Shop talk: Jeff Schaffer

'Curb' thrives on talent and happy accidents

Shop Talk with Showrunners
Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse | Tina Fey and Robert Carlock | Brad Falchuk | Jeff Schaffer | Alan Ball | Vince Gilligan | Steven Levitan | Greg Daniels | Robert King | Clyde Phillips

Your favorite moment as a showrunner?
Being on the set with LD (Larry David) and the actors when everyone is pitching lines and feeding off each other. You set up the scripts so the story is funny no matter what, but the digressions LD leads the actors on is where the magic is.

What’s your reaction when you’re recognized by a fan of show?
I’m casually frightened — “How do you know who I am?” — and then I gird myself for the inevitable story idea that’s about to get pitched. “You should do a thing about my friends at the bakery. They’re crazy.” You didn’t pitch me a story, you just told me where you worked.

Your biggest fight with the network?
The beauty of the situation Larry has carved out for us at “Curb” is that we function as if there is no network. In the best way. We write the scripts, edit the shows, and they go on the air. There’s no “they” in the process. “What will they say?” “I don’t know if they’ll like that.” “Are they going to make us change it?” Those questions are never asked at “Curb.”
It’s a true dream job that way. Alec (Berg) and Dave (Mandel) and I write the shows with Larry, and once we’ve written at least eight of the 10, Larry tells HBO he wants to do a season. The only downside is you’re writing a season of an established show on spec. Because if Larry decides it’s not up to his standards, it won’t happen.

Your favorite “happy accident” in writing or producing the show?
We were talking about a story in season five where a nurse thinks that Jeff has a small penis. And I said, “Jeff says, ‘It’s not that he has a small penis. But that she has a giant vagina.’ ” And the rest of the episode wrote itself from there.
There is nothing like the feeling of cracking a script. It’s second only to imagining (Variety) debating whether or not to put the words “giant vagina” in your issue.

Your best collaborative moment on the set or with a network?
The “Curb” set is a uniquely collaborative environment. Larry is generating so much great material every day on the set that often what you thought you were filming becomes a completely different scene. Example: LD and Uncle Leon (J.B. Smoove) are in a hospital exam room talking to a doctor because Larry got his testicles twisted in the fly of his underwear. A few takes in, J.B. offhandedly mentioned that Larry had “long balls.” J.B. may not even have remembered he said it, but we realized right then that our scene had just found a new focus. We rewrote it on the fly and changed the whole rest of the show to showcase the concept.

Which shows have influenced your show?
“Curb” and “Seinfeld” are written the exact same way. We come up with stories and then stare at a dry-erase board attempting to do comedy geometry and weave these ideas together into a satisfying story. Every episode we’ve written with Larry for the last four seasons he’s said the exact same thing: “This one is harder than the others, right?” Every. One.

What would you want to say in an Emmy acceptance speech, but won’t?
You might as well ask me what I’ll say to my NBA teammates after I dunk. It’s amazing how much time and energy I’ve been able to devote to other things knowing that I’ll never have to worry about giving that acceptance speech.

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