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J. B. Smoove on Why Leon Finally Watched Seinfeld in the Curb Your Enthusiasm Series Finale

10 minute read

Spoiler alert: This piece discusses the Curb Your Enthusiasm series finale.

In many ways, Curb wasn’t Curb before Leon Black arrived. That’s a common sentiment among longtime fans of Larry David’s HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, which came to an end last night over 23 years after it premiered. Sure, the first five seasons are among the best in the series’ run — but as soon as J. B. Smoove joined in Season 6, it became impossible to imagine a version without him. It comes down to Smoove’s incredible gift for improvisation; every time Leon opens his mouth, we’re treated to delightful new absurdities, bits of bizarre lore, or nonsense philosophy that sometimes come back around and sound strangely brilliant.

That continues in the series finale, “No Lessons Learned,” during which Leon decides to binge the entirety of Seinfeld — a fitting activity for a deeply meta conclusion that consciously calls back to the ending of David’s original magnum opus at almost every turn. With minutes to go, Leon even mentions that he heard Larry “f-cked up” the Seinfeld finale, setting up a final sequence that feints one way before subverting our expectations.

TIME caught up with Smoove the morning after the finale to discuss improv, Larry David’s brain, and the qualities that make a perfect ending.

TIME: I can’t believe Curb is over. How are you feeling?

Smoove: Watching it made me miss everybody and all the pieces to it. It makes you think about the whole journey. All the seven seasons came back to me. You see everybody age. You see time elapsed. You see how it was from the very beginning. I remember everything like it was yesterday, from watching the show, to the audition process, to being on the show. You do it for the fun, you do it to be a part of something big, and you wait for the call. Then all of a sudden your place on the show becomes different and you’re getting recognized for your work. You’re working with people you looked up to, and all of a sudden, the guest stars are people you looked up to. Damn, he’s doing it this season? Oh yeah, I love Vince! Oh, Tracey Ullman, I love Tracey Ullman! I love Woody Harrelson, oh my God! I gotta act cool. Be cool.

Read More: The Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld Finales Were More Different Than You Think

Sometimes when you’re working on something, you feel the love and you feel that you’re doing a great job, and you know what the possibilities could be. I’ve been on a lot of shows, and this is the longest I’ve been on a show. It was a different experience. I felt more like I was part of the family as opposed to just having a job. Watching it last night made me feel some kind of way. Along the way, you lose people, but you also gain people. Larry told me one time, ‘You’re never going to have this much freedom and this much fun on any show you ever do.’ I said, ‘You know something, Larry? I think you might be right.’ It’s hard to imagine anything replacing this show.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
J.B. Smoove and Larry David in the series finale of Curb Your EnthusiasmCourtesy of HBO

Where were you when you watched the finale?

I was in Brooklyn. The only thing that would’ve made it even better was to watch it on the same day as the eclipse. But it still coincides, because we’re in the streaming age.

Maybe the eclipse will help people feel better about the show ending.

There you go. You know all these people are watching the finale at the same time, and reading the comments and the farewells — it makes it even sweeter.

Was there a lot of improvisation in the finale?

There was a lot of improvising, but Curb is a puzzle, so it was also a lot of putting the puzzle together. The end goal was to get to that court scene, and that requires a lot of people involved. You have to be on-story. You gotta realize how much stuff hits the edit room floor. You think in your head that it’s golden stuff. ‘Oh my God, how could you not keep that part?’ I ask the directors and the producers, ‘Hey, did that part make it?’ It’s always like, Oh, uh, we didn’t use that.’ But when Larry puts it together, it all makes sense.

Read More: The Uncancellable Larry David

Leon also starts binging Seinfeld in the finale, which is a very funny way to parallel that show’s finale.

In Season 7, I made a decision to pretend like Leon never watched Seinfeld. I like that he didn’t know anything about the show. So that carried over to ‘I’mma give this Seinfeld thing a chance’ in the finale. There’s something about this wonderment, watching something for the first time and getting caught up in it and binge-watching it, that got Leon diving even deeper and trying to figure out how Jerry got all this ass all the time.

But all that stuff is just listening and improvising and trying to create your own little lane to play in. Improv is about making your choices. At a fork in the road, you have to figure out which way you want to turn. I like having that choice. There’s really intricate improv, and then there’s far-fetched improv. The show does a good job at staying in that pocket where you’re intrigued by it but it’s never like ‘That can’t happen.’ It’s always like, ‘Holy sh-t. Larry f-cked up.’ That believability makes the show real. I also try to tell Larry something he did not know about Leon. Once I say it, and they love it, we gotta keep it going and make it make sense based on the story. Sometimes you say something and it becomes part of the whole season.

Now we know how Leon feels about Seinfeld, but what is your relationship with the show?

I’mma be honest, I didn’t watch much Seinfeld in my personal life, either. I watched it in reruns, but not when it was on air. I knew Larry from watching this sketch show called Fridays. Everyone on that show was great, but they became household names from Seinfeld. They weren’t big superstars. I knew of Jerry Seinfeld from the stand-up world. Now I have a real appreciation for it. When I was a young comic and I watched Fridays, I loved Michael Richards. I thought he was the funniest physical comic. That dude was so godd-mn funny. That dude had me crying. When I found out he was on Seinfeld, that’s when I started peeking in.

Once I started understanding the humor of it, I had one foot in, one foot out. There were so many amazing shows on that I never really got locked in like I got locked in on Curb. When Curb started coming on, I fell in love with how the show was constructed. I was watching the show, but the Krazee-Eyez Killa and Wanda Sykes episode put me over the top. I couldn’t believe how funny this godd-mn show was.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
Jeff Garlin, J.B. Smoove, Ellia English, Larry David, and Susie Essman in the Curb finaleCourtesy of HBO

What was it like filming that scene with Jerry Seinfeld in the finale?

It’s almost like we had a true, real relationship. We’ve had little or no scenes together, but Leon talks to him in that way like, ‘Come on, man, I know what’s going on with the show’ as if he’s known him for years. You almost have characters you wish would have met each other. You wish Krazee-Eyez Killa had met Leon. You’d want to see them bump heads or agree or disagree about something.

When you become friends with the people, [watching their work] becomes even more fascinating, because you know them personally. I’ll watch different things now — not just the actors anymore. I listen to the writing. I know Larry now. I know how his brain thinks. It’s almost like I can put myself in Seinfeld. I know the beats now. I see how the characters work with each other. I see the little nuances differently because of working with Larry.

Read More: Larry David on Coming Back to Curb Your Enthusiasm and When He’ll Walk Away

Were you aware of the mixed reception to the Seinfeld finale?

I do remember that. I used to always see that. ‘That finale wasn’t it, man. It wasn’t hitting.’ It’s sad because a show that legendary, it’s kind of like — OK. You can be in a relationship with somebody, and if y’all had a great time together all those years, but somehow when y’all decided not to be together anymore, you just said the wrong thing, or it just wasn’t a good way to break up. You just didn’t know how to break up the right way. That lingers: ‘Godd-mn it, I should’ve said this. Why’d I say that?’ That’s how TV is sometimes. Just saying goodbye is easy, but you want to satisfy people who have been supporting this show for a long time. You have a history with your audience, and they have a history with you. You try to give them the best goodbye, an honest goodbye and thank you, and sometimes you just don’t hit it.

People fixate on how things end.

For me, you gotta hold a show up on the full run. I wouldn’t let the ending of a show determine what made it legendary. Sometimes it’s hard to top what you’ve done. That’s not easy. Saying goodbye is hard, man. People will expect the greatest thing ever on your goodbye. I’m happy that the Curb goodbye was honest and it was real. I’m happy Richard [Lewis] got a chance to be part of this final, final, final goodbye to Curb Your Enthusiasm. He is such an important part of Larry’s life. That dude was legendary. I would sit there and watch their scenes, saying, “Godd-mmit, man.” The only way you can do that right there is you gotta have real history with somebody.

I’m not even positive Larry isn’t going to come back. His mind just works in this way. He writes down all this stuff every day. I’m saying, ‘What the f-ck you gonna do with all of that stuff you write down every day?’ He’s very attuned to people and he listens very intently to what they say. Larry’s a history buff, too. He can compare life in any era to each other.

Read More: The 10 Most Controversial Episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm

What will people miss most about Curb?

We all need an outlet, and sometimes that outlet is someone else saying something, as opposed to saying it yourself. Seeing Larry address things, it’s like you’re addressing it through him. I think Curb is one of the most based-in-reality shows I’ve seen. Human nature is something else, man. It’s something you cannot take for granted. Human nature is human nature. Of course it changes — no, it doesn’t really change. You just add more sh-t to it. The original sh-t that bugs you still stays there. But then you get new sh-t that bugs you. It’s like you’re a hoarder, almost, hoarding the bullshit of the world in your head.

When sh-t happens, you’re going to always say four words: “This is so Curb.” You have an argument with somebody over something silly, or somebody steals your parking space. “This is so Curb-y!” Those are words we’re going to utter for the rest of our lives.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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