Saturday, July 21, 2007

From under the train tracks


"We’re both from kind of middle-earth Brooklyn—you know, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, lower middle class, under the train tracks...We both understand that sort of ‘Lord of the Flies’ sensibility that requires you to be very aware as you grow up. It’s a very savage environment, in a lot of ways, a very cruel and sadistic environment. We spoke the same language—we were like brothers from different mothers."

I liked this quote about Larry David, by Larry Charles, former supervising producer of “Seinfeld” and now an executive producer of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. Here's the whole article. Although I've mixed feelings about Seinfeld (guess that's precisely the genius of that show--to make you uneasy and still be successful) and have never watched Curb Your Enthusiasm, but I have to say, Larry David's success story (abridged below, from the same New Yorker article) is remarkable even though he isn't particularly trying to come across as inspiring.

At the end of the nineteen-eighties, Larry David was a standup comic in trouble. He was middle-aged, single, living in a building with subsidized housing for artists on the West Side of Manhattan, and just scraping by. He had been doing standup, with mixed success, for more than a decade; his chances for breaking through were long past... His material was uncompromisingly to his own taste.... onstage manner was almost willfully uningratiating.... Club audiences were puzzled by David, or, worse, indifferent to him... “I was not for everyone,” Larry David said...“I was for very few.” ...David, who, in 1988, co-created “Seinfeld,” is said to have earned more than two hundred million dollars from that show’s syndication revenues. His comedy style has remained argumentative, abrasive, and occasionally alienating...

“It has to do with Brooklyn,” David said of his humor. “It has to do—I think—with growing up in an apartment, with my aunt and my cousins right next door to me, with the door open, with neighbors walking in and out, with people yelling at each other all the time.”

David had “a wonderful childhood,” he has said, adding, “Which is tough, because it’s hard to adjust to a miserable adulthood.” He hated the sixties....

After graduating from the University of Maryland in 1970, with a degree in history, he had no idea what his next step might be.... He moved back home to Brooklyn and got a job with a bra wholesaler in Manhattan. “The bras were seconds, actually—they were defective bras,” he said. “And that didn’t last very long. So it was this pattern of getting a job, then going on unemployment for a while. I had a job as a paralegal. I drove a cab. Until I started doing standup, there were some very bleak days. I was a private chauffeur, driving my limousine, wearing the uniform. I’m twenty-five years old. This is what I’m doing for a living. And”—he laughed, not quite happily—“wearing a uniform, outside, waiting for her while she’s shopping on Third Avenue. Seeing a guy from college walk down the street, stop in his tracks, stare at me agog in this uniform, not knowing what to do or say, you know... That was pretty embarrassing,” he said.

[Jerry Seinfeld says] "Larry had the material, but he never had what you would call the temperament for standup.” One night at Catch a Rising Star, a comedy club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, David stepped onto the stage, scanned the room from side to side, said, “Never mind,” and walked off. Despite the bravado, he had no plan. “I was hoping that somehow I could get some kind of cult following, and get by with that,” he said. “...That would have been fine with me. I just wanted laughs.... I wanted to make a living, but I really was not interested in money at all. I was interested in being a great comedian... "

Larry David met Jerry Seinfeld around 1976... Seven years younger than David, Seinfeld... reportedly earned up to twenty-five thousand dollars a weekend at comedy clubs. [Jerry had been approached by NBC, and took Larry along to pitch the concept of "Seinfeld"] The NBC executives were... particularly unimpressed with Larry David. He remembers Seinfeld’s looking askance at him while he protested the network’s aesthetic... People looked at me like I was a little nuts—a lot of ‘Who is this guy?’ kind of looks.” Still, the NBC executives saw something. “I guess they figured it was worth a pilot,” David said. “Well, they liked him enough that they figured it was worth a pilot. I think they would’ve gotten rid of me in a split second if they could’ve. They would have gotten rid of me without even thinking about it.”

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