Larry David’s quarantine: ‘I’m reading Woody Allen’s memoir. It’s fantastic’

Our lives now depend on staying home and doing nothing. We are cooped up with no end in sight, getting increasingly irascible. So I thought I would reach out to the world’s leading expert on the art of nothing: the endlessly irascible man whose mantra has always been, “It doesn’t pay to leave your house — what’s the point?”

I find Larry David – creator and star of the satirical TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm – barricaded in his home in the Pacific Palisades neighbourhood of Los Angeles. “No one gets in here,” America’s most famous misanthrope says. “Only in an emergency plumbing catastrophe would I open the door.”

We’re FaceTiming — something David has grown to like in quarantine — and he picks up his iPad to walk me around and show me the view of the deserted golf course from his bedroom window.

This might be the only thing I’ve ever agreed with Trump about: We should put an end to the handshake. You know, we might as well end intercourse while we’re at it. That’s always been a lot of trouble

He is contentedly holed up with the older of his two daughters, Cazzie David, 25; an Australian shepherd puppy named Bernie (after Sanders, whom David embodies with uncanny likeness on “Saturday Night Live”); a cat; and his girlfriend, Ashley Underwood, who worked as a producer of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Showtime satire, “Who Is America?”

David met Underwood at Cohen’s birthday party in 2017. “We were seated next to each other, I think with that in mind,” he says of the fix-up. “Much to her surprise I left before dessert. I was doing so well, banterwise, I didn’t want to risk staying too long and blowing the good impression.”

He and Cazzie David, who writes wry columns for Graydon Carter’s digital weekly, Air Mail, are both lifelong germaphobes. “This might be the only thing I’ve ever agreed with Trump about: We should put an end to the shake,” Larry David says. “You know, we might as well end intercourse while we’re at it. That’s always been a lot of trouble.”

Now that David can’t go out and argue with friends, neighbours, strangers and staffers over stuff like whether he can clean his glasses on a woman’s blouse or the regulation shape for a putter, he must do his bickering inside his own home.

“There’s not a moment in the day when there isn’t friction between at least two of us,” he says of the trapped troika. “Then when that gets resolved, two others are at each other’s throats, and it’s invariably about dishes. ‘You didn’t do the dishes!’ or ‘You didn’t help with the dishes!’ I think that is being screamed all over the world now.

“Another issue is the business of one of us starting a show and not waiting for the other. Huge problem! You at least have to ask. Ashley does not ask. She starts, and then it’s impossible to catch up. And I’ll catch her. I’ll walk into the room, and she’ll instantly click off the TV.”

Cazzie David says that the real Larry David does not constantly start fights. In fact, it is just the opposite. “I guess this is kind of ironic, considering his character on TV, but he can’t stand having any animosity with anyone,” she says.

Larry David, under self-quarantine, at his home in Los Angeles on March 27th. Photograph: Jake Michaels/New York Times
Larry David, under self-quarantine, at his home in Los Angeles. Photograph: Jake Michaels/New York Times

LARRY DAVID VENTURES OUT for solo walks in the deserted neighbourhood. “I cross the street when I see someone coming like I used to do when I was a kid in Brooklyn and the Italian kids would shake me down for change,” he says. “And when someone crosses first, I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but I can’t help it. How dare they?”

I wonder how he’s faring without restaurants, which provide much of the fodder for his shows.

“The one positive thing to come out of this for me is the lunch decision, which in normal times takes me at least 15 minutes,” he says. “Now there’s nothing to it. It’s turkey or tuna. There’s nothing else in the house.”

There is another positive, which I point out to the anti-social David: Social life has skidded to a halt. “I will say that the lack of invitations, OK, that’s been fantastic,” he agreed. “Yeah, that I love. You don’t have to make up any excuses.”

The crisis has coined a mordant new vocabulary: covidivorce, corona babies, isolationship. And in Hollywood, there are “pandemic nice guys,” a term being thrown around by high-strung types who suddenly find themselves engaging in shocking niceties, like waving out their car windows at pedestrians and thanking garbage collectors and police officers.

I’m not the first person to say this, obviously, but you never got the feeling that you were really seeing Hillary Clinton. There was a problem warming up to her

During what he called his “chaos break,” David was making notes on his phone, as he always does, about this dark chapter for sunny California, in case it can inspire him, even just as a flashback in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The show just finished its 10th season over two decades. David says that this season, a gleeful barbecue of PC culture, may be his favourite. As usual, his character roams around town, getting into big, self-defeating tangles about minor issues.

After buying cold coffee and a scone that tasted more like a muffin at Mocha Joe’s coffee shop, Larry opens up a “spite store,” a competing coffee shop next door called Latte Larry’s. This spurs Sean Penn to open up an exotic bird store next to a bird store that dissed him, and Mila Kunis to open up a jewelry store next to a jewelry store she wants to put out of business.

It was, typically, inspired by a real-life incident. “I went into this store on the Vineyard, and I got a cup of coffee, and it was a little cold, and I said, ‘You know, this coffee’s a little cold,’ and they didn’t give me satisfaction. I walked out of the store and across the street was a shack. And, of course, I was pissed off, and I said, ‘I’d like to buy that shack and build the exact same store, but with lower prices, and take them out of business.’”

But he didn’t? “Oh, no,” he says. “God, no.”

Larry David, under self-quarantine, at his home in Los Angeles. Photograph: Jake Michaels/New York Times
Larry David, under self-quarantine, at his home in Los Angeles. Photograph: Jake Michaels/New York Times

WHEN WE SPEAK about President Trump, David marvels: “You know, it’s an amazing thing. The man has not one redeeming quality. You could take some of the worst dictators in history, and I’m sure that all of them, you could find one decent quality. Stalin could have had one decent quality — we don’t know!”

He says he gets mad at Trump’s briefings where the president contradicts his own scientists in real time. “That’s the hardest thing about the day, watching what comes out of this guy’s mouth,” he says.

“It turns you into a maniac because you’re yelling at the television. All of a sudden, you find yourself screaming, like I used to do on the streets of New York, pre-‘Seinfeld,’ when I saw happy couples on the street.”

HE SAYS HE’S been watching the Hillary Clinton documentary on Hulu. “I’m not the first person to say this, obviously, but you never got the feeling that you were really seeing her. There was a problem warming up to her. But you see her in this documentary, and you love her.”

How else is he spending his time in lockdown?

David says he’s watching Ozark and Unorthodox on Netflix. He tried to watch America’s favourite distraction, Tiger King, but couldn’t get past the first episode. “I found it so disturbing,” he says. “The lions and the tigers just really scared the hell out of me. They were going to attack somebody. They were going to kill somebody. I didn’t want to see them attack, and those people were just so insane, I couldn’t watch it.”

David, who starred in Woody Allen’s 2009 movie, Whatever Works, also says he is reading Allen’s memoir, Apropos of Nothing, which was picked up by Arcade Publishing after Hachette Book Group dropped it following pressure from another one of its authors, Allen’s son Ronan Farrow, and protests.

“Yeah, it’s pretty great; it’s a fantastic book — so funny,” David says. “You feel like you’re in the room with him, and yeah, it’s just a great book, and it’s hard to walk away after reading that book thinking that this guy did anything wrong.”

I tell David I disagree with his remarks in the past that people don’t like to see neurotic single guys or older guys on-screen after a certain age. I could watch “Curb” ad infinitum.

“I can only think about when Buster Keaton got old,” he says. “I don’t know. He was such a great comedian, and then he just — you didn’t want to see him. Even old people don’t want to watch old people.”

And then it’s time for David to hang up. He has to get back to doing nothing. – New York Times