Jeff Schaffer is busy. Even under the best of circumstances, that would have been the case for the writer, director, and producer behind some of Hollywood’s most beloved television shows, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm among them. But as the greater globe can attest, these are not the best of circumstances, and there are inherent and unforeseen challenges in that reality for a great many industries, including TV.
Just as Larry David and Schaffer polished off another season of Curb, Schaffer was also launching the new FX comedy Dave, starring Lil Dicky. And this Friday marks the debut of Brews Brothers on Netflix—a show created and run by Schaffer’s brother, Greg, on which Jeff serves as a producer. This week, Schaffer paused his frantic schedule long enough to speak to The Ringer about a wide range of topics, including working with his sibling on Brews Brothers, creating The League with his wife, finishing Dave via endless Zoom calls, and what it’s like to FaceTime with Larry David.
Let’s start with the now-obligatory question: How are you and yours holding up?
My family is holding up just fine, thanks. It’s spring break right now, which means no Zoom classes for the kids. And I’m trying to finish Dave remotely in between loads of laundry and dishes.
Curb just finished its season. You’re wrapping up Dave. And you have a new show called Brews Brothers that comes out on Netflix this Friday. It’s a really busy time for you at a time when everything has gone sideways for the world.
Everything but the last few episodes of Dave was in the can. Brews Brothers was always supposed to be an April release. We were going to do a lot of St. Patrick’s promotions figuring that everyone would go to local breweries and bars. Except now that is not going to happen, obviously. But the show is done. Everything is out and people can watch and laugh and hopefully escape for a little while.
I would imagine working remotely complicates postproduction. How is the process different?
Finishing remotely is just slower. Instead of Dave [Burd] and I being in a room with the editor, looking at cuts and giving notes, we’re doing all of that from a distance. So the whole process of editing, the mixes and color, just takes longer.
People everywhere are scrambling to figure out how to keep doing whatever they do, and a lot of industries are obviously affected right now, but what kind of long-term ramifications do you think all this might have for TV?
When it gets back to some semblance of normal, how do we location-scout? You’re driving around town with somewhere between 10 and 30 people, and you knock on the door, and you ask, “Can we come in your house and look around everywhere? Please don’t mind these strangers touching everything.”
And we get great ideas from the scouts. In the Curb season finale, one of my favorite scenes is when Larry is in that giant daybed flopping around and squirming. That piece of furniture was just there at the house, and I sat in it and Larry sat in it and we thought, “We can have fun with this.”
And then the act of acting. Are we done watching scenes with people shaking hands or hugging? Is everyone 6 feet apart in every scene?
The world changed so much between Curb episodes seven and 10. We constructed this elaborate mouse trap to have Latte Larry’s burn down and all anyone thought was “What a waste of Purell!”
I would totally have gone to Latte Larry’s just for the hand sanitizer.
We were going to have a pop-up. HBO was going to build Latte Larry’s. But as our set designers were building it the one problem they had was, all the hand sanitizer started disappearing. They couldn’t find any Purell. So we said, that’s OK, we’ll just put something else in the bottles and put labels on the fake Purell bottle. Then I thought with everything going on, people are going to be stealing the fake Purell.
The synopsis on Netflix for Brews Brothers says it’s about two rival brothers who own a brewery together but “shenanigans keep foaming up their company with chaos.” I love shenanigans. I also love beer.
My brother Greg created the show. It’s about two estranged brothers who team up in Van Nuys, where there’s just strip clubs, auto body shops, and one really poorly run brewery. When he told me about it I was immediately intrigued, and not just because the jackass older brother was Greg’s homage to me.
And the show seemed like the next logical step from The League. What’s more popular than football? Beer. One of the brothers wants the brewery to be the perfect hang and the other doesn’t give one solitary shit about what anyone thinks. He just wants to craft the perfect beer. Neither of them should run anything separately, and they’ve not gotten any better at it together. On some shows, you’ll have one character who’s good at one thing and another who’s entirely different and good at something else, and you put them together and they complement each other. This doesn’t happen here.
What’s it like working with family on set? You worked with your wife, Jackie, on The League. Brothers tend to have a different dynamic, though.
The show was a very funny way for Greg to work through his issues with me. … We would be talking about the characters and Greg would be describing the older brother as an arrogant prick, and I’m agreeing—then realizing, “Wait, were you talking about the character Adam, or me?”
How much of that brotherly love/brotherly conflict did you mine for the show? I imagine the bickering might prove useful.
There are always arguments on set. But when you argue with your brother, it’s so different. We’d have these disagreements, and then they would turn into these really snippy little fights. We were going back and forth and I caught Alan Aisenberg and Mike Castle, the two actors who play the brothers, watching us argue and sort of taking mental notes and I was like, “No, no, no, you don’t need to watch this.”
Greg definitely took this opportunity to comedically work through some things that I had done to him when we were younger. In the show there’s all these flashbacks, and in Episode 2 we learn that Adam used to sneak down at night from his bunk bed to Will’s and gently pull the covers back, and then urinate in his bed, and then put the covers back and go back to sleep. So Will thought that he was an 8-year-old bedwetter. This story may have had its roots in the truth.
That is both amusing and disturbing. But I like that you’re working with your brother after working with Jackie on The League. I respect the closed loop, keep-it-in-the-family system.
The League was such an intimate project. It was just Jackie and I and a brilliant cast. There were no writers on set. It was just us and the cast making the show. There was just so much to do and it was so all-encompassing that if Jackie and I hadn’t been working on it together, I don’t think we ever would have seen each other. This also had the added benefit of us being able to take our writers’ room everywhere we went. If we were out to dinner and saw something, we’d say, “Let’s put that in the show.” And the crazy thing was, while we were doing The League, we built a house and had two kids. I don’t even know how we did it.
The League was a small show but we wanted to do big things. There was never any time for us to fight, because there was always something else that was the problem. We were fighting against time, we were fighting against money, we were fighting against the schedule.
But working with your wife does create odd to-do lists: Jackie would be like, “We’ve got to finish the edit on Show 6, the script on 7, and you must take out the trash.”
Being literally married to your writers’ room would cut out a lot of middlemen. What’s the work process like these days?
Doing post remotely takes a lot longer. That’s been taking up some time. And Larry and I have been FaceTiming a lot. We’re talking about talking about another season.
You did an interview where you said that you’re “flirting with another season of Curb, but it’s too early to tell if the feelings are requited.” Do you care to commit to another season and say your vows here and now on The Ringer?
I’m a very commitment-shy person. I really like the idea of another season. I don’t know if the idea of another season likes us yet. We’re staring at each other from across the room.
Batting your eyes at each other.
Maybe I’ll buy Season 11 a drink.
I have to go back to something. What’s it like FaceTiming with Larry?
First thing is, everything needs to get plugged in. Then there’s a lot of complaining about why outlets aren’t at shoulder height. Why should we have to scrounge around behind the furniture like a raccoon to plug our equipment in? So there’s the obligatory discussion about why everything isn’t at shoulder height first. Then there’s some general grousing about everyone having to do household chores. Then we talk about ideas.
Sounds like those complaints are good ideas.
We always complain to each other and show our awkward scars. The problem is, it’s difficult right now because we can’t go out and embarrass ourselves in public and meet horrible people who give us new ideas. But we’ve built up a fairly deep reserve there, so I think we’ll be fine.
Yeah, you’ve done OK for yourself, which is something I wanted to discuss. You’ve done Seinfeld and The League and Curb and Dave and now you have Brews Brothers. But I’m curious: When I write something—and we’re obviously very different kinds of writers—but when I write something that’s even halfway decent that I’m not embarrassed about putting my name on, I have roughly a 24-hour period of relief, which is quickly replaced with dread because I’m worried about what comes next and whether that was the last halfway-decent thing I’ll ever do. And here you’ve done so many really excellent things. Do you feel enormous pressure to do the next excellent thing?
I don’t feel the pressure about what’s next. It’s more about how to actually accomplish what I said I was going to do. For instance, writing in general, on The League, we knew every year around the time they go to [training] camp, we’re going to get some NFL players, we’ll start shooting, it will air in the fall, we’ll finish around Christmastime, and then we’re done. And then I know we start prepping in June again. The goal would be to remember all that pressure I feel in June and simulate that in February.
The trickiest thing for me recently has been juggling everything. I set up the writers’ room for Dave right across the street from the post for Curb. So I was running back and forth a lot across four lanes of Olympic [Boulevard]. It was like a human game of Frogger.
How’d that go? Any close calls?
Take it from me, don’t check your email while crossing the street.
That’s good advice for kids and adults.
You sort of never grow out of it. But back to your point, last year was frankly a blur. Whenever I finish a round of something, a show or several shows coming out one after the other, I have no confidence that I’ll be able to do it again. Having done it before gives you no confidence you can do it again.
That’s a better way to express what I was getting at—the anxiety of doing it again. So you’re doing it again as you finish up Dave. How is that going? How often are you talking to Dave these days?
We are on giant email chains. Zoom groups. A lot of phone calls. Everyone watches the cut. Everyone gives their notes. And we do it again and again. Because you’re not there to hash it out in person. I obviously talk to Dave a bunch. As I said to you, I’m a Seahawks fan. Dave is a huge Eagles fan. He didn’t want the Eagles playing the Seahawks in the playoffs. I was so not worried. I’m never worried when the Seahawks play the Eagles. I’m much more worried about the Seahawks playing the Cardinals. Things always break the Seahawks’ way when they play the Eagles. Maybe that’s lingering confidence from the 42-0 game on Monday Night.
I am a great admirer of your work and yet you wound me, sir. I don’t know what I did to deserve this attack.
Dave gets frustrated when we talk football and he usually changes the topic to the NBA. Which did not go so well for Seattle. He’s got me there.
OK, so I have to ask you this because I have you here. You cowrote and codirected Euro Trip. I absolutely love Matt Damon’s cameo. Hilarious. Did you write that specifically for him? How did you get him involved? I have to know the backstory there.
So Alec Berg and Dave Mandel and I wrote and directed Euro Trip together and everything you see was shot in the Czech Republic. We did not have a huge budget. Plus this was during a war and SARS. There weren’t a lot of people willing to fly in. Matt was in Prague shooting The Brothers Grimm.
His head was already shaved for the part. He stopped smoking and as he said he “swelled up like a tick.” We knew him. So we said, “Hey, we’ve got this part. Is there any way you’d want to do it? He said, “Yeah, sure.” We had to make it work with his schedule. His scene is a night party, and the only day he could do it was literally the shortest night of the year. We only had five hours of darkness to get all that stuff.
I still laugh when I think about Matt Damon playing that part.
He’s so funny about it. He says all the time, “I was Private Ryan in Saving Private Ryan. I was Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley. But when I walk down the street, people scream, ‘Scotty doesn’t know!’”
Last one. Correct me if I’m wrong—this is per IMDb—but you have one credit as an actor. From 1999, in Best Laid Plans, you appeared as “Phone Guy No. 2.” Is that right?
It is. I don’t ever want to be in front of the camera. I don’t have the desire to be in front of the camera. I want to be behind the camera telling people what to do.
The way that came about, Ted Griffin, who wrote Ocean’s Eleven, he wrote that movie. And they needed to shoot a little piece of a commercial. It was a televangelist phone-in for Christ that was playing on the TV in the background during a scene. Dave Mandel plays the televangelist and Alec Berg and I man the phones behind him. It must have been a quick pick-up when they were in post so they couldn’t get actual good actors.
As a director, how would you rate your acting?
Awful. As a director I can look back and say I’m glad I stayed behind the camera.