‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ season premiere tackles political topics with humor

Nick Botkin

A photograph of the actor Larry David
Larry David tackles subjects close to home with his dark and flippant humor in season nine of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia).

The season premiere of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” takes political incorrectness to new heights. What subjects can one broach with humor? Where are the lines drawn? Regular viewers know the show has never shied from finding humor in dark subjects. In past seasons, David has tackled death, divorce and anti-Semitism. With the season nine premiere, David takes on terrorism and fundamentalism.

We are reintroduced to David, playing a fictitious version of himself. It has been six years after the season eight conclusion, which found him in exile in Paris after a feud with Michael J. Fox. David has since moved back to Los Angeles and is forced to grapple with an ever-changing society. We see this changing world reflected in his friends and society at large. His friend Ted Danson is separating from his wife, Mary Steenburgen.  His friend Jeff Greene’s daughter is engaged to an Afghanistan veteran. Marriage equality is now legal, leaving David confused as to who is bride and groom.

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The heart of the episode centers around David pitching a musical. The title? “Fatwa,” a.k.a death sentence. The subject? The story of author Salman Rushdie and Ayatollah Khomeini’s death threats against him. There is something genuinely comical and offensive about the premise, given the appropriation of real-life figures and the rise of fundamentalism in the Middle East.

While “Fatwa” is originally given favorable reception by producers, mishaps inevitably ensue. This would not be a true Curb episode without mishap. In this case, trouble arises when David pitches “Fatwa” on Jimmy Kimmel’s show. On the surface, it seems that David is making light of fundamentalists.

“How can you have a fatwa without an ayatollah?” David says with a straight face. “He (the ayatollah) has a small harem. He has a fetish for redheads.”

In a telling moment, David describes the ayatollah as someone who prefers to “navigate on his own.” This describes David’s own attitude about life, navigating the seas of absurdity. He does so by adherence to his own dogma and rules. This particular credo ensures that people around David take offense. And suffice it to say, offense is taken here. Big time.

In a truly meta and comedic twist, David himself is condemned to death by an actual ayatollah.

“I’ll convert,” David proclaims frantically. “I’ll become a Muslim.”

Therein lies both a strength and problem: The fictitious version of David has proven himself incapable of converting to anything. He cannot adapt to change.

Should you watch this? Absolutely 

If you have a fondness for politically incorrect humor and absurdity.

“You are devoid of anything remotely caring or empathetic,” proclaims Richard Lewis to David. Lewis, a comedian, is also playing a fictitious version of himself.

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Perhaps Larry is not lacking in empathy. Rather he is changing the conversation about what it means to deal with the world. By being flippant about topics such as fundamentalism, David does something truly powerful: He turns a figure as menacing and dislikable as an ayatollah into a clown. He makes it possible for us to combat the most powerful forces with humor. And that is nothing to laugh at.

New episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” are on Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.

Collegian reporter Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com  or on Twitter @dudesosad.