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Larry David and "that" acting moment


DeBellisA couple of years ago Larry David told me he wasn’t going to do another season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.  I’m not an actor by any stretch of the imagination.  I regret having to say that in my third grade play I was booed by my parents.


For some reason I got the urge to do a part on Curb. It may have been because I was with LD when he shot the pilot. It had absolutely nothing to do with the thousand bucks I would make – I’d swear to that on my mother’s grave (my mom’s cremation makes that oath a little less credible).   

When Larry did the pilot for Curb, we spent a few days together in New York City.  We briefly discussed the show. Larry, at the time, hadn’t the slightest notion of its eventual popularity.  I figured me being on the show at the end of its run would be coming full circle.  Plus my bad acting couldn’t be blamed for its demise. I emailed Larry and a day later he replied saying he had a small part for me the next day. Small being the operational word, because I had the emoting-range of a shadow.

While I was waiting in the dressing room, drinking bottled water that had been opened and handed to me by the staff, there was a knock on my door. It was LD, who much to my surprise was actually smiling, an expression that I thought would be an impossible task for his muscle memory to overcome.  A happy Larry David is something you need preparation for and may even require months of shock therapy or sedation to recover from, unless it was the result of a stroke (even in that case a lobotomy may still be necessary).  He thrust his fist forward and I responded by quickly bumping his fist with mine.  Larry is not a huge believer in the benefits of human contact - not just because of the emotional trauma it might inflict on him - but also because he imagines germs are stalking him.  I think Larry has recently invested in a line of HAZMAT leisurewear.

               LD had come to escort me to the set.  On the way, several New Yorkers approached him and were greeted with the same smile that caused me to question my vision. Larry happily (an adverb I never imagined using to describing LD) signed autographs and chatted with people.  I was stunned and thought maybe the opened bottle of water given to me in my dressing room was laced with some hallucinogen or the germs tracking Larry had landed on me and had burrowed into my brain causing a psychotic break.

By the time we finally made it to the location I had recovered from all that cheerfulness and was ready for some good old negative obsessing with LD.  Television film sets are controlled chaos – people like unemployed worker ants run off in every direction except for those ravaging the donuts like hypoglycemic zombies.  This set was no different except the calmest person on it was Larry. Yes, I said, Larry.  LD was non confrontational and almost tranquil - Zen like - a master of his emotional domain.  For a few minutes I thought they might be doing a satire of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.   

Larry, during our old stand-up days, thought he was one against the universe. He would be accosted on a the street by winos and blind beggars-once by a bum who for some reason wanted half of Larry’s tuna fish sandwich, which resulted in a fist fight.  Back then Larry was a superconductor for those who had been storing unexpressed grudges against mankind.  He was once mugged running home from the Improvisation to go to the bathroom.  Crazy people would toss anti Semitic slurs at him for no reason (several of them Jewish and wearing Yamakas).  The hostility expressed at him was as if he possessed the street karma of George Zimmerman or worse yet, his own self-hatred.

Before I could obsess myself into believing LD’s demeanor had been the result of a tear in the time continuum, or I’d had fallen into a nerve gas induced coma, I was quickly greeted by Larry Charles, the director, and a couple of the writers, whom I’d known for years.  They settled me down and promptly risked death by shaking my hand.  

During a break from shooting Larry and I chatted about baseball, of course, before asking how either of us were, or our families, or if any of our friends had died possibly of an errant handshake.  I asked Larry about the house he just built and in typical LD fashion, he immediately started apologizing.  Like, despite his enormous wealth, he should be living in a small, unmarked teepee.  

“John….John…I…I…I just built what I always wanted…” He went on to give me a reason for every space in the house beyond the absolute minimum to insure his survival.  I wanted to ease his pain by lying and telling him my house was twice as large, hermetically sealed and even had a moat around it to prevent trick-or-treaters from ringing my bell.  I figure the moat part would make him jealous, but before I could make Larry feel better by feeling worse - like he should have built a bigger home possibly with barbed wire and anxiety producing force fields - I was called to the set.

The show, except for the storyline, is all adlib. Every scene is shot several times, each time embellishing the scene by using the best lines discovered from the previous takes.   

Like I said, I’m not a natural actor and didn’t feel comfortable until I was confronted by Larry’s outraged character and had to throw him out of a baseball memorabilia show.  Just seeing Larry in front of me his face reddened and crazed with anger calmed my nerves, put me at ease and freed my mind. A fuming Larry David was something I was used to, something I understood - something I’d seen day in and day out for decades and learned to anticipate and even appreciate.  It ignited my acting imagination, pictures of a furious LD, produced at a geometric rate excuses for not allowing him to enter the show and they flowed out of my mouth like I was a bum spitting on him.  Had I the time, I may have been able to deliver an entire degrading half hour monologue. It was the only occasion in my acting life that I actually felt in the moment, honest, genuine - a real thespian.  Yes, I was an actor!  Of course that was ruined seconds later when Larry smiled and said, “Good Job.”  

According to the Huffington Post: John started as a stand-up comic before turning to writing. He was a staff writer for "Saturday Night Live," "The Tonight Show," "Politically Incorrect," "D.C. Follies, etc. He wrote and directed "The Last Request," a feature film starring Danny Aiello, T.R.Knight, and Mario Cantone. He's the author of the book, STANDUP GUYS:A Generation of Laughs.

Here's some of John's stand-up comedy here:



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