Larry David's new play: How a funeral inspired a Broadway hit from the Seinfeld creator

Fish in the Dark has already generated a record $14.5m in advance ticket sales, and will see David make his stage debut at the age of 67

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The Independent Culture

Larry David has got himself into a jam. He went to a  funeral and saw something funny in it, so he spun the experience into a play. He didn’t know how it would turn out and he certainly didn’t imagine acting in it. But now it’s on Broadway, it is his name in lights on the marquee and ticket sales are astronomical.

It is, in other words, a happy jam, even if David, the co-creator of Seinfeld and the star of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, is still trying to pretend in interviews that he’d like to flee the Broadway run if only he knew how – “Get in an accident?” he asked public radio – and that he still can’t quite believe he’s a hit.

But that he is. The play, Fish in the Dark, currently in previews and set to open formally on Thursday, has already generated a record of $14.5m (£9.4m) in advance sales. So uncurbed is the enthusiasm of David’s fans, the average price of a ticket to watch Fish in the Dark at the Cort Theatre is $299.23 (£194). Premium seats for the show, which will end its run on 7 June, are selling for a remarkable $425 (£275).

They may not be coming just for David. Directed by Anna Shapiro, the play has a cast that includes Rita Wilson, Jerry Adler, Ben Shenkman and Rosie Perez. David plays Norman Drexel, who, with a brother, is coming to terms with the death of his father and the ripples it is sending through his family.

It was the real-life funeral of a friend’s father that set the whole project in motion. “I just started [writing], and then I just kept going,” he told the Associated Press. “Things would occur to me as I was writing – I thought: ‘Oh boy, that’s a good idea.’ I didn’t plan it out the way I had to plan out a Curb episode. I just started writing the dialogue, and things fell into place.”

Fearing disaster is part of his shtick, of course, but David may have been forgiven for fretting as the New York gig approached. At 67 years old, he was about to act on the stage for the first time (unless you count a school play when he was 13 or so). It is, he has insisted, an entirely novel experience. And that he is there, in front of the footlights, is all the fault of the play’s producer, Scott Rudin.

“I didn’t write it to be in it. I didn’t volunteer for it!” he said. “Unfortunately, the main character sounded way too much like me for Scott Rudin to ignore. So that’s where I made my mistake.” Just because he gave in to Rudin didn’t mean he was sure he’d be any good.

“I didn’t think it was going to get any laughs at all,” he said in an interview with National Public Radio. “I’m so negative! So the first time we did it, like every laugh was a surprise to me because I was expecting nothing. That’s how bleak I am.”

With its first full week in previews, Fish in the Dark generated $1,117,593 (£724,000) with just eight performances, a record for the Cort Theatre. Every seat was filled. Actually attendance was put at 101.58 per cent, suggesting someone opted for standing room or watched from the prompter’s stool.

Thus the only thing that can possibly go wrong now is that some of David’s fans will be left outside. Even Jason Alexander, the alter ego of David on Seinfeld, is afraid. “Larry David’s play Fish in the Dark is so sold out, even I can’t get a ticket,” he tweeted. “You know what this means – worlds cannot collide.”