Whenever Larry David finishes up with a season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the creator and star of the HBO comedy feels like he’s out of ideas. It’s always the last season — until it isn’t. But with season eleven, which aired in the fall of 2021 and nabbed four Emmys including best comedy, it really was almost the end for Larry (the character David plays on the show). “If this is how we go, this is how we go!” Jeff Schaffer, executive producer and David’s longtime collaborator, recalls saying to the crew, revealing they filmed an alternate finale scene portraying Larry’s comical death that could have functioned as a series ender. After an elaborately funny season revolving around Larry’s faux political aspirations, all in service of weaseling his way out of putting up a fence around his pool, the episodes fittingly ended with Larry falling into someone else’s pool and sabotaging all of his efforts. Luckily for the Curb audience, the death scene never made it in — David decided he wasn’t quite ready to go, and now he and Schaffer are back at it, prepping for season twelve.
You are currently pulling double duty and showrunning the upcoming seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm and FX’s Dave. When the Emmy nominations came out and you saw that Curb got four nods, did that make you pause and feel like it’s all worth it?
I feel like awards are like your tonsils. It’s really nice to have them, but you know you can survive without them. It’s really nice to get nominated, but we also know how the Emmys work: It’s an honor to be an extra in Ted Lasso’s movie.
Bill Hader will also have to decide if he’s rooting to win for his nominated show Barry, or for his triple guest role on Curb. (Hader played three characters, who may or may not be brothers, in the “Igor, Gregor, & Timor” episode.)
I wouldn’t be surprised if he won for both. When we were writing that episode, it started off with the narrative of going downtown with this vase, and it was missing something. I said, “These people should all be played by the same person. And you don’t know if they are brothers or what. Who can do this?” And Larry said, “We’ve got to get Bill.” So I called Bill, and he hadn’t shot anything for Barry yet. They had postponed season three during the pandemic and instead wrote season four, so he hadn’t been on a set. We would sit on the phone on the weekend and he would workshop the voices. Those scenes with Larry and Bill took a while to shoot, because Larry could not contain himself.
You have so many guest stars that come in to improv with your main cast. Were you surprised Hader was the one recognized; any others you thought would be?
I’m not surprised in any way, shape or form that Bill got nominated. I’m very surprised and disappointed that Tracey Ullman did not get nominated for what was a brilliant performance. She added so much to the season and went toe-to-toe with Larry in four episodes. She was this extra engine to the whole season. She’ll live without her tonsils, too — she’s still a genius.
When you get nominated for casting and outstanding comedy, does that feel all-encompassing of the show’s efforts?
The guest cast this year was outstanding, so I thought well-deserved for Allison [Jones], who always does an amazing job. We couldn’t do a lot of auditions because of COVID, so we said, “Let’s get the person that we dreamed about getting.” And we were lucky that they said yes. I’m not bitter that we didn’t get more nominations — I started bitter, and then we didn’t get more nominations, it hasn’t changed my worldview! But our actors don’t do what normal actors are doing. They aren’t painting by the numbers — they’re figuring out what to paint, and bringing the brushes and cans. J.B. Smoove, Susie [Essman] and Larry this season — part of it was because he had to deal with Tracey’s character — but I thought he was amazing, so expressive. His face was the complete color wheel of lies. He was in rare form.
Curb has been invited to the Emmys for a long time. Now, there’s a ton of competition with the growing TV landscape. What pressure do you feel when writing a new season?
When you’re writing a new season, the previous season looms so large. I remember thinking when we were writing this one how we tied up the whole spite store at the end of season 10. All the inventions in that finale were so diabolically counter to any fire safety that it looked like arson; there was a Mocha Joe as a spite neighbor and a spite house after a season of the “spite store.” How are we ever going to tie something up again in such a neat comic bow? It’s impossible! And the season before that, we had Lin-Manuel Miranda and F. Murray Abraham doing a fatwa musical. So you go to the next season going, “How are we ever going to even have a competent season?” Doing a good season somehow never gives us confidence that we’re going to be able to do another good season.
How do you think season 11 holds up, in the Curb legacy?
I am very proud of this season. Sometimes we don’t know where we are going, but this season when we started with Larry finding the dead guy in the pool, right away I knew that we were going to end it with Larry falling into a pool because there was no fence.
Do you often work backwards, where you know the ending you are marching toward?
Sometimes it’s obvious. With the season before, we knew that spite store was going to meet its demise, somehow. But this one, it just felt right. I know I say this all the time, but every season is the last season. And I wanted to prepare as if it was the last one. So Larry kept falling into that pool without the fence and banging his head [for the scene]. We actually have a shot after he’d fallen in, of the still pool with just the envelope floating in the middle, and maybe adding one bubble.
You shot Larry’s death scene?!
We shot as if it was going to be the last one ever. I had to at least prepare for it.
You haven’t done that before, in terms of possibly preparing for a series finale. Did this one just lend itself to that kind of preparation?
This one lent itself too perfectly. We just got high and wide on the pool, with one light shining on it and the envelope floating in the middle. And we said, “OK, if this is how we go, this is how we go!”
You’ve said that at the end of every season, Larry says he has no more ideas and the show is over. And then, after some time, there are always more ideas. When Larry saw that you had a possible series ender, did he consider it for real? Or was he like, “Nah”?
He said, “I’m not ready to die.”
Will you shoot a death scene as an alternate for every finale from here on out?
(Laughs.) No. But always thinking, “Hey, what if this is it?”
Given the long breaks Curb takes between seasons, does it surprise you that the show still gets recognized by the Academy?
One of the things that I always tell myself when we’re writing a new season is, “Hey, I know that last season ended really well and people really liked it but, it’s OK. It’s going to be two years before they see it again. They’ll forget. And they’ll just be so happy to have us back. So, the pressure is off because no one is going to remember!” All you need to do to be liked is to go away.
Now you are writing the next season and tasked with topping this Emmy-nominated one. How’s that going?
It’s the weirdest thing talking about how lauded the previous season was when you are trying to write a new one. It’s every day getting reminded that you’re probably going to fall short. The writing of the season is honestly exactly the same as the other seasons, where we’ve figured out an arc and now it’s just about putting together the funniest episodes. We’re so micro that we’re not even worried about the macro right now. We’re still brick-by-brick building all the houses. There is some really funny stuff.
Any continuing threads from last season or earlier that you are carrying through?
I will say, we are not done with [the TV show within the show] Young Larry.
How would you describe season 12 in one word?
Touché. Looking back at the last season, is there a lesson you learned that you are applying now?
I’m very proud of the season. I think it had some super memorable moments, everything from amazing arguments between Vince Vaughn and Larry, to Larry stealing shoes from the Holocaust Museum — which I guarantee is one of the top five funniest things that was ever filmed there — to Woody Harrelson and Larry on the farm with the Klansman, to Larry and Alexander Vindman making a perfect call. There’s just a lot in there that sticks around, that I think people are going to remember. And that’s what you want.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.