SPOILER ALERT: Do not read unless you have watched “Foisted!” the Oct. 1 episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Jeff Schaffer has seen all of the footage taped for “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” Season 9 twice — once when he was shooting it, and at least once when he was editing it. Because of creator and showrunner Larry David’s technique for the iconic show, returning after its Season 8 finale in 2011, Schaffer knows the every possible way that every punch line might have gone a little differently, for a slightly different affect. It means that he’s living and breathing “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” ninth season. When Variety speaks to Schaffer, he’s in the middle of editing episodes nine and ten. But he took a break to talk to us about how “Foisted!” got made — and “Fatwa!” for that matter.
What was like filming this premiere after six years away?
The last time we were on was 2011. The summer of 2011, just think about what a different time it was. The movies that came out — a “Cars” movie sequel, “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel, “Planet of the Apes” sequel, “Transformers” sequel. Completely different world, right?
We wrote six or seven episodes before we finally go, “Hey Larry, are we gonna tell HBO that we’re doing this, so we can hire a crew to shoot some of these?” He’s always the last person to know that he’s coming back. Once we sorted of landed on Larry writing “Fatwa! The Musical” that’s when I knew we were coming back.
Do you think that the Ayatollah might notice this arc?
Did we talk about Larry getting a real fatwa for fake Larry getting a fatwa for writing “Fatwa!”? Yeah, we talked about it.
There’s no bad publicity. I think I’m still in a lawsuit. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is still suing me for “Brüno.” Just add them to the list.
When Larry was doing the fake “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” did Kimmel know what Larry was going to do?
Jimmy knew about “Fatwa! The Musical,” and that Larry was going to say some stuff about the Ayatollah. The rest of it, they just went. There’s a much longer interview. Larry was like, “This is the best late night experience I’ve ever had!”
How challenging is it to piece together an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in the editing room?
Here’s the thing: The show’s written three times. People don’t really appreciate how much time we spend writing the outline. It’s the same way we wrote “Seinfeld.” You come up with funny stories, then you have to do all this comedy geometry to get these stories interweaving. Then you get these brilliant actors saying these funny situations in their own ways. Every scene’s a live rewrite. We’re writing and shooting at the same time. Larry wants to be fresh, so you’ll whisper things he doesn’t want to know. If it really works, he laughs, and the take’s ruined. About half the time when I’m shooting, if I know something is going to really work, I’ll switch from overs to a single of the other person. So I don’t have Larry’s [shaking with laughter] shoulder ruining the shot.
Larry’s so good. He’s able to be in the scene and write and the same time. And see the scene from outside himself. We’ll be in the middle of a take sometimes and he’ll do this [puts finger over mouth, holds out other arm], he’ll start to laugh, and i know he’s laughing because of what he’s about to do. It’s like shooting a live comedy sporting event. You’re writing on the floor all the time — you have to know which threads to pursue. It’s fun. These are funny people.
What’s an example from the premiere?
J.B. loves surprising Larry. When Larry walked up to Leon’s guest house, and he goes “What are you doing?” and Leon goes “Lampin’,” Larry had never heard that before in his life. That’s just J.B. throwing Larry a curve and Larry hitting it back. That’s what the show is — knowing that we should keep talking about that. Let’s do more of that one. The trick is knowing when something worked — but did we cover it right? Can we even get to it? There could be a really funny section, but is there any way to get to it? You have to set that up so it makes sense. You’re writing live. Larry’s stamina is incredible, because he’s in every scene, and we’re doing this every scene, every time.
Is he in the editing room, too?
I’ll usually do a director’s cut, and then I’ll show that to Larry, but no matter what, he wants to go back and go through all the footage. I spent the last five months in the edit room on a couch with him. The editors Jon Corn and Steve Rasch, they don’t get enough credit for the amazing work they do. We’re weaving this together. They’re helping us shape the show.
What happens when your sense of humor differs from Larry’s?
Larry and I are on the same page most of the time. When Alec [Berg] and David [Mandel] were there, we used to have what I would call a three-to-one tie. The tie usually went to him — although in the edit room, he will let me try anything. In fact, there is some horse trading: I’ll give you that, but I’m keeping this.
What was your favorite punchline from the first episode?
When Richard [Lewis] and Larry both wanted to talk to each other and said, you come here, you come here. And then they meet and Richard goes, “Are you happy?” And Larry goes, “No! I had to take more steps than you!”
It is a really funny moment.
We were on a scout, and a lot of things come when we get to the real place. We knew Jeff [Greene, played by Jeff Garlin] and Larry were gonna be sitting at the bar. We needed to a scene with Richard, and oh, we’ll put him over there, and as we were doing it, it just came.
Is this open sandbox overwhelming for the actors?
They have a safety net, too. I’m the safety net. If you need lines, I will give you lines. I will be suggesting things. Larry’s suggesting things. No one’s ever gonna leave you high and dry. Input is coming in from every angle.