Who are the best guest stars to have appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm in the entire series run? Ted Danson, who shows up early in Season 1? (“Everything with him is heaven. The parking spot was heaven.”) Bob Einstein as Marty Funkhouser? (“If Rabin can break bread with Arafat, I can have chicken at this anti-semitic shithole.”) John McEnroe? (“You ever play ping pong [Mr. McEnroe]? Ping pong’s my game. And, I’ll tell you something, I think it’s a lot harder than tennis, with all due respect.”) Kym Whitley, who plays a foul-mouthed prostitute Larry picks up to gain access to a car pool lane? (“Listen, you’re unhappy, I’m unhappy too. That’s what a good compromise is all about.”)
Or is it one of the many, less well-known bit players on the show? A stranger or an old acquaintance that Larry runs into on the street, or at an event, and whose words or interactions set off an inevitable chain-of-events that embarrass Larry, expose his lies or obfuscations, and initiate his often Machiavellian attempts to rectify situations that have spun out of control?
In the end, I think a case can be made for Chris Williams (playing Krazee-Eyez Killa) and J.B. Smoove (playing Leon Black) as the most memorable, funny, creative, energized guest stars to ever appear on the show. Their worlds, so seemingly different from Larry’s, collide with his and the effects are absurdly sublime.
Chris Williams showed up late in Season 3 (2002) as stereotypical hip-hop artist Krazee-Eyez Killa, who meets Larry David at a party and proceeds to recite the lyrics to a song he is working on, asking for an immediate reaction. The vulgarity and violence in the lyrics do not phase Larry. He takes it all in reflectively. “You don’t need two fucks,” he says. “You already got the one fuck. I would change the muthafucka’ to bitch.” Apparently a good suggestion, as it initiates an auspicious friendship between Larry and Krazee. Or so it appears. Larry cannot bridge this particular cultural gap, and it is great to see him squirm in fear when things go wrong. Chris Williams, in his brief scenes throughout the episode, is pitch-perfect in the role of the crazed hip-hop ego-maniac, reveling in excess and unpredictability.1
Fan reaction to the character of Krazee-Eyez Killa was effusive, and if a plethora of online commentary can be summed up in a single sentence, it would probably be, “Larry absolutely has to bring this character back.”
He didn’t, but many people thought of Krazee, and the tremendous cultural dislocations between his world and Larry’s, when the character of Leon Black was introduced in Season 6 (2007). J.B. Smoove, who plays Leon, brought an extraordinary comedic energy — a kind of manic, foul-mouthed ruckus — to the show in his first real scene with Larry, responding to accusations and questions over a mysterious “stain” found on some bed sheets with quizzical facial expressions, wide eyed disbelief, and abject honesty. And he kept bringing a ruckus in brief appearances throughout the season. His improvisational dialogue scenes with Larry — who confronts the absurdities issued forth from Leon with a sort of bewildered consternation — have a surreal, gloriously creative quality, and are scathingly funny.
Smoove’s performance was so singular and inspired in Season 6, the New York Times covered it in an article shortly after the end of the season, and a skillfully-edited mash-up on YouTube of practically every Leon moment from that year remains the most viewed Curb video online.2
Leon Black returned to the show in subsequent years as Larry’s dedicated guide and associate, and strangely permanent houseguest. Always there in a moment of trouble or disorder. Proffering advice. And consternation. And laughs.
What sets apart these two actors and their performances may simply be their no-holds-barred approach to the characters they played; a push-it-to-the-limits, joyous creativity that generates those moments of sheer comedic perfection that one cannot imagine having been bettered with different takes or approaches, or with other actors in their place.
A photo of them together that appeared in May of 2012 makes any true fan of comedy smile, thinking of the commitment these actors brought to their respective roles on Curb Your Enthusiasm. The Killa and The Ruckus. Long may both characters live in the glorious fictional infamy of Larry David’s absurd world.
1. Chris was bold enough to introduce an obscure slang term from his youth onto the show, cundela, which urbandictionary.com (under coup de la) describes as: Close; tight; can keep a secret without talking, especially to the other guy’s lady. ↩
2. I was lucky enough to see J.B. Smoove’s stand-up act in 2008 in New York City, shortly after the season had finished airing. His on-stage performance was ridiculously funny — an energized, maniacal series of physically exhausting routines. His first comedy special aired on Comedy Central in early 2012, That’s How I Dooz It.↩