Larry David is definitely hot these days. Or as he would put it, he’s “pretty, pretty hot.” The legendary “Seinfeld” co-creator is making his Broadway debut with “Fish in the Dark,” the play he wrote and stars in as a cranky guy who sounds a lot like his character on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Lately, in interviews ranging from Howard Stern’s show to NPR, people have tried to figure out how much his characters are like the real Larry David. Those of us who knew Larry in college in the 1960s have a little more to go on.
At the University of Maryland, Larry joined Tau Epsilon Phi, the cool Jewish fraternity. He honed his comedy skills at the TEP house, regaling his brothers with stories about everyday events that, somehow, always were funny. Can you imagine what the fraternity meetings were like when Larry was president?
I was the fraternity sweetheart back then and later married one of Larry’s fraternity brothers. Larry moved away and became wildly successful, but he never forgot the TEPs. He slipped my name and the names of some of his old Maryland fraternity brothers into the “Seinfeld” scripts: Howard Metro, Jimmy Sherman, Bobby Pincus and so many others.
Larry gave me my moment in the spotlight in the famous “chocolate babka” episode. Elaine gets in a spat with a woman in a line at a bakery before suddenly recognizing her. “Don’t you remember,” she says. “We met at Linda VanGrack’s baby shower.” My phone started ringing off the hook, and I still get calls when it airs in reruns.
Larry never told us when he was going to use our names. It wasn’t clear if he did it to add a touch of realism to the series or if it was just easier than making up fake names. We like to think it was an inside joke he shared with us, allowing us — in a small way — to share in his success. When “Seinfeld” ended in 1998, Arch Campbell of WRC (Channel 4) filmed a group of TEPs watching the final episode at my house. We talked on camera about Larry and what he was like in college. The next day, we learned, Larry’s office called the station to request a tape of the interview. Guess he wanted to know what we said about him.
Over the years, Larry has joined his fraternity brothers for dinners and drinks, and he’s still just one of the guys. At one of these dinners about 10 years ago, when Larry was in town to roast Steve Martin for the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, he told us about the time he and some buddies went dumpster-diving for the professor’s copy of an exam they had to take the next day.
“Wouldn’t it have been easier to just study?” I asked.
“Well, one time, I did,” he began.
And then he launched into a story about showing up early for an exam on a freezing cold day, stuck waiting outside the building without gloves or a hat. By the time he got inside and tried to write the answers to the exam questions, he realized his fingers were numb and he couldn’t even hold the pencil. When the proctor came over to check on him, he flung his arms in the air and screamed, “My hands! My hands!” and then fled the room. Later that night, he called the professor to insist that he really knew the material. “Ask me anything,” he offered, as if that would make it right.
Maybe you had to be there, but we laughed so hard we could barely speak. It was the way he told the story and his exaggerated hand gestures that gave us a real sense of his panic — and made it so hilarious.
You’d definitely recognize the Larry David who emerged at the end of the meal that night. He’s particular about what he eats, and takes great care in reading a menu. When his sorbet arrived, he couldn’t stop staring at the fresh berries in front of me.
“How did you get that?” he demanded.
“I ordered it,” I said.
“But how did you know they had it?” he continued.
“It was on the menu, Larry,” I responded, but he had already worked himself into a lather. “Where on the menu?” he asked. “Exactly where on the menu did you see berries?!?” He reined it in at that point, but we loved it. It was so Larry.
On Saturday night, my husband, Harry, and I will see “Fish in the Dark” along with two dozen other TEPs and their significant others. We all want to see Larry on stage and cheer him on with hoots and whistles to let him know we’re there for him. He doesn’t want to know when we’re coming, though — it might make him nervous — so please don’t tell him.
Linda VanGrack Snyder is a freelance writer.