[This story contains spoilers from the season 12 premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm.]
Jeff Schaffer has a lot to say about Curb Your Enthusiasm. And he has a lot that he can’t say about Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Ever since the HBO darling’s comeback season in 2017, this writer has been chatting with the executive producer about his collaborative process with creator-star Larry David to deliver three seasons full of Larry-isms involving everything from MAGA hats to fatwa musicals, spite stores and guest stars galore. Each season has ended in a spectacular callback to how it began, and every time the finale credits would roll, I would have the same question: So, when will we get more Curb?
Schaffer’s answer was always the same: When Larry David (the real one) gets more ideas.
But season 12 is being billed as the final season of Curb. So this time, is Schaffer saying David has nothing left to gripe about? “Even though every season has been the final season, this is the final season,” he insists in the conversation below. “Although, I don’t think Larry is done with having spirited discourses with troublemakers on the west side of Los Angeles, so you never know.”
He then adds, “When you watch the end, it will make sense that it is the end.”
David himself has launched into an epic final season press tour for Curb in recent days, telling The Hollywood Reporter at the season 12 premiere, “People think I’m lying — I’m not a liar. OK, yeah, 15 years ago I said it was the last season — that’s what I say when I don’t think I’m going to come up with another one. But, this is it.”
Schaffer memorably told THR that they almost killed Larry off of Curb in the season 11 finale, but then changed their minds so they could return for another go-around with season 12. Will Larry meet his true end this time? Read on below for a kickoff to THR’s final round of Curb chats with Schaffer, as he unpacks all the set-ups in the premiere (including Larry’s mugshot being plotted well ahead of Donald Trump’s arrest), reveals when and why they decided to end their Emmy-winning comedy and gives non-answer answers about if this is really the end of Curb‘s version of Larry David.
So we always talk about how it’s the end of Curb with each season — until Larry David gets more ideas. At what point when you were breaking season 12 did you two start having conversations about it maybe being the end?
We didn’t start writing this season with the intent that this was going to be the last one. It wasn’t like, “Alright, what’s our final season going to be?” We were just writing a story. And as the story evolved, it made sense that this was the series finale. But it came from an evolution of story, not from any master plan that this was going to be the last season.
But, there are unexpected benefits. Now Larry has time to pursue his passion projects, like making erotic dioramas of Old Testament scenes, breeding Dobermanns and refurbishing turn-of-the-century popcorn makers to their previous glory. He can finally do what he wants.
Did you just come up with those on the spot?
Two of them, yes.
I always study your season premieres for clues. The show is so meticulously plotted to circle around to stories set up earlier on. Was that process different or the same this time?
We didn’t know it was going to be the end, so we weren’t thinking, “How do we wrap up an entire series with this one scene, or this one episode?” When we figured out where it was going to end, it made sense it was the end. Because the funniest version of the end of this season was the end of the series. And that’s really what it came down to. It just worked.
Meaning, when it ends, the fact that there aren’t any more episodes makes it funnier?
Yes. (Laughs.) This is the dance we do!
I missed us!
You keep asking; I love it. Jokingly, I would tell you that we’re ending because Larry has gone to a much more gentle place, mentally and spiritually. From now on, when he’s yelling at a pig parker, he’ll do it from a place of love, not hate. I can’t say anything about how we’re going to end. But when you watch the end, it will make sense that it is the end.
So really, there wasn’t much pressure for you to stick the landing since you came upon it organically. Tell me what the conversation was like between you and Larry when the light bulb went off.
We were talking about stories and we came up with this funny thing and we said, “Oh, that’s a funny way to end the season.” And then we realized it was actually a funny way to end the series. Then it was like, “OK, then we’re going to end the series.”
How many episodes did you have left to work on at that point?
We were right in the middle. But when we’re in the middle, a lot of them are open on the table. They’re never done, because you’re always going to go back and feed things in. So we were in the middle of the process.
How much did you then go back and obsessively make changes to make it perfect?
Finales are always a tricky thing, because it’s a break-up. You’ve had this relationship for 20 years with some people [from when the show launched in 2000] and a 20-year relationship with your fans. And, all of a sudden, you’re leaving them, and that’s always tricky. A finale always has weird energy to it. I think what I’ve learned is that the best finales are really funny episodes of the show, not this other thing that’s not the show. So that was something that we definitely kept in our heads.
So, you felt good about it.
Oh, I think it’s great. It’s really funny. I wish I could tell you more, but Larry would literally pop out of the ether and slit my throat.
And yell at me like he yells at Siri in the premiere (or Elmo on the Today show).
By the way, that Siri scene — we had written all the episodes. We were a few months into shooting, and Larry had a little donnybrook with Siri when he was trying to go to some restaurant, and we were laughing about it and said we should do it as a scene. We had already shot a bunch of stuff and were trying to figure out where to put this scene, but it was so funny we thought, what a great “welcome back to Curb” scene. So we moved it into episode one. It was a great way to tell everybody, “Hey, we’re back.” It’s a classic Curb scene because Larry likes to shoot the show the way he lives his life, which is that the world is against him. So Larry got into the car, and he knew that he was going to try to go to Wolf’s Glen restaurant. And then I’m Siri, talking at him through a walkie. And, let’s just frustrate the fuck out of him.
That’s you playing Siri?
Yes. I did it, and then we replaced my voice with Siri.
Oh, that’s too fun.
I’m literally talking on a walkie with him, Googling words that rhyme with “c.” And trying to figure out the definition of “bundt cake” as I’m going. (Laughs.) Almost all of that is from the first take.
We’ve talked about the pressure you feel to always out-do the previous season. Even before you decided to end the show, did you feel that same pressure with season 12?
Honestly, every season I go into it thinking, “Last season worked out pretty well, and I don’t know how that happened.” Every season, you’re looking at a board of ideas and going, “How are we going to compare to last season?” But all you can really do is start putting stories together. And Larry is so good and so brave about just starting. He’ll just start with what’s around. I would be a lot more intimidated. But he just goes. And by the way, we end up throwing out tons of stuff in the first few episodes. Something we thought was interesting on day three, we realize we may not need anymore when writing on day 40.
In our THR cover story with Cheryl Hines, she said that going into the season the cast was told it was most likely the end, but she didn’t really believe it. When did you clue the rest of the cast in and when did it become a reality on set?
The way Larry likes to work is that we write, then we shoot, then we edit. For the most part. We really don’t start shooting until we’re done writing. So we knew where we were going when we started, but the cast doesn’t get all the episodes right away. So I think when they got the final episode, it became clear. But I’m still not sure a lot of them believe that it’s the end. (Laughs.)
Your healthy skepticism is completely merited. Everyone’s is. We’ve been saying we’re dead for a long time.
There are things like contracts that would have to be agreed upon for you to come back. But HBO and Max chief Casey Bloys did say he’s leaving the door open, even if it’s a few years from now. Are you looking forward to ending and stepping away?
I just don’t think that Larry is going to stop going out and getting into trouble. So, we’ll see. Unlike that promo, he’s not taking off in a rocket ship. He still lives in Los Angeles, and the people of Los Angeles are still uniquely horrible, so it’s pretty fertile ground.
Would you be interested in a Curb movie?
I think Larry is going to keep making beer, I think we’re just arguing about what kind of cup we’re pouring it into.
But a spinoff would really just be Curb, unless Larry isn’t in it and it’s a Maria Sofia (Keyla Monterroso Mejia) vehicle where he makes cameos.
I don’t think he’s decided. By the way, every season has natural dips. We’re in the “we just finished and so we’re done” portion of life. But then there’s the “I go to a dinner party” or “I got on a plane” or “I had an encounter with a waiter” portion, and things happen.
When you filmed the finale, Hines and some of the other cast have said it was emotional. Did you feel that finality when you wrapped?
I don’t have emotions like a normal human.
This is why you are Larry’s partner. (Laughs.)
So, I sensed that other humans around me were feeling something, and I tried my best to ape their expressions. I was really just thinking about getting the shots.
There were a few final scenes we were shooting where you could definitely feel the weight of the moment. But you still need it to be the final scene of Curb. So that’s the most important thing: That the scene still works as a final Curb scene, which means it needs to be a funny scene. You’re still trying to make this the funniest scene you can make it.
Was the final scene the last one you filmed?
Yes. The cast was pretty emotional, but they were emotional after, professional and hilarious until the end.
The show took six-ish years off; seven years from season to season airing. If you took another seven years off and came back, can you picture what that would look like?
(Laughs.) I would probably be a brain in a jar, with a walkie attached to the jar and directing that way. I guess Larry and I are very similar in that we don’t really think about the past, and we don’t really think about the future very much. We just sit in the now and complain.
How will not having Curb in your day-to-day life change you?
Right now I still have so much Curb in my day to day. I’m talking to you from my office. Larry’s office is right next door. I still see Larry every day. Actually, we still have two scenes to shoot — two days of shooting that we couldn’t do, due to actor availability stuff and then the strike. So we’re going to be shooting two days after we premiere for stuff in the back end.
Can you hint at those two scenes?
Oh, no. I can’t tell you what it is. And, it’s not earth-shattering, but we’re still going to be shooting the show, so it doesn’t feel like I’m done. We’re going to shoot these two days, and then race to get this stuff into those episodes. So, we’re still in work mode.
See, Curb isn’t done!
We will not die. We can’t seem to finish the season!
By the way, thanks for the The Hollywood Reporter shout out in the opening seconds of the season 12 premiere episode.
I was very happy with how we start this season, because we cover a lot of ground really quickly: The Young Larry TV show is a hit; the idiots of America love Maria Sofia; Irma [Tracey Ullman] is back — and that’s all within like 90 seconds. There’s so much ground to cover, because you want to talk about what happened last year and you want to move forward. What better way to comment on the current status of television than for Maria Sofia to be a star?
Was it a no-brainer to elevate Keyla Monterroso Mejia after last season?
Now Larry has to deal with Maria Sofia in an entirely new but equally unpalatable way. There was an exchange that got cut from the show, but Larry at one point sighs and says, “Ugh, I wish they would just cancel the show.” And Maria Sofia goes, “I know. Then I could be in movies!” I thought Keyla did such a great job playing this version of Maria Sofia where the success of the show has gone to her head. She drank so deeply from the diva fountain. But in reality, even for all the actress’ success, she’s still very new to the business. We were sitting in the dressing room before shooting the Jimmy Kimmel scene and she was freaking out like, “I’m going to meet Jimmy Kimmel!” I was like, “Keyla, relax, you are the star here!” And then she knocked it out of the park. She did a great job totally flipping that character.
Whatever happened to the seed of an idea about spinning off and actually making the Young Larry show?
A long time ago we toyed with the Young Larry show, and then we decided to fold it into the Curb universe. I don’t know if we’ll ever detach it again now that it’s sort of locked in there.
Larry is definitely going to do another season of Young Larry. When we find Larry and Maria Sofia in the premiere, the show is between seasons. It got renewed, was a bit hit and he’s in writing mode.
Will we see the Young Larry season two results: How much time do you span this season?
It’s definitely around. We thought it was such a funny and unexpected way to deal with that show, and what happened at the end of last year. He’s forced to do the show now. It’s much worse for Larry if it’s a hit and she’s a star than it is if it all just fell apart. He’s a prisoner of his own success.
When did you wrap?
In April of 2023. We were in post, but then post got delayed by the strikes. And in fact, the mugshot at the end of the premiere was never in the show when we wrote it and when we shot it. But as we were sitting around with the strike and we couldn’t do anything, the Orange Menace got arrested in Atlanta and I told Larry, “You got arrested in Atlanta. That crazy Orange Asshole got arrested in Atlanta. We should do the mugshot.” So then we had to wait until the strike was over to even do the photo and put it in the show. I know it seems like that was always the master plan and that we were building towards that, but it’s really just a byproduct of waiting around and it fell in our laps.
How much bronzer did you put on David for that mugshot?
Too much. And then we had to tone it down. We had to straddle the line of it actually being Larry’s mugshot. But I think we got enough with the scowl that everybody knew what we were doing.
Curb has gotten more political in recent seasons. What fired you up about the Georgia election law that made you want to set the whole premiere around it?
Right from the very beginning when we were throwing around ideas, Larry said, “You know there’s this crazy law in Georgia where you can’t give food or water to someone in a voting line.” And he said, “I think it’d be really funny if I got arrested for doing that.” So that was one of the first things we knew would be in the first episode. It’s just crazy we took long enough that Trump was finally able to get arrested. In every season, there’s usually one hospital, one death, one jail. We try to limit ourselves.
You had a joke about Israel in the premiere. With this show releasing amid the war and after the events of Oct. 7, even though it was written and made long before, do you think Curb and Larry can have an impact for the Jewish community?
That line was shot in 2022. We’re always creatures of our moment, but then with the strike [we got delayed]. It seems like we wrote this season much closer to when it’s airing than we did, but we wrote it a long time ago. We just had to stop for a while; we couldn’t edit; we couldn’t do loops. All of the stuff about the Israel situation, I wish it could be solved with really good Palestinian chicken. But it seems like even really good chicken isn’t going to fix this.
Was there anything that felt dated and had to be edited out after the strikes were resolved?
There’s nothing that ended up feeling old. There’s actually another moment that I can’t tell you about where reality ended up mimicking scenes that we shot with a very big celebrity.
A huge celebrity who you wouldn’t expect was on the show and was awesome. And the stuff that happens in the show ended up happening to a certain extent in real life. We saw it on the news. It will be so obvious when you see the episode.
What is the season 12 guest star list?
Some favorites are returning: Vince Vaughn is back, Mr. Takahashi (Dana Lee), Auntie Rae (Leon Black’s aunt played by Ellia English), who we haven’t seen in a few seasons. Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra). Tracey Ullman as Irma. And then there are some great people who we can’t believe we never got to work with before: Steve Buscemi, Troy Kotsur, Sienna Miller, Matthew Berry, Rob Riggle and Annie Mumolo, Ike Barinholtz, Greg Kinnear, Sanaa Lathan, who are all awesome. And there are a few others I would love to tell you about that I cannot, who blew it out of the park.
How much will we see other members of the main ensemble who we didn’t see in the premiere — Hines, Ted Danson, Richard Lewis? [JB Smoove, Susie Essman and Jeff Garlin’s characters travel with Larry to Atlanta.]
All in their normal amounts. It’s just that the nature of this Atlanta show made it geographically impossible. But you are going to see a lot of them.
What other tidbits can you tease, anything you did this season that you’ve never done before?
Hopefully all the jokes we did this year we’ve never done before! We always find ourselves in new, strange situations. There are definitely some big set piece kind of things that we haven’t done before. Unfortunately, we are not finally putting on Fatwa! The Musical! on Broadway, but there were some other big set pieces with lots of cast that are really interesting.
Larry going to that party in Atlanta was because he gets those kind of offers all the time, to show up to have lunch or come to parties. We would always laugh about how disappointing that guy who paid all that money for Larry would be at the end of the night. We talked about that for years. I asked, “What would you even do?” He said, “I’d take some photos, shake some hands. I’d be cordial. But, no speeches, no stand-up. I’d be cordial.” And we started laughing: “What if you didn’t get paid because you weren’t cordial?” And that’s how he ended up in Atlanta.
So as we end episode one, Larry flew all the way to Atlanta and didn’t get paid because he wasn’t cordial and got thrown in jail.
I also love the housekeeper stuff in this episode.
How did he get his clothes down from the tree?
(Laughs.) He paid someone to do it. Who hasn’t felt judged by the hotel housekeeper? But by the way, I see their side. Because if you want to know what man is like without any laws or moral guardrails, leave him alone in a hotel room on a business trip. The other thing I’m proud of is that tip money [a $10 bill for the housekeeper] actually went into the toilet without visual effects or special effects; just take one with the hairdryer. You get weirdly proud of those things. I thought we were going to be there for a lot longer.
It was also great to have Ellia English back as Auntie Rae. She and Larry are really funny together, and it just worked out so perfectly with the shape of her head [stretching out his glasses].
How many pairs of replacement glasses did you try out before the ones you picked?
Like 30 pairs. The ones we chose felt like the perfect combination of cat lady and librarian.
What else are you working on, outside of Curb? [It was just announced that Schaffer’s FX show with Dave Burd, Dave, will be going on hiatus.]
There are a few things in the works, in stages of development. But I’m honestly still working on Curb right now. I’m very excited about this season. I think it’s really funny. First episodes are always tricky, because the natural rhythm is to set up stuff and pay it off at the end of the show. But when you set up episode one, you also have to set up things for the whole season. Larry and I always talk about how the hardest is setting up a season arc and a show. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are so many things this episode sets up that you will understand later.
How do you feel about launching your goodbye tour, where you are going to be asked about your emotions and final season spoilers?
One of the essences of Larry that I think is so great is that we’ve sort of lived by this mantra where the truth is better than a lie, but a really good lie is better than the truth. So if I have a really good lie, I’ll go with that instead of the truth! That’s what the show is. We make stuff up and then stress test each other’s lies until we have an episode.
What about your partnership with Larry, will you miss that?
We’re still in our offices. And we’re still talking about funny ideas. Things are still happening to us; we’re still coming into the office saying, “Oh my God, you’re not going to believe what happened.” [Schaffer gives a peek at their offices, complete with dry erase boards and a “Ha ha ha” large painting.] We’re still here. We’re still suffering petty indignities. We’re not going anywhere.
Do you feel like you stuck the landing, and will you leave us wanting more?
I hope so! Because the alternative is not great. “Oh, glad that’s over with!” Yes, very happy with how the season ends. I think the finale is a really funny episode of Curb and a really good end to a really funny show.
The season 12 premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm is now streaming on Max, with new episodes releasing Sundays at 10: 30 p.m. on HBO and Max.