Culture  /  TV Review

The End of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Marks the End of an Era

Larry David is the last of his kind—and in several ways.
2000-2011, 2017-2024

While later generations of Jews, from Ben Stiller to Judd Apatow to Seth Rogen, continue to make successful, and very funny, comedies that often touch on Jewishness, it’s notable that, as they get farther from the proverbial “old country,” Jewish oppression becomes less of a central feature in their work. If the Brooklyn comedians told stories about Jewish alienation and the struggle to assimilate, their heirs have a very different set of stories to tell: about harebrained models and clueless actors (Stiller’s Zoolander and Tropic Thunder), professional ennui (Judd Apatow’s Funny People and This Is 40), and the apocalypse and North Korea (Rogen’s This Is the End and The Interview).

But David is not only the last of the “Jewish comedians”; he is also one of the last comedians whose work defies Hollywood’s increasingly awkward embrace of “wokeness.” Awkward not because endorsing racial and gender diversity is an unworthy goal, but because the entertainment industry seems to believe wokeness is primarily about avoiding offense.

Of course, David is not alone in his ability to offend. But his propensity to do so emerges from a profound humanism—an egalitarian humanism inherent in the best Jewish comedy. For David, every person, from the pauper to the king, is fallen and thus open to mockery. This includes Holocaust survivors, hurricane and natural-catastrophe victims, the working class, and, of course, Jews. David’s work is premised on the notion that all people can be—just as he is—weak-willed, striving, awkward, prone to vanity, and frightened. Life is awful, and so, David insists, why not have a good laugh about it?

David’s fundamental humanism is perhaps why, despite slaughtering sacred cow after sacred cow, he’s never been a target of “cancellation.” It is also why, over a five-decade-long career, he’s been able to make quotidian selfishness and cruelty so funny. What connects all of David’s characters is their essential, and essentially human, corruption.

This remains true in the latest, and final, season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which centers on David’s character —“Larry David”—becoming a liberal hero after inadvertently breaking a draconian election law. Though Larry does genuinely find the law cruel, he decides to fight for his innocence mostly because he likes being lauded; any convictions he might have are less important than his desire for praise. Put another way, Larry’s seemingly selfless act emerges from his character’s self-regarding narcissism. In the final analysis, this is the message of David’s very Brooklyn humor: We are all nothing if not human, with all the pettiness, cruelty, and comedy that entails.