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The Larry David Show 

A movie about something, sort of

Wednesday, May 13 1998
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"Not that I'm deliberately setting out to offend people," David continues, "but I expect some people to be offended along the way. S.J. Perelman once said it was 'the office of comedy to offend.' " David is anti-sentimental at gut level, and fatalistic in his view of human nature. Robert Towne (Chinatown, Shampoo), primarily a dramatic writer, once said that he quit writing for television because the characters in a TV series could never change. David, exclusively a comic writer, embraces the idea that characters on TV never change. And they don't in his movie, either. "I like that," David says, "because I've known people my whole life, and I've never seen anybody change. I haven't changed, and I can't tell you one person who's changed. It always just seems so contrived to me, the way people change in movies; I don't like to see it, especially in comedies. It's not funny to see somebody who's inherently one way and then all of a sudden has an experience that changes him -- how is that funny? Maybe it works in drama, I don't think it does in comedy. And I like to stick a little closer to life, I think. It's one of those things about the Seinfeld show, too. It was very down to earth. How often do you have a moment with a friend, when you look at each other and give each other a big hug, or something like that? It just doesn't happen."

I say I suspect David would agree that it's more likely you'll have a moment when you look at an old friend and realize he's a schmuck. "Exactly!" he responds. "You look at him and you realize you want to get away from him! To get somebody to give you this big hug -- it's got to be a huge thing, a death, some huge event. Don't you think? But on TV it seems to happen regularly; every week somebody's crying, in a comedy! So we tried to avoid that on Seinfeld. I wrote this episode 'The Kiss Hello' because of my aversion to kissing people hello. Like every social encounter I would say to myself, 'Oh, do I have to kiss so-and-so?' It would ruin my 'Hello!' It would really detract from my entrance, thinking, 'Do I kiss her, and not kiss that one?' And I noticed that the women I didn't kiss hello I had a much better relationship with. Because I could just say, 'Hey, how ya doin'?,' I wasn't afraid to see them. There wasn't an awkward moment. So I wrote this episode thinking, 'Maybe, if people watch this, they'll stop kissing me hello.' But of course it didn't happen."

Building jarring ambiguity into a banal encounter has become one of David's specialties. In Sour Grapes, Richie, suddenly wealthy, calls his boss "fuck-face" for denigrating one of his shoe designs; after he's fired, he falls back on a cliche to cover his exit. David explains, "He's got his money, he doesn't need his boss anymore, and when he leaves he tells the guy, 'You take care of yourself.' So he's very surprised when the guy answers him, 'I intend to.' So Richie says, 'I'm sure you do,' and the guy says, 'Why wouldn't I?' We came up with that conversation on the set, and it's one of my favorite scenes in the movie. There are so many conversations I love to hear that you really don't hear. Things that people shouldn't be talking about but that circumstances force them to talk about."

David savors misfires, even in casual talk. "I do love to see things fall apart," he says, "and not necessarily come back together. It must be some kind of anarchistic impulse I have." A movie gives David the leeway to include the irrevocable breakup of long-term relationships as part of his basic repertoire. "In the show," he explains, "we always tried to avoid fights between the characters where they're not speaking. Although the characters would have arguments with each other, we never did one episode like that because you would know, at the end of the episode, that they'd be talking again.

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Michael Sragow

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