really feel, and so this is an idealized version of how I want to be. As crazy as this person is, I could step into those shoes right now, but I would be arrested or I’d be hit or whatever.”

2. THE MOCKUMENTARY FORMAT WAS LOST ON SOME OF CHERYL HINES’S FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS. 


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Larry David tapped documentary filmmaker Robert B. Weide to direct the original Curb Your Enthusiasm special (Weide stayed on for most of the series run as both a director and executive producer), which was supposed to chronicle David’s returning to the stand-up comedy circuit. Weide didn’t understand why David wanted to “torture himself like that” but finally realized that “he wanted to face down some old demons, now that he had nothing invested in it.” David had already locked in a commitment with HBO to do a special on his stand-up, but it evolved into being more of a mockumentary than a documentary. As Weide explained, people who knew Cheryl Hines thought it was too real. “She had friends in Florida who saw the show and were upset to find out that Cheryl had married a big TV producer and they were never invited to the wedding.”

3. CHERYL HINES DIDN’T THINK SHE WOULD GET HIRED AS CHERYL DAVID.

Hines’s background was with The Groundlings improv, and she had an inkling as to who David was. “I wasn’t very stressed out about the audition, because I thought 'It’s not going to happen,'” Hines said during a conversation at The Paley Center. Neither she nor her agent thought she “was right for the part.” At the time of her audition, Hines was working as a personal assistant to Rob Reiner’s family. Four hours after reading for the part she got a call that she’d won the role. “I know now that they were looking for an unknown, so it worked in my favor that I had absolutely nothing on my resume,” she said.

4. CHERYL DAVID IS NOT BASED ON LAURIE DAVID.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Cheryl Hines said that she did not meet Larry David’s former wife, Laurie, until after the show began production. “It was confusing to people because people would ask me what kind of research I did on Laurie before I started playing her. And I had to say I wasn’t playing her,” Hines said. At one point Hines asked Larry if she should be hanging out with Laurie, and David said “no.”

5. EACH EPISODE IS BASED ON AN OUTLINE, AND NO DIALOGUE IS EVER WRITTEN.


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Curb Your Enthusiasm became a milestone show because of its mostly improvised format. David wrote rough outlines for each episode and let the actors fill in the rest. “I write the scenes where we know everything that’s going to happen,” David told NPR. “There’s an outline of about seven or eight pages, and then we improvise it.”

“We do a rough camera blocking before we start shooting, but I tell the actors just to ‘blah-blah' the dialogue until the cameras roll,” Weide explained. “My fear is that if they make up a wonderful piece of dialogue, then they'll be self-consciously trying to hit the same mark once we’re filming and we’ll lose the spontaneity.”

6. THE SHOW’S TITLE HAS TWO MEANINGS.

David titled the series Curb Your Enthusiasm as an ode to Seinfeld fervor, meaning that people shouldn’t expect this to be another Seinfeld. “Also, people should keep enthusiasm curbed in their lives,” David told Time. “Always keep it. To not is unattractive. It’s unseemly.”

7. DAVID DIDN’T WANT HIS TV MARRIAGE TO BE TOO HAPPY.

“I want people to think we’re happy, but not that happy,” David said during The Paley Center cast Q&A. “I don’t want to see anybody that happy, because it makes me a little sick. I’m trying to strike the balance that you believe the marriage, that they really like each other, but he’s really not that happy.” David also admitted that his on-screen marriage and real-life marriage started to mirror each other. “It’s [the marriage] mitigated a little bit by the kids in my real marriage. It’s much easier for me to play a guy without kids, though … the wives, they’re getting closer and closer.”

8. THE "MARY, JOSEPH AND LARRY" EPISODE IS BASED ON A TRUE STORY. 


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Cheryl Hines told TV Guide that her favorite episode of the series was the 2002 Christmas one where her family visits and Larry eats a cookie version of baby Jesus. “When I was home in Florida, my family had made a manger scene out of cookies and everyone was walking around saying, ‘Don't eat baby Jesus.’ And I immediately called Larry and said, ‘If you were at my house right now, you would eat baby Jesus and my family would go crazy.’ And then we started talking back-and-forth and he [loved it].”

9. LARRY DAVID DIDN’T WANT TO BE MARRIED ON THE SHOW IF HE WASN’T MARRIED IN REAL LIFE.

In real life, Larry and Laurie David got divorced in 2007, which he integrated into the show: the seventh and eighth season arcs involved David separating from and then divorcing his wife. “Larry works on a very deeply unconscious level that even he’s not aware of,” Susie Essman told Rolling Stone. “As an outsider, I can see it. He doesn’t want to analyze it, that’s not his personality, he’s not analytical, but I think that that’s basically it. That if he’s not married, he doesn’t want to be married fictitiously, either.”

But Hines told The A.V. Club she thinks the couple belongs together. “Who else is going to love him? And, by the way, he is very entertaining.”

10. SUSIE ESSMAN CONSTANTLY TELLS FANS TO “GO F**K” THEMSELVES. 


HBO

Essman’s character, Susie Greene, has a foul mouth and makes a regular habit of unleashing streams of expletives on Larry and her on-screen husband, Jeff (Jeff Garlin). Essman explained to The Paley Center audience how fans constantly come up to her and ask to be berated. “My life has become extremely bizarre that people just come up to [me] wherever I am, begging me to tell them to go f**k themselves. It’s like, I’m buying produce, I’m shaking a melon. ‘Call me a fat f**k.’ I’m not always in the mood.” During an interview with Esquire, Essman said that, “People are visibly disappointed that when they meet me I’m not this screaming, yelling crazy person.”

11. JEFF GARLIN THINKS JEFF GREENE IS A “BUFFOON." 


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During the cast’s Paley Center Q&A, Garlin claimed that Larry forced him to co-star and produce the show against his will. Garlin also shared how he feels about his character, Jeff Greene: “He’s an idiot. He’s not a good guy. He wants to get laid constantly, by anyone, any time. He wants to please his clients. That’s all he works on … I’m a decent guy so there’s some niceness underneath. I have no respect for this guy. He’s a buffoon, that’s all.”

12. THE SHOW HELPED TO EXONERATE A MAN WHO WAS ARRESTED FOR MURDER.

In 2003 Juan Catalan was arrested for murdering a teenage girl, even though he swore he couldn’t have been at the purported crime scene because he was with his daughter at a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game. Curb Your Enthusiasm just happened to be filming at the game on the very same day, and five months after Catalan’s arrest, the raw footage from the filming proved that Catalan was indeed where he claimed to be. In 2007, Catalan was awarded $320,000 in a lawsuit he had filed against the city of Los Angeles and its police department.

13. LARRY DAVID AND RICHARD LEWIS USED TO BE CHILDHOOD RIVALS. 


HBO

In 2000, David came over to comedian Richard Lewis’s house and personally asked him to star on the show. But before they were friends, they were teenage rivals. The men attended a sports camp together when they were 12 years old, and did not get along. “I despised the guy and he hated me,” Lewis told OC Weekly. “It was like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but at 12.”

The two men had forgotten about each other until they reconnected a decade later, when they both started doing stand-up. “We then traced our childhoods and then it hit me like a ton of bricks! I was like, ‘Ohhhh you’re Larry David from that camp!’ The odds that we would become best friends was so unique and so crazy, it bonded us forever. You can see that on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Ninety-nine percent is me fighting with him because we do it in real life.”

14. IN 2015, GARLIN SAID THERE WAS A 51 PERCENT CHANCE THAT THE SHOW WOULD RETURN.

At the 2015 TCA (Television Critics Association), Garlin said he’d love to do more Curb Your Enthusiasm and prophesied that the chance of David signing on for another season is around 51 percent. “Larry David is so goddamned rich he doesn’t have to do anything unless it’s good,” Garlin joked.

15. DAVID HIMSELF ONCE PUT THE ODDS OF A NINTH SEASON AT 6-1.

At the end of 2014, David told Grantland, “I guess, right now, the odds would be against it, probably 6 to 1,” and stated he has no desire to do another episode “to wrap things up.” In 2015, HBO's then-president of programming Michael Lombardo saw Larry David and told The Hollywood Reporter that David had pointed to a notebook and said he was working on a new season of Curb. “I don’t think it’s out of [Larry’s] system,” said Lombardo. “I think he wants to have something to say.”

In 2016, a ninth season of the series was officially greenlit and on July 10, 2017, HBO confirmed that the new season would begin on October 1, 2017 and dropped a teaser trailer:

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Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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Mill Creek Entertainment

In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''

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Epic Gremlins Poster Contains More Than 80 References to Classic Movies
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Ape Meets Girl

It’s easy to see why Gremlins (1984) appeals to movie nerds. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, the film has horror, humor, and awesome 1980s special effects that strike a balance between campy and creepy. Perhaps it’s the movie’s status as a pop culture treasure that inspired artist Kevin Wilson to make it the center of his epic hidden-image puzzle of movie references.

According to io9, Wilson, who works under the pseudonym Ape Meets Girl, has hidden 84 nods to different movies in this Gremlins poster. The scene is taken from the movie’s opening, when Randall enters a shop in Chinatown looking for a gift for his son and leaves with a mysterious creature. Like in the film, Mr. Wing’s shop in the poster is filled with mysterious artifacts, but look closely and you’ll find some objects that look familiar. Tucked onto the bottom shelf is a Chucky doll from Child’s Play (1988); above Randall’s head is a plank of wood from the Orca ship made famous by Jaws (1975); behind Mr. Wing’s counter, which is draped with a rug from The Shining’s (1980) Overlook Hotel, is the painting of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters II (1989). The poster was released by the Hero Complex Gallery at New York Comic Con earlier this month.

“Early on, myself and HCG had talked about having a few '80s Easter Eggs, but as we started making a list it got longer and longer,” Wilson told Mental Floss. “It soon expanded from '80s to any prop or McGuffin that would fit the curio shop setting. I had to stop somewhere so I stopped at 84, the year Gremlins was released. Since then I’ve thought of dozens more I wish I’d included.”

The ambitious artwork has already sold out, but fortunately cinema buffs can take as much time as they like scouring the poster from their computers. Once you think you’ve found all the references you can possibly find, you can check out Wilson’s key below to see what you missed (and yes, he already knows No. 1 should be Clash of the Titans [1981], not Jason and the Argonauts [1963]). For more pop culture-inspired art, follow Ape Meets Girl on Facebook and Instagram.

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Ape Meets Girl

[h/t io9]

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