The Comedic ‘Godlessness’ of Larry David

There is a short, but interesting piece in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine about Larry David, co-creator of the famous television program Seinfield and the creator and star of the HBO program Curb Your Enthusiasm. James Parker’s article, titled “The Joy of Vex: The Godless Charm of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm,” takes a look at David’s program as it approaches the beginning of its eighth season. In addition to the seasonal preview, the article talks a little about David’s secular Judaism (my phrase) or, as Parker prefers, “pioneering godlessness.” Parker explains:

Larry David, culturally speaking, is indeed both a figure of pioneering godlessness and a loyal celebrant of the traditions, religious and comic, of his people. I say godlessness because atheism won’t do here: too programmatic, too broomstick-up-the-ass. From the post-moral peevishness of Seinfeld (which he co-created) to the flying yarmulkes of Curb Your Enthusiasm (which he created and stars in), Larry has been in a class of his own, spinning a kind of hilarious materialistic fairy tale that depends for many of its effects upon the vacuum left by a just-departed divinity — a God who has bolted from the room like Groucho Marx, cigar smell and hanging one-liner the tokens of His absence (p. 40).

Despite the ostensible godlessness of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and its irreverent situational comedy and colorful language, I find myself laughing regularly at the program. David’s affect is one that reminds me, in part, of not a few of my friends and interlocutors, both by way of mannerism and by virtue of some being their own worst enemies (something of which Larry David knows a lot about).

Parker makes an interesting point about the vacuum of an absent God or other Divinity in the schema of Curb Your Enthusiasm. In its place, he suggests, comes the Universe, which is described in the context of Curb as “a field of omnipresent, inhuman intelligence that conspires impishly against [Larry David].” The way the Universe plays into Curb‘s story is not unlike the way God plays into the philosophical musings of the early and mid-modern philosophers’ attempt to grapple with the possibility of an “evil genius” or resolve the epistemological divide. Hobbes, Leibniz, Descartes and the rest of the gang might well appreciate David’s humor and struggle to make sense of his surrounding, all the while being eerily reminiscent of Job’s story — the major difference, of course, is that Job was good and faithful, whereas David is anything but that and largely responsible for his episodic downfalls.

In any event, while I have not been as astutely following the last few seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm, I did appreciate this article about a comedic character I have come to appreciate. If art reflects our reality and culture, what does Curb have to say to us? If art informs our reality and culture, I would be cautious about following a godless path beyond its fleeting comedic context.

Photo: HBO

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