‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Revives Bruce Springsteen’s Acting Career


The final season of Curb Your Enthusiasm has been fairly low-key as far as big, flashy surprises—not that Larry David seems like the kind of guy to make a to-do out of anything. But the penultimate episode, which aired Sunday on HBO, featured a cameo that stands as one of the biggest in the show’s history. Bruce Springsteen appeared as himself in a storyline about—what else?—how crappy Larry is to everyone around him, including the Boss. And while his presence may be enough cause for celebration, the real takeaway here is that Springsteen should actually think about acting as an Act II for his career.

Springsteen played a surprisingly major part in the episode, as his brief lunch with Larry turns into a national scandal of the most absurd kind. As Larry approaches his court date—he’s due to stand trial in Atlanta for breaking its obnoxious, but not unique, law against offering water to people waiting in line to vote—his lawyer insists that he make himself appear as likable as possible. This is simply impossible for someone like Larry David, as anyone who’s watched 12 seasons of Curb knows. But Larry’s generated some goodwill because of the water bottle stunt, which has made him seem like a person of the people. And now Springsteen, so moved by Larry’s compassion (Larry’s become “a hero of mine,” he says), is interested in meeting him for lunch.

Bruce Springsteen, Larry David, Jeff Garlin in Curb Your Enthusiasm

Springsteen fits in well into this cartoon universe, adding to Curb’s roster of great celebrity cameos. He’s very down to entertain Larry’s maybe-not-so-ridiculous new hyperfixation, which is a local restaurant taking down its C-rating sign and putting it back up to an A. (“If he said B, that’s not so far from A,” he says. “I’d eat at a B! That’s not so bad!”) And he empathizes with Larry having to finish a horribly written manuscript from acquaintance Les McCrabb (a very funny Matt Berry), because he lied and said he loved it. Springsteen did a similar thing to a well-known musician, he says—which, after Larry coaxes him, he reveals was Don Henley. And now Springsteen’s got to avoid the guy.

From there, Springsteen helps instigate the episode’s two other big subplots: Larry gives Springsteen Covid by insisting that the Boss’ glass is actually his, and Springsteen’s manager turns out to be a very blabby former hookup of Larry’s, who gives away one of his worst “tricks” in the sex book. Ken (Ian Harvie) re-introduces himself to Larry, having known him pre-transition, back during Larry’s Seinfeld days. And back then, Ken excitedly tells the group, Larry used to insist that they had sex on the floor—a scummy move that, Larry says, discourages all cuddling and even post-coital conversation, because who wants to hang out on the floor?

When Larry tries to argue that he was “floor-fucking” Ken’s pre-transition self, Springsteen states that, no, Ken is Ken is Ken. (For an episode airing on Trans Visibility Day, it’s nice to hear him say this.) And his line reading is great, a sort of matter-of-fact response, with no hint of judgment or annoyance; Springsteen has acclimated well to the absurdity of the Curb-verse already. It’s a classic back-and-forth, where Larry gets increasingly flustered while the know-betters around him perfunctorily disagree.

Larry David and Richard Lewis’ Friendship Was the Heart of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

But Springsteen is far more pissed off with Larry after he contracts Covid, which Larry finds out about from the local news. At lunch, Larry had insisted that Springsteen’s glass was actually his; Larry learned soon thereafter that he had Covid, and thus, Springsteen drank from a tainted cup. Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb later report on the aggravated grief felt by L.A. Springsteen fans, as the musician had to cancel his very last show due to his illness. And, worse: “Bruce Springsteen is saying he got Covid from Seinfeld creator Larry David,” Guthrie says, adding that the Boss had named and shamed Larry on social media. Kotb notes that “getting the Boss sick” is a pretty bad look for someone who’s about to stand trial.

It’s funny to think that America’s love for Springsteen could be the final straw in Larry David’s legal troubles, but it seems likely: Fans chase Larry’s car down the street after he goes to visit Springsteen’s house, not to apologize, but to see if he’ll take a pic with his insulted masseuse. (A lot happens in this episode, as is often the case with this show.) Springsteen is perfectly happy to turn on his so-called hero over a bad case of Covid—“Mr. Three-Card Monte,” he calls him. And even a quick bonding sesh over the movie Springsteen is watching isn’t enough to earn his forgiveness.

Springsteen is so good at playing the role of yet another person who Larry’s burned a bridge with, completely buying into this world without ever acting above it. It’s a subdued performance that betrays his megawatt fame, and it’s perfectly natural too. Of course, playing yourself is maybe the easiest role one can play—unless you want to get existential—and this version of Springsteen doesn’t seem particularly keyed up or out of character. But he does a great job of walking onto this set and not screaming “famous superstar;” instead, he willingly debases himself by sitting in front of the TV with a pile of snot-filled tissues next to him. Of course, the beauty of Curb is that it’s hard to come off as looking worse than Larry, but plenty of other guest stars have done just that in the past.

Bruce Springsteen in Curb Your Enthusiasm

Better yet, Springsteen deftly handles a storyline that requires him to be just enough of an asshole that it feels like he’s playing a character. Curb is light on the scripting, but he’s a convincing enough screen presence that it feels like he’s been doing this a lot more than he actually has. Based on his IMDb page, Springsteen has only appeared in one scripted show before: Netflix’s Lilyhammer, which starred his bandmate Steve Van Zandt. He appeared in that show’s final episode, way back in 2014. (He also made a quick cameo as himself in High Fidelity in 2000.) Perhaps this’ll be the start of a new spate of guest-starring roles for the Boss, should he ever really want a break from touring.

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