Perhaps the most quintessential Jewish moment in HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”’s magnificent run occurs in season 9, episode 6, when Larry snaps at Susie, “You’re a Jew from the Bronx.” Everything we revere about “Curb” is wrapped up in that singular line — the brutal self-awareness showered in laughable contempt.
In this time of intense antisemitism and rising pressure on Jews all over the world, it’s a wonder why anyone would still want to publicly showcase their “Jewishness.” Larry David is one member of the tribe that has never hidden in the shadows, unabashedly revealing his true persona for all his life.
With ‘Curb’ set to return Feb 4. for its 12th and final season, its boldly, unapologetic Jewish characters and story-lines could not be coming back at a more critical period.
While long-running series such as “Seinfeld,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Goldbergs” danced around and flirted with their “Jewishness,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” rips the face off it, bearing its big, beautiful, bald nose.
Over its unorthodox 20-plus year run, “Curb” has hilariously tackled Hitler and the Holocaust, the High Holidays, Passover, the Orthodox, the Hassidic, Shabbat, Minyans, Ein Keloheinu,Yiddish, intrinsic Jewish food like whitefish and gefilte fish, a bat mitzvah and yes, even the Palestinian conflict.
The 2012 Emmy-winning season 8 episode, “Palestinian Chicken,” dared to heighten Palestinian/Israeli relations over scrumptious chicken and sexual glory. It was, in the words of our “beloved schmuck” (how GQ magazine refers to LD), “pretty, pretty, pretty good” political fodder. According to multiple reports, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz sent a copy of the episode to Netanyahu to then help foster peace talks. Maybe it’s time to send him another copy. Oy!
Anne Bedian, the non-Jewish actor who played Shara, Larry’s antisemitic lover, in the episode, told The Journal that she still gets many cheerful Hanukkah requests via her Cameo site. Yes, even Jews can laugh at someone who tells us they’re going to fuck the Jew out of them. The world needs more of this self-aware humor that “Curb” presents.
Although “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” wonderfully showcased an overtly Jewish experience from a proud Jewish creator, its leading lady, Rachel Brosnahan, was, in fact, a shiksa. In the past, comedian Sarah Silverman has complained about one of Hollywood’s closely guarded tropes that too many Jewish parts were being played by non-Jewish actors. Now this isn’t to say that only gays should play gay characters and so on, but when it comes to actual Jews playing Jews, Silverman suggests there’s an intentional avoidance to cast “too” Jewish. Kudos to mensch Bradley Cooper who didn’t get the memo and casted Silverman as Leonard Bernstein’s sister in the Oscar nominated, “Maestro.”
“Curb” is the first TV series to go against the standard convention and openly center its major character and the majority of supporting characters around their Jewish heritage.
“Curb” is the first TV series to go against the standard convention and openly center its major character and the majority of supporting characters around their Jewish heritage. Of the original core cast of seven that includes Larry, Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman, Richard Lewis, Bob Einstein, Cheryl Hines and Ted Danson — only the last two are not Jews playing Jews in the show. (While Marty Funkhauser [Einstein] is sadly no longer with us, his legacy continues with his half-brother Freddy [Vince Vaughn]who is, presumably, at last half-Jewish.)
Ask any “Curb” cast member or loyally addicted viewer for that matter, and they will tell you the comedy comes first. Larry confirmed this point recently, telling The Los Angeles Times, “It’s not like we’re thinking, ‘Oh, let’s hit the Jew card.” Well … there was at least that one time …”
Comedian Elon Gold, who played a very Jewish Hulu executive in Season 11, told The Journal via email, “Larry and Jeff (Garlin) really wanted this guy to be both likable and also, almost annoying, overly Jewish because the goal of any character on that show is to annoy Larry. The beauty of LD is that he’s hilariously irascible and there’s nothing funnier than watching him get all flustered and frustrated. So, before we started filming they both said, ‘Do not hold back. Go as Jewy as possible.’ I was dropping all the Yiddish I picked up from my parents and all the Hebrew I learned in Yeshiva. I’m pretty sure the word ‘tachlis’ has ever been said on TV before.”
The fact that Larry chooses Jewish plot points over and over just means he thinks Jews, overall, are funny. He’s not wrong! Is there anything more absurdly comical than an Orthodox woman who can’t be alone with a man high up on a ski lift, after sundown on Shabbat, if she’s single, and then risks her life to jump off said lift? Or scalping prime seats outside temple for High Holy Day services? And how about that time Larry cut a hole in a bed sheet to have sex with a Hassidic woman (played by the lovely, harp-playing Jewess Gina Gershon) because he thought that’s how “they” do “it.”
Larry loves any and all religious mishegas. Gold’s email continued, “Larry is a cultural Jew and not a religious one … In a way he’s a true observant Jew. He observes Judaism and then turns it into genius comedy.”
To Jewish guest stars like Gold, the show’s been a priestly blessing. “I may have played the most Jewish character in the history of television and I’m including “Shtisel”! I’m dreading the end to this iconic series. But also so grateful I got to be a tiny, but memorable part of it,” Gold concluded.
Even non-Jewish actors like Jon Hamm appear to revel at the opportunity to Jew it up on ‘Curb!’ In the season 11 opener, Jon, playing himself, gleefully works in some Yiddish, using “tsuris” in his fake Albert Brooks eulogy, right after Larry playfully accuses him of “really going Jewey.”
While Jews still maintain a number of high profile goy allies like Hamm, the journalist turned influencer, Jordyn Tilchen, tweeted the other reality, “Being Jewish is such main character energy. There are only 15 million of us on the whole planet and everyone wants us dead. Pretty iconic.”
Perhaps most remarkable about “Curb”’s appeal is just how many non-Jews watch and enjoy the show, never getting enough of Larry David’s neurotic Jewish schtick. Think about this for a second. Larry David made Jews (kind of) likable. Like the famous 60’s ad campaign for Levy’s Jewish rye bread proclaimed, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love … ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
In the new season of “Curb,” a skeptical Larry asks, “How is something good happening to me?!” Such a uniquely Jewish perspective — because Jews never expect anything really good to happen to them, right? If there’s one thing Jews have learned over the years is that happiness is not for us. Well, at least we still have “Curb.”
Steve Matoren is currently directing “Bagels & Elvis,” a documentary that focuses on why everyone’s so obsessed with who’s Jewish.