Consider it the greatest indignity of them all for Larry David. After almost six years away, David’s lauded comedy series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” was finally set to kick off production on its long-awaited ninth season last November — the day after the presidential election.
Stars and staffers were expecting to return to set in a celebratory mood. Instead, David and his cast and crew — including long-time on-screen sidekick J.B. Smoove and executive producer Jeff Schaffer — reunited on a day that seemed to make it clear just how much things had changed since the series’ eighth season wrapped in September 2011.
“I was up all night, I couldn’t sleep,” Smoove told IndieWire. “I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna go to sleep and wake up and this shit is gonna be fine.’ It was the weirdest day. It felt like a weird dream, I was like, ‘Really?’ I couldn’t believe it.”
And yet, the show had to go on, even if the new state of the world seemed destined to overshadow the happy occasion.
“We showed up to set, we shot the very first day,” Smoove said. “Which was, the first half an hour of just standing around, talking about it. You know how you watch a movie, you see a crazy-ass movie, and you’re just like, ‘Holy shit, I can’t even imagine this happening in real life.’ But then you experience something like that. You almost had an out of body experience.”
He added, “For us, you didn’t know what to do, but you knew that you had to do something amazing. The show was back, you got on set, and you did your thing.”
If nothing else, the strange new state of the world feeds directly into the series’ particular point of view, adding a new level of terrible and awkward to “Curb’s” ever-growing pile. Schaffer (who also directed the season’s pilot episode) initially considered temporarily stopping production that first day, but pushed forward, an oddly fitting stance for the show itself.
“The world keeps evolving, but Larry’s indignation ray stays the same,” he said. “There’s always new things. The one thing you can count on is that there’s going to be new terrible people and new awkward situations.”
And as he sagely noted, “Working in that field is an evergreen business.” Business, at least, is booming.
“The world is such a weird place,” Smoove said. “[Larry] finds a way to tap into the things that make you go ‘oooohh,’ the things that make you mad, or the things that make you go, ‘oh, shit.’ He’s relatable, he finds a way to make relatable funny.”
Co-star Susie Essman wasn’t on set that first day, but joined the production a week later. She was still reeling, but she too found solace in the unique comforts of David’s cringe comedy.
“It was actually a relief to go back to work,” she said. “It was bad. It was just like, scary and bad. There was, and still is, fear…I had no desire to get on stage, doing standup. By nature, I’m not a political comedian. But I felt shut down in a certain way, that I couldn’t just move on from.”
And while Essman doesn’t sidestep the tough stuff —”You can’t ignore the times you live in,” she said — the long-time actress and comedian is also possessed by the notion that humor can help.
“When you’re on a film set or TV set, you’re in such an insulated environment,” she said. “It’s almost as though the outside world doesn’t exist, so it was a great relief to go back to work and be in the environment…to go back to work and do something funny.”
Hopefully, that humor will translate to the new season of the beloved show, and even heal some wounds along the way.
“I always felt like humor was the catalyst for everything, it cures all the ills of the world,” Smoove said. “Like somehow, this is gonna make sense, in some way, shape, or form. Everything makes sense in the long term.”
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” Season 9 premieres on Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO.