Larry David knew from an early age that he was destined for failure. But it didn't work out that way.
You may know him as the co-creator of "Seinfeld." But that was yesterday, and you never got to see him on your TV.
Today, he is the creator and star of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," which has finished its fourth season on HBO, and goes so far beyond anything else on television that it's already becoming a cult classic.
It's hard to know, when you're talking to Larry, whether it's really him speaking or the television character. As Correspondent Bob Simon first reported last January, you're going to have to judge for yourself.
"I'm very uncomfortable, and I have absolutely nothing to say," Larry David tells Simon.
He's been saying that for years -- ever since he and Jerry Seinfeld created a show that was all about nothing.
On "Seinfeld," David was in the wings. But on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," he's in the limelight, playing himself — a more-or-less retired writer and creator of hit comedy shows who goes by the name of Larry David.
The dialogue is almost entirely improvised. David dreams up the ideas and only he knows the plot, which generally centers on him getting in trouble for saying whatever comes to mind.
He gets in a lot of predicaments, but he stubbornly clings to principle –- like the time he thanked his friend for dinner but not his friend's wife.
"The Larry David in life has been in that situation and has painfully said, 'Thank you, thank you.'" But it doesn't feel right," says David. "So I thought that, 'Let's really, let's really do what I wanna do, which is not to say thank you to a woman who has never worked a day in her life, OK."
Does he ever feel like he's breaking through a barrier, an inhibition that he couldn't do as himself?
"Of course. That's the kick," adds David, who says it's a tremendous release. "Actually, it's hard for me to get through one of those scenes without laughing."
And David is now laughing all the way to the bank. He made over $200 million from "Seinfeld."
Simon visited David in Los Angeles to find out if there's any difference between the Larry David in life, and the Larry David on television.
The TV Larry lives a Hollywood life studded with stars like Mel Brooks and Martin Scorsese. Every day, something extraordinary happens: he opens a restaurant, he gets a network show.
But the real Larry? Well, he says he much prefers the fictional Larry: "I love the character. At first I didn't realize it was gonna be a character. I just thought I was gonna be doing me. And eventually as I kept writing it, something emerged that was not quite me but a version of me."
In our interview, sometimes we were talking to the real Larry David, and sometimes it was the version of him doing shtick -- like when he talked about being famous.
"I don't see much of a downside to it," he says.
Many funny bits on the show revolve around articles of clothing: shoes, sweaters, jackets. Looking at him, you wouldn't think he paid much attention to the way he dresses. But he does.
David: "This is a nice jacket."
Simon: "What'd you pay for it?"
David: "I'll bet you I paid as much for this jacket as you did for that thing you're wearing over there."
Simon: "It's velvet."
Simon: "It's not velvet?"
David: "No, it's not velvet."
Simon: "What is it?"
David: "It's suede, you idiot. Velvet! Yeah, I'm a pimp walking around with velvet on."
David also invited Simon to his country club to play golf. But Simon doesn't play golf, so he settled for the next thing – being David's caddy.
Back in the editing room, David is putting the finishing touches on an upcoming episode in which his car gets rear-ended.
Coming from the doctor's office where he just had a stress test, he decides to challenge the guy who slammed into him, but winds up begging for his life.
David never shies away from portraying himself as less than heroic. In fact, his character has been described as a miserable, selfish, duplicitous, egotistical and neurotic son of a bitch.
"I would agree with all that except the son of a bitch part. I think that's a little harsh," says David. "I don't think he's doing anything malicious. I think he's a nice guy … totally nice and sensitive."
In one episode, Larry hears that there's going to be a terrorist attack in Los Angeles. His wife has made a very important charitable commitment and doesn't want to leave – so he tells her he's going to leave without her.
"Why does she want me to die with her," asks the character of Larry. "If she loved me she'd want me to live. No? No? Is that crazy?"
The TV Larry is loathsome to everyone. And he says there isn't any taboo he wouldn't break. On his Christmas show, Larry is Jewish, his wife is not, and his wife's Christian family is there to celebrate the holiday with them.
The Christmas episode perfectly captures the genius of David's cutting-edge comedy. Trying to please his wife's family, he hires actors to re-enact the nativity scene. But this attempt at making up takes a very wrong turn.
60 Minutes invited David to lunch on our last day in Los Angeles. He resisted, of course. But we told him it was on us, so he came along.
We were ready to ask some probing questions. We wanted to know how he got to be him. We knew he never really broke through as a stand-up comic. We knew he spent an unproductive year writing for "Saturday Night Live." And we knew that the big laughs and the big bucks never came his way -- until he met Jerry Seinfeld.
David told us what it was that made him funny: being a loser with girls. "Well, it wasn't their fault," he says. "I just wasn't cool, at all. I was so uncool."
So how did that make you feel funny?
"If you tell the truth about how you're feeling, it becomes funny," says David. "Well, if they liked me, I wouldn't have been funny."
Then, he told us how desperate he often felt before he became a success: "When I was living in New York and didn't have a penny to my name, I would walk around the streets and occasionally I would see an alcove or something. And I'd think, that'll be good, that'll be a good spot for me when I'm homeless … I was planning on my future as a homeless person. I had a really good spot picked out."
David never became a homeless person, and he never spent a night at his designated alcove-on-the-street. Instead, he became big beyond his wildest dreams, and a relatively normal life: he's got a wife, two daughters, and a lovely house in Los Angeles.
He has achieved, despite himself, the American Dream. But what about the H-word? Is he happy now?
"Yeah, I'm happy, OK. What do you, what do you want," says David, smiling. "OK, I'm happy. I'm happy. All right? I'm happy. Whaddya want? Leave me alone. I'm happy. Stop asking. You want me to be happy? I'm happy."
Copyright 2004 CBS. All rights reserved.