‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’s’ Conan O’Brien Clearance Storyline Was Based on Hollywood Neighbor

[This story contains spoilers from season 12, episode eight of Curb Your Enthusiasm, “The Colostomy Bag.”]

Conan O’Brien made his long-awaited cameo on the latest episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The talk show host — who is a close friend to creator-star Larry David in real life — appeared on the HBO comedy as a high-profile neighbor, someone TV Larry (played by the real David) felt he needed “clearance” in order to approach.

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For the final season’s eighth episode bit, Larry sought out his friend Richard Lewis (who also played a version of himself on the series) to help him get permission to approach the comedian but, due to the episode’s chain of events, clearance doesn’t come in time when Larry ends up needing a big favor.

So Larry arrives, unannounced, at O’Brien’s home, begging for “emergency clearance” because his car died (Larry angered a valet, who unplugged his electric car) and he’s afraid that Susie Greene (Susie Essman) is going to uncover Larry and Jeff Greene’s (Jeff Garlin) latest scheme. “She’s going to kill us, you don’t know what this woman is capable of!” he cries to O’Brien. O’Brien ends up acquiescing and lends Larry his car. Unfortunately, he tosses his keys (which is the action that got Larry in his war with the valet) and hits Larry in the eye. Larry ends up being too late; Susie enacts her revenge, and both Larry and Jeff are shown wearing matching eye patches.

“We finally got Conan on the show, we’d always wanted to have him on,” executive producer Jeff Schaffer tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Conan and Larry are friends and really crack each other up, that’s why Conan was perfect to play this role and really crap all over Larry about his conversational skills. When someone is being very stern and mean to Larry, he just can’t stop giggling. The more Conan would crap all over Larry, the more Larry would laugh. He has built up no laugh immunity to being scolded, and he just giggles like a schoolgirl.”

Curb Your Enthusiasm
Larry David and Conan O’Brien on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The episode also saw guest cameos from returning star Sean Hayes (as Larry’s lawyer, whom he fires in this episode) and Steve Buscemi, playing a man who is trying to sell his car to Lewis and who gets offended by a joke Larry makes about a colostomy bag. But O’Brien was the only famous actor in the episode playing himself.

“No one is going to believe the real Steve Buscemi has a colostomy bag. So that story doesn’t work if he’s playing himself,” says Schaffer, explaining how they decide which guest actors play roles, and who plays themselves on the Emmy-winning improv series. “On the other side, the clearance story only works with a celebrity. So it’s all on a story-by-story basis. We sort of do this a la carte.”

As it turns out, the clearance story was based on a real-life celebrity story, one that came from Curb alum Alec Berg, the TV showrunner and writer who also worked with Schaffer and David back during their days on Seinfeld.

“I will not tell you who the celebrity was,” says Schaffer. “But there was a celebrity in Alec’s neighborhood and he wanted to say hi, but didn’t want to just come up and bug him and be weird. He was texting me about this and we went back and forth over text, imagining this bureaucratic system of guidelines to get clearance when approaching a celebrity.”

Examples he cites from their exchange were “you only have clearance to text or say hi in a group” or “you can only have clearance if you are spoken to first: speak-if-you-are-spoken-to clearance.”

“We thought this was a funny Curb story,” he continues. “And then Conan was just the most perfect person to do this with.”

Curb Your Enthusiasm
Larry David in episode eight.

For anyone thinking that Larry wouldn’t have qualms about approaching anyone, Schaffer vehemently pushes back. “Larry is a rule follower. His rules may seem idiosyncratic, maybe even arbitrary, but there are rules and they must be followed,” he says, calling out the disappointment on Larry’s face when he realizes he’s talking to O’Brien without approval. “Every celebrity would love to have a clearance system in place. As Conan says, you’ve got to follow the levels. How great would that be? Larry can’t walk down the street without wishing he had clearance.”

The scene ended up being a full-circle moment for Schaffer, who has a multihyphenate role on Curb. “One of my very first jobs along with Alec was working on Late Night With Conan O’Brien when it started out,” he said. “The house that we shot [his Curb scenes] in was our old movie agent Marty Bowen’s house. So it was like 30 years of being in the business, all wrapped up into one crazy scene.”

By the way, did Berg ever end up getting his clearance? “You know what, I don’t think he ever did,” says Schaffer.

Here are more odds and ends from Schaffer, who goes behind the scenes as Curb prepares to sign off in two more episodes.

  • The late Richard Lewis had a big storyline this episode, which Schaffer says was sparked by not being able to smell and needing a “guest nose.” The cheese bit was a joke from a season 10 episode that got cut that they reworked here because, as Schaffer says, it dovetailed so nicely with Lewis having long COVID, no sense of smell and not realizing how bad his car smelled with old cheese in the backseat. The smell was so bad, it ruined his date. And that woman was played by the late comedian’s wife of 19 years, Joyce Lapinsky, a casting that was David’s idea. “Richard Lewis is talking about true love and looking for the one. Larry is always crapping all over him for that. But, I mean it’s Curb, so she gets in the car, realizes it smells like hot garbage and leaves. But, the intent was sweet!” says Schaffer of the episode’s final scene. “They were both so supportive of each other. Lewis kept saying, ‘You’re doing so great.’ It was a sweet, sweet moment. A really wonderful way to shoot that scene. And I love that they got that moment to finish the show.” [Lewis died Feb. 28, 2024, at age 76.]

  • Viewers had to fill in the blanks about how Jeff got his black eye. “It was way funnier to imagine that Susie socked him. We tried to set up that Susie has a bit of a temper,” says Schaffer of the husband and wife. “If she finds out about this, who knows what she’s going to do? They thought they had a good plan, then it all went south. And she got really mad! Her signing those papers and saying, ‘We’re done here,’ is the biggest boss move. She’s in complete control.” But don’t worry: “His eye will function again.”

  • All of this season’s late-in-life humor hasn’t really been intentional. “We definitely didn’t set out this season making a choice to say: Our cast is going to confront their mortality,” says Schaffer when asked about storylines around end-of-life legal documents. “Some of it is just the stories we thought were funny. We end up at the hospital at least once a season. And we get into these life-and-death situations regularly — I’ll call Jeff’s a life-and-death situation! When things are super important, screwing them up is super funny.”

  • David has never said to someone, “at least you don’t have a colostomy bag,” but it’s something he always thought would be funny to say because, what if that person did? “It’s a story he’s had for a while,” says Schaffer. “Susie and Steve Buscemi live in New York; they bumped into each other and he’s a big fan. We’re like, ‘Oh shit, Steve Buscemi likes the show. How do we get him in?’ We’re very happy he could come out and do a day.”

  • The real David gets a kick out of his TV alter-ego being called repugnant. “The mock jury didn’t like his energy and the word repugnant came up again, just like in the score cards of the movie where Jon Hamm was playing a Larry David character [in season 11],” Schaffer explains. “We just love that people keep finding Larry repugnant. This tickles Larry to no end.”

  • Schaffer stands by Larry heading into the final two episodes and facing his looming trial without a lawyer (he fired Hayes’ attorney character over the whole cheese debacle): “Like anyone, Larry wants a lawyer who is going to be on his cheese side. If you can’t defend a man who was in the right about cheese in a fridge, how can you be trusted to defend the same person in court?”

  • And, who knows, says Schaffer, Larry may not even make it to a trial. “The former felon-in-chief is supposed to be on trial now four times over, and none of them are happening! TV Larry should be envious at how [former President Donald] Trump is delaying all this stuff. So, who knows what’s going to happen on Curb?”

  • The season 12 bit that Schaffer and David have gotten the most real-life feedback on is about the pangs of being added to a group text chain. “It struck a nerve,” says Schaffer, who proposes a “one-day ceasefire” where “everyone could get off a text chain without any repercussions. Some sort of text-chain armistice.”

  • David also made headlines this week by taking his crusade against goalposts in the NFL to an interview with The Rock, which has been going viral. “Larry has theories about everything. He’s a big football fan and something that has irked him for years and years is the fact that football is settled often by a kick,” says Schaffer. “He wants to get it out of the sport. He thinks it’s as worthless as deciding a tie game by having a pie-eating contest on the 50-yard line. The NFL is fairly entrenched in what they do, so he’s starting with the fledgling league, the UFL. And he pitched his little heart out to The Rock to get all kicking out of the game. If the UFL is a success, maybe the NFL will have no choice but to consider Larry’s well-reasoned arguments.”

Curb Your Enthusiasm releases new episodes Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO and Max. Read THR’s other season chats with Schaffer here.

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