We rank Curb Your Enthusiasm’s top ten guest stars
Back for its twelfth season of brilliantly uncomfortable comedy, Larry David returns in a final season of Curb Your Enthusiasm – streaming on Neon from Feb 5. Dominic Corry sets out to rank the show’s legendarily impressive guest stars.
I’ve always loved Curb Your Enthusiasm for how it took a specific aspect of Larry David’s previous series, Seinfeld—i.e. the way David would channel his specific social peccadillos through the character of George Costanza—and distilled it into the premise of an entirely new show, with David now starring as “himself”.
As impressive a creative second-act as there ever has been, Curb has become a phenomenon in its own right, and is clearly one of those shows that everyone in Hollywood is clamouring to be on. You get the impression that David never has to ask anyone to appear—he probably has to swat away all sorts of A-listers. This caché has provided Curb with an impressive bevy of guest stars over the years, sometimes playing themselves, sometimes not.
Some guest stars fit into Curb‘s unique, improvisation-heavy format better than others. Not every actor is quite able to sell the leaps required for a particular scene to reach its resolution. And sometimes, they just get lumped with less-than-great material, like Lin-Manuel Miranda in the weak sauce season 9.
With the imminent season twelve announced as Curb‘s final season ever (although I’m pretty sure we’ve heard that before), the guest-star possibilities are exciting indeed—which stars of the moment will show up? Wasn’t Larry papped dining with Timotheé Chalamet not that long ago? My dream guest stars would be Olivia Colman or Walton Goggins.
To mark the beginning of the end, I have ranked Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Top Ten Guest stars. Note: these are not the biggest names who have appeared on the series, but the guest stars I get most excited about and have fun interactions with Larry. Which is why I haven’t mentioned Martin Scorsese, Seth Rogen, Mila Kunis, Sean Penn, Meg Ryan, Bryan Cranston, Chris Martin, or any of the many other huge stars who’ve casually sauntered by.
10. Albert Brooks
The comedy legend (and brother of #3 on this list) proved he still has plenty to offer onscreen comedy in a fun turn in last season’s premiere playing (a naturally more pompous version of) himself, where he was revealed to be a COVID supplies hoarder during a “living funeral”.
9. Lucy Lawless
It’s not a massively extended appearance, but hometown hero Lucy Lawless deserves a shoutout for playing (a version of) herself in a season six episode when she is memorably charmed by Larry’s proclamation that he isn’t a cool guy.
8. Richard Kind
The sitcom-staple-turned-beloved-character-actor (post-A Serious Man) is a welcome presence anywhere, and he’s generally always a hoot as Larry’s endlessly infuriating Cousin Andy.
7. Jon Hamm
The comedically gifted Hamm, who played Larry David’s nemesis in the David-directed 2013 TV movie Clear History, has a great turn playing himself in a late season 10 episode where he shadows Larry because he is playing a character in a movie based on Larry. Hamm showed up again in the first episode of season 11.
6. Elisabeth Shue
Larry David likes to have fun with casting, and in the Seinfeld reunion season (see below), Elisabeth Shue plays an actress up for the part of George’s ex-wife, a role eventually played by Cheryl, who bears a strong resemblance to Shue. And look, it’s Elisabeth Shue. If she’s in contention for something, she’s going on the list.
5. Wanda Sykes
She hasn’t shown up in a while, but throughout the first eight Curb seasons, the legendary stand-up (who seemed to be playing herself) was one of the few people you could cheer for when they told off Larry. Would be great to see her show up in the final season.
4. Mel Brooks
Although the season four storyline about Larry being cast in the Broadway production of The Producers felt like a bit of a stretch (Larry is many things, a song and dance man isn’t one of them), it nevertheless provided a great excuse for Larry to interact with comedy legend Brooks (playing himself), and they bounce off each other like vaudeville pros. Ben Stiller has some fun moments throughout this season, too.
3. Bob Einstein
The late writer/actor, formerly also known as joke stuntman Super Dave Osborne, (and the brother of #10), first showed up in season four as Marty Funkhouser, a member of Larry and Cheryl’s ambiguously monied social set, and throughout numerous appearances would become one of Larry’s greatest comic foils. David always seems closest to breaking when he’s in a scene with Einstein. He was like Curb‘s version of a recurring sitcom villain or something. His greatest ever moment came in season seven in an iconic scene when he tells an off-colour joke to Jerry Seinfeld while Larry stares on, horrified. Since Einstein’s passing in 2019, we’ve had his half-brother Freddie Funkhouser, played by Vince Vaughn. Who is pretty decent in the role.
2. Ted Danson
It’s extra amusing that Danson, who possesses some of the most finely-honed comedic timing in all of television, is such a consistent presence in Curb (he first showed up playing himself in the second episode) because he was the subject of several scornful comments from George during Seinfeld. Danson’s sporadic early appearances have ramped up in latter seasons to the point where he may be the closest thing to a main character outside of the Susie/Jeff/Leon/Cheryl core cast, especially as he is now with the latter. His sitcom sheen hilariously contrasts with Larry’s schlubbiness, making it never difficult to relate to Larry’s seething resentment of Danson.
1. The Seinfeld Cast
As a glorious culmination of what I described in the opening sentence of this article, Curb allowed Seinfeld to have a (long-resisted) reunion without having a reunion, by telling a season-long story about the making of a fictional Seinfeld reunion. It is a perfectly Seinfeldian outcome. It also gave Larry and Jerry the chance to say goodbye to these characters with a more appropriate grace note than the justly-derided Seinfeld series finalé, which provides fodder for jokes here.
Seinfeld himself, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander (who had all previously showed up on Curb) and Michael Richards play themselves (and their Seinfeld characters, in the many scenes from the “reunion” that we see being filmed) throughout the season, and it’s pretty much pure joy from start to finish. Seeing Larry have a “George” dispute with Jason Alexander is a thing of wonder. We even get appearances from Seinfeld supporting players Estelle Harris (George’s mum), Steve Hytner (Bania) and Wayne Knight (Newman).
It’s a season-long meta-television moment that manages to trump the infamous series finale of Newhart, where the entire show was revealed to have been a dream in the head of the main character from Bob Newhart’s previous series, The Bob Newhart Show.