Larry David's musical theater turn in "The Producers" provided one of the funniest episodes in the 13-year history of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" – and not because he made a great singing-and-dancing Max Bialystock.
He didn't – but the Broadway audience wildly cheered him. The brilliantly executed punch line, capping a season's buildup, worked on two levels: The payoff echoed the plot of Mel Brooks’ masterwork, in which an intended flop emerges as a raging success. The other part of the joke rested in the disbelief that David could effectively play anybody but his cranky self.
The “Seinfeld” co-creator gets a new chance to stretch Saturday with "Clear History," an HBO movie that takes TV's king of uncomfortable comedy out of his usual discomfort zone.
The movie marks a departure for a funny man best known for playing – or, in the case of "Seinfeld," having Jason Alexander play – a version of himself. Sure, David memorably shouted his way through an inexplicably hilarious imitation of George Steinbrenner on "Seinfeld" (“Big Stein wants an eggplant calzone!”), and turned up in a long shot as Frank Costanza's cape-wearing lawyer.
But David’s only other major role (besides as a sketch player on "Fridays" more than three decades ago) came in the 2009 Woody Allen effort “Whatever Works.” What should have been a match made in the agnostic version of comedy heaven – a pairing of two of Brooklyn's most productive neurotics – didn’t work all that well.
"Clear History," though, is a pure Larry David project, largely improvised, a la "Curb." David plays an executive at a start-up electric car company who has a petty fight with his boss, gives up his stock and misses out on billions when the firm hits it big. Years later, he finds himself in close company with his rich nemesis, played by Jon Hamm, who joins Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Bill Hader and Kate Hudson as part of an impressive cast.
The money-and-hard-feelings plot, in some respects, echoes the twisted and underappreciated "Sour Grapes," the film David wrote and directed around the time “Seinfeld” ended in 1998. “Sour Grapes,” unlike the show at the center of “The Producers,” was an unintended flop.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.