Larry David and Richard Lewis’ Friendship Was the Heart of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

John Johnson/HBO
John Johnson/HBO
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Richard Lewis, stand-up comedian and frequent scene-stealer on Curb Your Enthusiasm, died last week at the age of 76. But while Sunday’s episode of the show, whose final season is currently airing, opened with a brief memorial to the actor, Curb refused to let that death weigh heavy upon it. Instead, this always absurd sitcom reminded us of the pure sweetness that underlaid Lewis’ misanthropic character—Larry David’s well-matched, lifelong best friend, one of the only other recurring characters playing a lightly fictionalized version of himself.

Perhaps “sweetness” is an overstatement. Larry has few champions in the world of Curb, alienating nearly everyone around him. (It’s gotten to the point where, as in last night’s episode, members of his temple are donating money to get “defamatory” messages about his wretchedness engraved in a wall outside the building.) To a drop-in viewer, Larry and Richard Lewis’ rapport may scream of a similar disdain. But Richard and Larry’s frequent mockery of each other, name-calling, and self-centered repartee always came with an underlying quality of brotherly love. Why else would Richard, one of the few people in Larry’s life with no obligation to care for or about him, stick around? In a world of transactional and toxic relationships, Richard and Larry’s connection is, ironically, meaningfully genuine.

Last night’s classic Richard-and-Larry barb-offs honored that historically poignant friendship. Larry dropped by Irma’s (Tracey Ullman) Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, which Richard Lewis also was attending. Richard proudly told Larry that he’d done some of his best “material” during the meeting—they let him go long, he said.

“I can’t divorce my comic self,” he tells Larry, when Larry questions why he’s talking about AA like it was a stand-up set. “Part of me will always be a comedian—and a drunk.” An old lady “opened for him,” he said, but the meeting otherwise became The Richard Lewis Show. A bemused Larry watches as Richard receives compliments for his comedy from fellow members, including for his “bartender from hell” bit. As myriad an obituary recalled last week, Lewis’ proudest comic claim was popularizing the phrase “from hell,” the basis of jokes he told on talk shows, stand-up specials, and two books.

A photo including Richard Lewis, Larry David in the series Curb Your Enthusiasm on Max

Richard Lewis and Larry David

John Johnson/HBO

“I mean, I do the ‘from hell’ on occasion,” he told a raised-brow Larry. “But I’m workshopping some other things … Another couple meetings, I tell you, I got a special.” It’s a perfectly ridiculous concept, one which Larry supports wholeheartedly. He agrees: Pitch this to HBO. Keep working on that material with his fellow ex-drunks.

“That’s why we’re best friends!” Richard calls to Larry, as he heads out. “The ‘Drunk from Hell Concert!’”

Richard Lewis Spent His Life Obsessing Over His Death

An encouraging Larry isn’t out-of-character with Richard, but their other scene together speaks perfectly to the cattier depths of their bond. At lunch—a regular setting for the pair throughout the series—Larry takes advantage of Richard’s current fixation on getting Larry to put him in his will, quid pro quo. Larry will put Richard in his will, just as his friend put him in his, he says—but only if Richard gives up some gossip about Irma from their AA meetings. Anything Richard can give Larry to convince Irma to dump him, so that he can fast-track getting her out of his life, will earn Richard the right to as much as he wants from Larry, should he die first. (Among all the toxic relationships on Curb, Irma and Larry’s is by far the worst.)

Richard’s loyalty to Larry—and his relentless drive for Larry to concede to him—outweighs his dedication to his fawning audience at AA. And so Richard blabs about Irma’s admission that she dumped her ex-husband after he was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that left him in diapers. The intel grants Larry a foolproof way to get Irma to dip. What it does not grant, he tells an annoyed Lewis, is entry into Larry’s will.

A photo including Larry David in the series Curb Your Enthusiasm on Max

Larry David

HBO

It’s hard to read anything that Larry does or says to Richard as mean, or vice versa. (I’d argue that Larry is hardly “mean” to anyone, anyway; he’s selfish and uninhibited, but not actively cruel.) This is a guy who ultimately gave Richard one of his kidneys, after all. Their tit-for-tat is the hilarious edge that’s propelled their friendship since the show began, and, per interviews over the years, it’s been a defining trait of their relationship since they were teens. The story goes that Larry and Richard were born three days apart in the same Brooklyn hospital, reconnecting at summer camp years later—where they hated each other. They reconnected again when they were older on the stand-up circuit, where that childhood rivalry morphed into a fierce, and funny, mutual affection.

All this talk of Richard’s will this season doesn’t quite feel like a Chekhov’s gun, but Curb is hard to predict. But wherever Richard and Larry land by the series’ end, I imagine it will involve them bickering with sly, telling grins on their faces. And long after the show is over, fans will keep revisiting the many moments of Larry and Richard’s cranky, quippy, ultimately loving cracks at each other. To start you off, check out a very good (and lengthy) compilation of their friendship below.

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