HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm continues to be an hilarious observation of the times in its eleventh season, but the road to the screen was more chaotic for showrunner Jeff Schaffer than ever.
“We shot every episode in every block of the season,” Schaffer shared. “It’s like we took the season and all the scripts, threw them up in the air, shot them with a shotgun, picked up the pieces and then started shooting.”
The Emmy-award winning series follows Larry David’s fictionalized life and the predicaments he gets into with friends and total strangers. Schaffer managed his time between zoom calls with Larry and preparing for FX’s sophomore season of the hit neurotic comedy Dave.
“During the pandemic, Larry and I were writing on FaceTime, I was doing the zoom writers room for Dave, and the two shows started shooting within two days of each other in the beginning of November,” Schaffer recalls.
With a palpably comfortable dynamic between the established cast, which includes Cheryl Hines, J.B. Smoove and Susie Essman, Curb remains an hysterical balance between cringeworthy humor and entertainment industry shenanigans.
Awards Focus spoke with Jeff Schaffer about shooting the latest season during the pandemic, taking story suggestions from fans, and why J.B. Smoove is overdue for Emmy consideration for his role in Curb.
Awards Focus: This season of Curb your Enthusiasm has been fantastic so far. Do you have any surprises in store for audiences for the remainder of the season?
Jeff Schaffer: There’s definitely a lot of surprises, and I will say you haven’t seen anything yet. The main course is coming up.
AF: Given the constraints to filming brought on by Covid, were there discussions about a flashback episode set during the pandemic for this season?
Schaffer: We definitely talked about it. We were hopeful that there would be vaccines and reasonable people, masks, and everything would be over. But we were only half right. We talked about some flashbacks with Jeff and Susie, but maybe not going so far as a whole episode. The reason we didn’t was that the season wasn’t going to be coming out for over a year, so we didn’t want to be the last person at the dinner table doing jokes that had been done for nine months. It was better to avoid it completely.
AF: When you and Larry are talking shop, how do you manage the constant flow of ideas?
Schaffer: I’ve been working with Larry on-and-off for 26 years now, so it’s really one of my longest relationships (Laughs). We’re pretty good about figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and we have a very safe space so anything can be pitched, and often is. Half the time you say something in jest, and I’m thinking of a very specific thing that I can’t tell you right now if you haven’t seen the show, and he will be like, “What’s insane! We have to get there and we’ll make it work.”
AF: What has been the strangest suggestion from a fan about sharing ideas that should happen in the show?
Schaffer: The greatest thing is that Larry’s getting up there in age and he wants to have fun with it. He’s bold enough and brave enough to make fun of anything. Fans make a very crucial mistake in thinking that their life is interesting when most people’s lives aren’t interesting. Our lives, mine and Larry’s, aren’t even interesting! They think the show is about Larry’s life but that’s not what it is at all. It’s about funny ideas Larry has and we make those ideas work. So what people often do is they go, “Oh man, my friends so crazy. This bakery I’m at, all my coworkers are insane. You should do a show about that!” And I’m like, well, you didn’t give me an idea. You just told me where you worked.
AF: There are some great guest stars this season. How much thought goes into bringing in a new, heavy player this season and does it affect the core line-up? Do you ever discuss fresh blood versus established dynamics?
Schaffer: Everything comes from the story, right? What’s the funny idea, how do we do that and who’s the best person to do that? Sometimes it’s one of our own and sometimes it’s someone we want to bring in. There were a lot of fun stories this year and Larry has a lot of fun with Vince Vaughn. Also, what more does J.B. Smoovehave to do to get an Emmy for Curb? I’m so happy he won for Mapleworth Murders but what else does that man have to do?
Ultimately it’s the actors who are very funny together, and they aren’t painting by the numbers. They’re figuring out the paint and bringing brushes and the canvas. It’s such a unique skill, and J.B. brings so much to the table. Our actors are not just actors but writers in this living, breathing rewrite that we do in every scene everyday.
AF: This season you direct nine out of the ten episodes. Was that something that happened as a result of the pandemic?
Schaffer: When Alec Berg, Dave Mandel and I were all doing it, we were directing together but the DJ wouldn’t let us put our names together. So back then we were all sort of doing half of the episodes. I always say Larry and I make the show. We’re always there, writing and editing. But this season, because of the pandemic, we had to cross-board like we’ve never done before. When we started the season there wasn’t even a vaccine, so we had to push all the crowd scenes toward the end of the season.
So we shot every episode in every block of the season. Maria Sophia’s audition was shot on the second day of the season, while Albert Brooks’ funeral was shot late in April. It’s like we took the season, all the scripts and threw them up in the air, shot them with a shotgun, picked up the pieces and then started shooting.
AF: It also seems like the episodes are longer this season, which the fans really appreciate. Is that a particular change in the process?
Schaffer: It’s not actually the shows are a little longer, but it’s that we stay in the scenes longer, it’s that there’s more scenes. Larry just had more to say, you know? It’s been a tumultuous few years and he’s got a lot of opinions, so there were a lot of stories that we wanted to do and I find that the audience doesn’t feel paces.
AF: Dave on FX has really taken off. How do you separate your commitments to Curb and Dave?
Schaffer: This last year and a half was really busy. During the pandemic, Larry and I were writing on FaceTime, I was doing the zoom writers room for Dave, and the two shows started shooting within two days of each other in the beginning of November. So, I’ve always been on set for Curb, then I would go to Dave after, but it was super hectic. I don’t remember how it happened and I’ve learned nothing from it.
This article was co-written by Matthew Koss.