Curb Your Enthusiasm’s brilliance is that it reveals our own inner Larry Davids. It’s wish fulfillment for the petty, vengeful, self-righteous instincts we suppress in order to function in society. But how funny is Larry David, now that we’ve all become Larry Davids?
Two years ago, the show introduced one of its best ideas: the spite store. David, dissatisfied with his coffee at Mocha Joe’s, gets in a fight with the café owner, who eventually calls David an “old, bald nut.” David returns days later to announce, “I have leased the place next door, where I will be opening up a coffee shop exactly the same as yours, only charging much lower prices. All for the express purpose of taking you down.”
His café, Latte Larry’s, is such a success that other Hollywood actors open spite stores later in that season. Jonah Hill, who found a hair in his sandwich at Irv’s Deli, opens Jonah’s Deli next door. When Ray’s Exotic Birds does Sean Penn wrong, he opens Sean’s Exotic Birds. Mila Kunis runs K.L. Jewelers out of business by running M.K. Jewelers. Curb Your Enthusiasm is a universe where Schadenfreude is far more rewarding than starring in films.
Since then, American culture seems to have taken up the spite-store ethos with gusto. Forget cooperation and compromise. As Congress has shown, swift payback and no quarter given are becoming the new rules of political engagement.
Two years after the spite-store episodes aired, Harry’s razors pulled their advertising from the Daily Wire after a Twitter user told the company that one of the conservative news site’s podcasters, Michael Knowles, “equates being trans to having schizophrenia.” The razor company, which had run an ad campaign against toxic masculinity, said on Twitter that it condemned Knowles’s views and would “prevent any values misalignment going forward.”
Daily Wire co-founder and co-CEO Jeremy Boreing tweeted back that, while he thought it was fine for a company to end its advertising, “to CONDEMN our product — and thus our audience — after we’ve PROMOTED your product is assholish behavior. Screw Harry’s.”
This March, Boreing launched a spite store.
His new company, Jeremy’s Razors, bought the ihateharrys.com domain name. It took out poster ads on the scaffolding surrounding the Manhattan headquarters of Harry’s razors. Boreing, who started as a writer and director and had a production company with Zachary Levi and Joel David Moore, announced his spite store with a spectacular-looking four-minute ad. Flanked by a model with a plunging neckline, Boreing (who, in an odd marketing choice, is bearded) shoots an Elon Musk–made flamethrower at crates of Harry’s and Gillette razors after announcing, “If you’ve had enough of the woke bullshit and you’re tired of paying companies like Harry’s and Gillette to hate you, then buy my new razor instead.” Toward the end of the ad, Boreing says, “You’re probably wondering if this whole thing is a joke. Sure it is. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.” In the first three days, Boreing sold more than 30,000 $60 shaving kits that come with a blade subscription. It has more Twitter followers than Harry’s, Gillette, or Bic.
Jeremy’s isn’t the only political spite store. After the January 6 insurrection, gun-control advocate David Hogg co-launched Good Pillow to take down Donald Trump supporter Mike Lindell’s MyPillow. When a Starbucks in Tempe, Arizona, asked six cops to leave because a customer said their presence made him uncomfortable, the company apologized, but not enough to prevent a guy from starting a spite coffee shop in a Florida strip mall. It’s called Conservative Grounds, and it ships bags of coffee with the outline of Trump’s head.
“If you’ve had enough of the woke bullshit and you’re tired of paying companies like Harry’s and Gillette to hate you, then buy my new razor instead.”
Jeff Schaffer, who co-wrote and directed the “Spite Store” episode, had no idea about Jeremy’s Razors until I told him. It took him a second to process what had happened. “And Harry’s was a spite store to the big razor companies. It’s spite-store turtles all the way down,” he said.
But it’s not surprising that spite stores have come to life, since the idea came from David’s real experience at a Martha’s Vineyard café that wouldn’t replace his cold cup of coffee. He told people that he’d love to open a place next door to drive them out of business. That seemed difficult, so he did it on the show instead. When I asked Schaffer if the Martha’s Vineyard café knew they had been virtually spite-stored, he said he’d check with David when they met to write later that day.
“He said, ‘Absolutely not.’ So much of the battle was in his own head they would never suspect a thing,” Schaffer reported back. It’s understandable they wouldn’t know about David’s fury. Spite, after all, festers silently inside us. We know that acting on it is dangerous, difficult, and antisocial.
“We don’t all have the resources, but we all have the desire to bring someone else to ruin. It’s as hardwired in humans as wanting to have sex with someone other than the person you’re with,” Schaffer said.
When I asked Schaffer whom he fantasized about spite-storing, he quickly came up with a target. “When I was in college, you always had to go to Kinko’s to print stuff for your class. The people at Kinko’s were the most aggressive assholes on the planet. If I had a time machine, I would go back in time and open a copy store right next door and undermine them.” This is a far healthier fantasy than the sex thing he mentioned.
Schaffer said that he had suspicions that real spite stores might actually exist when they shot a scene of the “Spite Store” episode in Santa Monica. “The bird place where we shot Sean Penn is basically right next door to another bird place. There are no bird stores within 20 miles of each other, and they’re right next to each other,” he said. Omar’s Exotic Birds and Wild Birds Unlimited were indeed 56 feet apart on Wilshire Boulevard, though it seems there was no bad blood, just a concentration of rich New Agey boomers in Santa Monica with a proclivity toward cockatiels.
There were indeed spite stores before David thought of them. There’s a 2001 episode of The Simpsons where Homer opens a spite bar in his garage because Moe’s Tavern got too snooty. And when Rudolf Dassler couldn’t take any more of his brother Adolf’s politics and wife, he quit their Geda shoe company in 1948 and founded a spite shoe factory on the other side of the river, in Herzogenaurach, Germany. He called his company Puma, and his brother renamed his Adidas.
But that’s different from what we’re seeing now. The Dasslers had deep, familial spite. Jeremy’s Razors straddles the spite-store divide between personal slight (“You called my company transphobic and took $80,000 in ads away!”) and political statement (“Transphobia is normal”). The same with Truth Social, the social-media site Donald Trump launched a little more than a year after he got kicked off Twitter. Trump’s spite store looks even more like Twitter than Latte Larry’s looked like Mocha Joe’s.
David was correct in noticing that coffee, perhaps due to its bitterness and its ability to make people agitated, is the most common outlet for spite. Black Rifle Coffee was a 50-employee company in 2017. But when Starbucks said they would hire 10,000 refugees in response to Trump’s Muslim ban, Black Rifle Coffee spited it up, claiming it was somehow going to hire 10,000 veterans in the next six years. It circulated a meme that went viral, with Photoshopped Starbucks cups near ISIS fighters. Now Black Rifle Coffee is traded on the New York Stock Exchange and was valued at $1.7 billion at its launch in March.
I wanted to see what it was like to join in on the spiting, so I ordered a bag of the AK-47 Espresso Blend, an “indestructible blend of light Colombian and dark Brazilian coffees” that “is here to conquer your taste buds” and looks very cool when being shot with a bullet in slow motion.
Trump launched Truth Social after he got kicked off Twitter. His spite store looks even more like Twitter than Latte Larry’s looked like Mocha Joe’s.
It was good. Maybe a little sour on the finish, but definitely better than Starbucks. The real problem was that I lacked sensitivity to its prized flavor: spite. If I hated Starbucks instead of just looking down on it, I would taste revenge. Because everything tastes better when you know that consuming it hurts your enemy.
But even if I hated “Hipsterbucks” and loved guns, this was still a weak cup of spite. Sippers of AK-47 cappuccinos aren’t getting back at Starbucks for hurting them personally. They’re making a political statement. They’re rooting for a party by buying its merch. AK-47 Espresso Blend may go into the bunker you plan to fill only with people who agree with you, but it’s coffee built on dreams of Utopia, not genuine spite.
Which makes Curb Your Enthusiasm’s core joke funnier than ever. We are inching toward civil war, and people are arming themselves with their own party’s razors and coffee. Larry ignores the political combat around him, instead fighting his own petty battles.
“Larry’s points are his own. He’s not part of any tribe. He’s not part of any movement. He’s swimming against all these currents,” Schaffer says.
After 11 seasons of Curb, Larry David has finally become what he always insisted he was: the only sane person left.
Joel Stein writes a column for Medium. His latest book is In Defense of Elitism: Why I’m Better Than You and You Are Better Than Someone Who Didn’t Buy This Book