15 Pretty, Pretty Good Facts About Curb Your Enthusiasm

John P. Johnson/HBO
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. 


HBO

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.


HBO

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. 


HBO

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." 


HBO

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:

21 Fun Facts About Elf

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Everyone knows the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! But the second best way is to enjoy Elf. Revel in the giddy glow of this modern holiday classic with a slew of secrets from behind the scenes.

1. Jim Carrey was initially eyed to play Buddy the elf.

When David Berenbaum's spec script first emerged in 1993, Carrey was pre-Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and attached to front the Christmas film. However, it took another 10 years to get the project in motion, at which time Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell was signed to star. Carrey would go on to headline his own Christmas offerings—the live-action How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the CGI animated A Christmas Carol.

2. Will Ferrell worked as a mall Santa.


Warner Bros.

And his A Night at the Roxbury co-star Chris Kattan was his elf. This was back when the pair were pre-Saturday Night Live, and part of the comedy troupe The Groundlings. Ferrell recollected to Spliced Wire, "I have some experience playing Santa Claus … Chris Kattan was my elf at this outdoor mall in Pasadena for five weeks, passing out candy canes. It was hilarious because little kids could care less about the elf. They just come right to Santa Claus. So by the second weekend, Kattan had dropped the whole affectation he was doing and was like (Ferrell makes a face of bitter boredom), 'Santa's over there, kid.'"

3. Director Jon Favreau favored practical effects.

Inspired by the Christmas specials he grew up with, Favreau explained in the film's commentary track that he employed “old techniques” instead of CGI whenever possible. This included stop-motion animation, and using forced perspective to make Buddy look like a giant among his elf peers. For North Pole scenes, two sets were built—one larger scale for the actors playing elves, the other smaller to make Buddy and Santa look big. These elements where then carefully overlaid in camera, using lighting to blend the seams.

4. Snow was often computer-generated.


Warner Home Video

Some effects just couldn't be practical. These included the snowflakes that drift over the opening credits, and many of the snowballs in Buddy's pivotal fight scene. It's probably not much of a shocker that much of these were added in post, considering Buddy's perfect aim. But to further underscore the drama that is a snowball fight in frosty New York, Favreau asked composer John Debney to give this section a Western vibe that would recall The Magnificent Seven.

5. Elf's production design was heavily influenced by Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The classic stop-motion Christmas special from 1964 gave a memorable presentation of Santa's winter wonderland to which Favreau wanted to pay tribute. The elves' costumes in Elf were inspired by those worn by Hermey and his peers in the animated film. And Elf's workshops were modeled after the Rankin/Bass designs, as were the stop-motion animals of the area. The production did secure permission for these allusions, and was even granted the privilege of using the company's signature snowman.

6. There's a Christmas Story cameo.

Peter Billingsley, who memorably played the Red Ryder-wanting Ralphie in the 1983 holiday classic, popped in to play Ming the elf. It's an uncredited role, but between the glasses and those bright baby blue eyes, Billingsley stands out as an A Christmas Story Easter egg. This marks just one of many Billingsley and Favreau's collaborations. Billingsley has been a producer on several of Favreau's film and television projects.

7. Jon Favreau played multiple parts in Elf.

Jon Favreau directs Will Ferrell in 'Elf' (2003)
Alan Markfield, New Line Productions

As a writer/director/actor, Favreau has often appeared in his own films. He fronted Made with friend Vince Vaughn, and later found a sweet supporting role for himself in Iron Man. You may have picked him out as the doctor in Elf, but on the DVD commentary, Favreau revealed he also tapped in to his inner narwhal and provided the voices for some of the stop-animation critters who see Buddy off from the North Pole. He also voiced the rabid raccoon Buddy encounters.

8. Baby buddy was fired.

To play the bubbly baby version of the titular elf, Favreau had initially cast twin boys whose blonde curly hair made them great little doubles for the mop-topped Ferrell. However, the production ran into a problem when the boys couldn't perform. Instead of smiling and crawling as needed, they cried relentlessly. To replace them, brunette triplet girls were brought in, who were far perkier and more playful, and thereby ready for their close-ups.

9. Buddy was bullied in an early version.

In first drafts of Berenbaum's Elf script, Buddy's decision to seek out his dad was in part because he was being hassled by the actual elves for being different. Favreau pushed to take out this element. He preferred to keep the North Pole characters warm, even when Buddy bugs them. In the DVD commentary, Favreau offers, “It explained why Buddy was doing all these good things in New York if he grew up in a world where everybody was so sweet even when he’s obviously screwing everything up and doesn’t fit in at all.”

10. Elf hockey hit the cutting room floor.

Poor Buddy accidentally wreaks all kinds of havoc on his elf community because of his ungainly size. One such scene of his well-meaning mayhem featured Buddy playing hockey on a frozen pond. The friendly game becomes unintentionally violent when the too-big Buddy takes to the ice. Though it was shot, it ended up being chopped from the finished film.

11. Elf was shot on location in New York when it counted.

Like many productions, this one took advantage of the financial benefits of filming in Canada, and much of Elf was shot in sound stages in Vancouver. However, when Buddy comes to New York, it was important to Favreau to shoot on location whenever possible. This includes all the Manhattan exteriors, as well as scenes shot at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Central Park West, where Buddy's dad lives.

12. Some of Elf’s sets were built in a horror factory.

Okay, technically it was an abandoned mental hospital, where the production team constructed the interior sets for Walter's Central Park West apartment, Gimbels's lavish toy department, and that grim prison cell. The facility is called Riverview Hospital, and it has played host to a long list of film and television productions, including The X-Files, Final Destination 2, Jennifer's Body, and See No Evil 2.

13. Macy's stood in for Gimbels.

The sprawling department store that takes up a whole block in Manhattan was digitally altered to transform into Elf's Gimbels. A bit awkward: Gimbels was once a real department store, and a noted rival of Macy's. Though immortalized here and in the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street, the department store closed its doors in 1987, its 100th year of operation.

14. Will Ferrell broke James Caan.


Warner Home Video

The Academy Award-nominated star of The Godfather was hired to play Walter in part because Favreau wanted a stern persona to play against Ferrell's giddy Buddy, and Caan took the comedy of Elf seriously. He knew it was crucial for Walter to be annoyed—never amused—by his supposed son's antics. But when it came to the blood test scene where Buddy bellows when pricked by a needle, Caan cracked. Watch closely and you'll see he turns away from the camera so as not to ruin the take.

15. The studio didn't get a joke from the mailroom sequence.

This was the last set piece shot for Elf, and one that filmmakers were wavering on from its conception late in production. Grizzled Mark Acheson's casting as Buddy's drinking buddy concerned execs because of the line, "I'm 26 years old." The studio noted the actor does not look 26, to which Favreau—who had previously cast Acheson in a small role that had been cut before production—responded that this disconnect was part of the joke.

16. Will Ferrell went method with those jack-in-the-boxes.

In the scene where Buddy suffers as a toy tester, he's subjected to popping open an endless stream of menacing jack-in-the-boxes. The anxiety etched on Ferrell's face in these scenes is real. Rather than standard jack-in-the-boxes that would pop at the song's end, these were remote controlled by Favreau, who purposely manipulated their timing to toy with his star and get authentic reactions.

17. Will Ferrell frolicked all over New York City in character.

The final day of Elf's New York shooting was pared down from a massive crew to just three people: its star, its director, and one cameraman. Together, this trio traveled around the city, looking for mischief for Buddy to get into with random passersby turned background extras. This included him leapfrogging across a pedestrian walk, happily accepting flyers, and getting his shoes shined, all of which made it into the movie's cheerful montage.

18. That epic burp was real, but overdubbed.

Though uncredited, that lengthy belch came not from Ferrell, but from noted voice actor Maurice LaMarche, who might be best known for Brain of Pinky and the Brain. LaMarche shared his secret to such an impressive burp with The A.V. Club, saying, "I’ve always been able to do this weird effect, where I turn my tongue, not inside out, but almost. I create a huge echo chamber with my tongue and my cheeks, and by doing a deep, almost Tuvan rasp in my throat, and bouncing it around off this echo chamber, I create something that sounds very much like a sustained deep burp."

19. Elf made its star stick.

In the movie, Buddy is happy to gobble down an endless supply of sweets, including maple syrup-coated spaghetti and cotton balls made of cotton candy. But this sugary diet played havoc on Ferrell, who told About Entertainment, "That was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I'm there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will—if that's what the job calls for."

20. Will Ferrell refuses to make Elf 2.

Though the comedian reprised the role of Ron Burgundy for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and returned as Mugatu in Zoolander 2, he flat out rejected the possibility of bringing back Buddy, even after being offered a reported $29 million. In December of 2013, he told USA TODAY, "I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf."

21. Elf became a hit Broadway musical.

From November 2010 to January 2011, Elf the musical ran on Broadway, boasting songs like "World's Greatest Dad," "Nobody Cares About Santa," and "The Story of Buddy The Elf." This run was a huge success, taking in more than $1.4 million in one week, a record for the Al Hirschfield Theater where it debuted. Plus, The New York Times called it, "A splashy, peppy, sugar-sprinkled holiday entertainment." A revival hit in time for Christmas 2012, and national tours have been recurring.

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