Black Characters Made ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Legendary
The show always embraced awkwardness, but it became something special when its Black characters got lives of their own
HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm opened its 10th season with star and series creator Larry David reestablishing his race-riffing repartee with on-screen crony Leon Black (J.B. Smoove). “You like your color?” asks Larry, self-conscious about his own saltine skin tone. “I fucking love my color; I’m fuckin’ mahogany,” Leon replies without missing a beat. “You’re like a… a porridge. A Cream of Wheat, a Farina — that kinda shit.”
It’s a simple setup: Get an improvisationally agile Black person talking about skin color and unlock all kinds of funny. Yet, the scene is a tag-team act, a routine that hinges on both performers recognizing the subtle inversions that racism creates — in this case, the fact that Black folks upended being judged for the color of their skin, flipping that shit to salvage their own beautiful truth.
That same phenomenon has occurred again and again since the HBO series’ 2000 premiere. Sure, Curb is steeped in the crusty-crass observational humor that David has been trafficking since he co-created Seinfeld. But it’s his newfound unabashed approach to dealing with race and racial fuckery that invited Black audiences into his cynical fold. When Larry (the character) collides with Black characters, they constantly deliver a perspective rooted in reality — the kind that forever seems to escape the rest of the show’s (wealthy, White) cast. And he’s been banking on it ever since.
There isn’t a specific moment when HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm suddenly became skinfolk’s Angsty White Comedy Jam, but most would point to season six as the lighthouse beckoning us to the shores of its preposterous realism. Airing in 2007, that season marked the debut of Loretta Black (Vivica A. Fox) and her brother Leon, who became housemates to the Davids after Hurricane Edna destroyed their home. The family brought a down-home Black experience (pun very much intended) that carried enough depth to avoid caricature, sticking around for the entire…