Much To His Chagrin, On Broadway Larry David Has To 'Wait And Talk'

Feb 6, 2015
Originally published on February 7, 2015 1:24 pm

These days, when Larry David leaves work at the stage door of the Cort Theater, fans are lined up for his autograph. At age 67, David is now a Broadway star — and that's new, scary territory for him.

David was co-creator of the TV sitcom Seinfeld and starred as himself — a cantankerous guy who says exactly what's on his mind — in the raucously funny HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. He hasn't been in a play since he was in eighth grade, but now he's written one called Fish in the Dark, and it's his name in lights.

The costumes hanging on the wall of his cramped dressing room — gray sweatpants, a shapeless blue jacket — look a lot like his schlumpy wardrobe in Curb Your Enthusiasm. There's a reason for that, which he explains to NPR's Melissa Block, who went to New York to talk with him about his Broadway debut.

"You know, everything I tried on I said, 'Why can't I just wear my own clothes?' " he says. "And they go 'No, no, you can't. You don't wear your own clothes.' I go, 'Well, I'm wearing my own clothes.' "

But the white dress shirt is definitely not his own: It has snaps on the inside placket to make for a quick costume change. "I can't say enough about the snap," David says. "Buttons should be eliminated."

... and just like that, he's off on a Larry David riff:

"I've always hated the button fly ..." he laments. "The button fly, it's untenable, it can't be dealt with at all. I mean, you don't know because you're not a man, but you know — you've got to get there — and now you're dealing with buttons, opening buttons, it's not a good situation!"

But back to the play. Fish in the Dark is a comedy about a death in the family, a vigil at the hospital and the messy, funny aftermath. It all started with a conversation David had after a friend's father died.

"There were some very interesting and — dare I say — funny things surrounding it," David says.

So he started writing. But even as he wrote the play (and created a lead character who sounds very much like himself) he claims he didn't want to star in it:

"Who wants to do this thing?" he says. "It's insane! It's Groundhog Day! I'm living Groundhog Day. I don't even want to go to bed at night because I know when I wake up in the morning, it's going to be the same day again. ... It's taxing. I mean, it's not driving a cab or doing construction, but for me — for my delicate world — yeah, it's hard."

In addition to being hard, David says it's surreal to be onstage and ride a wave of laughter. "I didn't think it was going to get any laughs at all," he admits. "I'm so negative! So the first time we did it, like every laugh was a surprise to me because I was expecting nothing. That's how bleak I am."

Which seems strange, because David spent years as a standup comedian, and there were all those seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm. But that dialogue was mostly improvised. This is different.

"I'm not an actor — I consider myself, you know, a comedian, not really an actor," he explains. "Actors have to wait to talk, you know, there are lines, specific lines that you have to say. ... I don't like waiting. I like to interject, and there's no interjections here. You have to wait and talk, and wait and talk. ... [It's] very unnatural for an interrupter, and for a guy who likes to talk."

The show is still in previews, which means they're still fiddling with it — pruning lines, working on pacing and tone. During a recent rehearsal, David paces, frowns, sighs. Sometimes in a scene you can tell he's itching to interject. He wants to ad lib something. And why not? At one point, he looks out at the director, Anna D. Shapiro, and offers, "I can fill a little bit there, can't I?"

Shapiro says it's all been an adjustment. "He told me when he started his biggest problem is going to be that he wants to stare at the audience," she says. "Like, every time they laugh I think he wants to turn out and go: 'Thank you! Thank you so much!' "

As for him not being an actor and moving from improvised television to the stage — Shapiro says he's starting to get over that. The previous night she says she found him backstage, completely sweaty, tearing off his sweater.

"He looked at me and he goes, 'How do people do this? How do they do this? This is crazy!' " Shapiro says. "And I was just dying laughing — because he felt it! And as much as he was 'complaining' about it — I've never seen him look that alive, he had a sparkle in his eye. He was acting. He acted. And it feels really good when you do it and when you don't have to pretend you didn't."

Fish in the Dark will run on Broadway until June 7 — which is a lot of Groundhog Days. "How can I get out of this?" David quips. "Get in an accident? Well, would it be better to be in a hospital bed for the next couple months? I'm, you know, weighing it."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

When Larry David leaves work these days, he's got a chorus.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Larry. Larry. Larry. Larry.

SIEGEL: Fans line up outside the stage door of the Cort Theatre for his autograph. At age 67, Larry David is now a Broadway star.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SIEGEL: And that is new, scary territory for him. David starred in the raucously funny HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm." And before that, he was co-creator of the TV sitcom "Seinfeld." But he hasn't been in a play since he was in the eighth grade. Now he's written one. It's called "Fish In The Dark," and it's his name in lights. Our co-host Melissa Block went to New York to talk with him about his Broadway debut.

(SOUNDBITE OF "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM" THEME SONG)

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Remember Larry David playing himself on "Curb Your Enthusiasm?" A cantankerous guy who says exactly what's on his mind, offending Girl Scouts, the handicapped, African-Americans - you name it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOU ENTHUSIASM")

LARRY DAVID: (As Larry David) I tend to say stupid things to black people sometimes.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Stupid things? That's like...

DAVID: (As Larry David) I don't know. I'll have to ask Hitler.

He will be gay. He's just - he's pre-gay.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: You stink.

DAVID: (As Larry David) You stink. I'm going to report you guys for that.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY #1: Do it.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY #2: Go ahead.

DAVID: (As Larry David) I'm going to.

Just having Parkinson's doesn't give you carte blanche to take advantage of the non-Parkinson's.

Hey, you dropped your yarmulke. Oh, my god.

BLOCK: Well, that guy walks into his cramped dressing room at the Cort Theatre and, honestly, our visit gets off to a bumpy start.

DAVID: Hey.

BLOCK: Thanks for coming in early. Hate to make you do that.

DAVID: You hate it, but you did it.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID: You don't hate it that much.

BLOCK: Larry David - skinny, bald with a long fringe of white hair, round, wire-rim glasses. His costumes hang on the wall - gray sweatpants, a shapeless blue jacket. And if this looks a lot like his schlumpy "Curb Your Enthusiasm" wardrobe, there's a reason.

DAVID: You know, everything I tried on I said, why can't I just wear my own clothes? They go, no, no, you can't. You don't wear your own clothes. I go, well, I'm wearing my own clothes.

BLOCK: But the white dress shirt is definitely not his own. It has snaps on the inside placket to make for a quick costume change.

So those are fake buttons? They're just for show.

DAVID: Yeah, they are. They're fake buttons. Yeah, they're snaps. By the way, can't say enough about the snap. Buttons should be eliminated.

BLOCK: And just like that, he's off...

DAVID: Well, you know, I've always hated the button fly. I don't know if you know that or not.

BLOCK: ...On a Larry David riff.

DAVID: The button fly, it's untenable. It can't be dealt with at all. I mean, you don't know because you're not a man, but, you know, you've got to get there. And now you're dealing with buttons, opening buttons, it's not a good situation.

BLOCK: Now, if it were snaps.

DAVID: Snaps are fantastic.

BLOCK: But back to the play. "Fish In The Dark" is, naturally, a comedy about a death in the family, a vigil at the hospital and the messy, funny aftermath.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "FISH IN THE DARK")

DAVID: (As character) What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Someone get a doctor.

DAVID: (As character) Who? Who should get a doctor?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I don't know - somebody.

DAVID: (As character) OK, so go. (Unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character) Oh, for God's sake, I'll go.

DAVID: (As character) No, no, it's OK. I'll go.

BLOCK: It all started with a conversation that Larry David had after a friend's father died.

DAVID: And there were some very interesting and, dare I say, funny things surrounding it. And I kind of thought that there's a play in this thing.

BLOCK: So he started writing.

DAVID: So I wrote the first scene, you know. I got one scene. I got two pages, and then I thought that was enough for one day.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Honest day's work right there.

DAVID: I don't like to do too much work in one day. If I can go to two pages - eh, that's good - go play golf, you know?

BLOCK: But even as he wrote the play and created a lead character who sounds very much like Larry David, he claims he didn't want to star in it.

But you must've been imagining yourself...

DAVID: No.

BLOCK: Really?

DAVID: No, was not. Nope. I was the last person in the world.

BLOCK: Why?

DAVID: Why?

BLOCK: Yeah.

DAVID: What are you, nuts? Who wants to do this thing? It's insane. It's "Groundhog Day." I'm living "Groundhog Day." I don't even want to go to bed at night because I know when I wake up in the morning, it's going to be the same day again, you know?

BLOCK: Yeah, is it hard?

DAVID: Yes, well, hard - yeah, it's kind of - it's taxing, yeah. I mean, it's not driving a cab or doing construction. But for me, from my delicate world, yeah, it's hard.

BLOCK: Hard, he says, and also surreal to be on stage and ride a wave of laughter.

DAVID: I didn't think it was going to get any laughs at all. I'm so negative. So the first time we did it, like every laugh was a surprise to me, because I was expecting nothing. That's how bleak I am.

BLOCK: Which seems strange because Larry David did spend years as a standup comedian and there were all those seasons of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." But that dialogue was mostly improvised. This is different.

DAVID: I'm not an actor. I consider myself a, you know, comedian.

BLOCK: Yeah.

DAVID: I'm not really an actor. Actors have to wait to talk. You know, there are lines, specific lines that you have to say. I don't like waiting. I like to interject, and there's no interjections here. You know, you have to wait and talk and wait and talk. It's...

BLOCK: Very unnatural.

DAVID: It's very unnatural, yeah, for an interrupter.

BLOCK: Right.

DAVID: For a guy who likes to talk, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: OK, folks, here we go. From top. Standing by please.

BLOCK: On stage at the Cort Theatre, it's rehearsal time. The show is still in previews, which means they're still fiddling with it, pruning lines, working on pacing and tone.

(SOUNDBITE OF REHEARSAL)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Why should anyone care where they're buried? Now, you can throw me in a garbage dump. It doesn't matter. I'm dead.

DAVID: (As character) Ok, so if you die before me, I can throw you in a garbage dump?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Absolutely, right in the dumpster.

DAVID: (As character) Oh, cannot wait for your funeral. That is going to be fun. We'll all drive to the garbage dump.

BLOCK: During rehearsal, David paces, frowns, sighs. And sometimes in a scene, you can tell he's itching to interject. He wants to adlib something. Why not? At one point, he looks out at the director, Anna D. Shapiro, and offers, I can fill a little bit there, can't I?

(SOUNDBITE OF REHEARSAL)

DAVID: I think - that?

ANNA D. SHAPIRO: Well, yeah, you can do that, but just - yeah, you can...

DAVID: Don't say anything?

SHAPIRO: It's so sweet that Larry is not saying to me, what about the last two nights was unclear to you? How [bleep] funny I am. What was unclear?

BLOCK: Later, Shapiro tells me it's all been an adjustment.

SHAPIRO: He told me when we started his biggest problem is going to be that he wants to stare at the audience.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Like every time they laugh, I think he wants to turn out and go, thank you, thank you so much.

BLOCK: And that business about him not being an actor, moving from improvised television to the stage, she says he's starting to get over that.

SHAPIRO: Last night, I went backstage afterwards, and he was, you know, tearing off his sweater, totally sweaty, and he looked at me and he goes, how do people do this? How do they do this? This is crazy. And I was just dying laughing because he felt it. And as much as he was, quote, unquote, "complaining about it," I've never seen him look that alive. He had a sparkle in his eye. He was acting. He acted. And it feels really good when you do it and when you don't have to pretend you didn't.

BLOCK: Larry David's play, "Fish In The Dark," will run on Broadway until June 7. That's a lot of Groundhog Days.

And as you think about, you know, doing this for a few months, what does that feel like? I mean, if you're used to stuff changing quickly and you're settling into this for a big chunk of time, what's that like?>>DAVID: That's, you know, suicidal.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Come on.

DAVID: That's like, oh boy, you know, just walk in front of that truck.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID: Yeah, well, how can I get out of this? You know, so get in an accident. Will it be better than being in a hospital bed for the next couple of months? You know, I'm weighing it.

BLOCK: Well, Larry David, thank you so much and best of luck.

DAVID: Thank you. This wasn't the ordeal I thought it would be. This is going to be edited?

BLOCK: Yes.

DAVID: Down to how many minutes?

BLOCK: Probably about eight.

DAVID: Oh, boy, eight, we got that easy.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID: Are you kidding? Eight minutes.

BLOCK: Yeah.

DAVID: Oh, we got that.

BLOCK: Yeah, I think.

DAVID: That's nothing.

SIEGEL: That's Larry David with our co-host Melissa Block in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.