Joe Davola ran into Larry David and his manager/girlfriend, Laurie Lennard, at a Robin Hood Foundation fundraising party in Los Angeles, round about 1992. The TV executive, now at Fox, had known Lennard since his days at MTV in the ‘80s and had courted David’s comedy writing talents at various times since then.
David greeted him thusly: “Joe Davola, Joe Davola, Joe Davola, Joe Davola.”
Davola, just as true to his own personality replied in his deep Brooklyn accent: “What the fuck are you doing, Larry?”
“I like your name. Can I use it?”
Davola shrugged. Sure, why the fuck not?
Six months later, Davola got a visit at his office from Castle Rock executive Glenn Padnick. Padnick had two scripts in his hands, one with a blue cover, one with a yellow cover. Padnick seemed nervous, though he often did. “Joe, you need to read these.”
Davola took them home with him that night and tossed them to his wife. “I’m in these Seinfeld scripts,” he said. “Can you read these?”
She did, and reported back. The character’s name was actually “Crazy” Joe Davola. In the scripts, he develops a pathological hatred for Jerry out of professional envy, as he, too, is trying to sell a script to NBC. After that, he continues to stalk Jerry and George. “The guy’s a lunatic,” Davola’s wife told him. “He’s nothing like you. But you should do it.”
Later, people often asked Davola what he’d done to David to deserve such a character named after him. They didn’t realize that he’d not only read the scripts beforehand, but also went through quite a process to sign off on them. Davola even had to go to his own boss, Fox chairman Peter Chernin, for his approval. Under his Fox contract, the network owned his name and likeness, so Chernin had a say. He gave it his okay.
Then, strange things started to happen to Davola early that fall, even before the episodes aired. When he went to the set of The Edge, a sketch comedy show Fox was producing, he ran into Wayne Knight, who’d guest-starred in several recent episodes of Seinfeld as Jerry’s nemesis, Newman. When Knight heard Davola’s name, he looked terrified and tried to avoid Davola in meetings.
Finally, Davola pulled him aside. “Wayne,” he said, “I know about it. It’s not a bad thing.”
When Davola ran into David at the Emmys at the end of August, David told him, “You’re not in two episodes. You’re in five.”
The episodes started to run in September, and Davola figured the weirdness was behind him. Granted, the character had only gotten worse as the fourth season of Seinfeld progressed: Davola dates Elaine and becomes obsessed with her, cornering her in his lair until she escapes by spraying him in the face with Binaca. But the real Davola figured he and Seinfeld would now go their separate ways.
Then he suggested to his wife that they go to Hollywood hot spot The Ivy for dinner one night. “You can’t just call The Ivy an hour before and get in,” she insisted.
But Joe Davola did that night.
From then on, he noticed everyone treating him differently anyplace he dropped his own name. Better restaurant tables, better Clippers tickets, upgrades wherever upgrades were possible. He’d been a well-regarded producer and executive before. Now people thought he was famous. And they were, just possibly, a little terrified of him.
Once in a while, someone would have the guts to ask, “Are you that guy?” The really bold ones would whisper, “What did you do to him?”
Davola was now constantly explaining: “I didn’t do anything! I did him a favor.” (This was a favah in Davola’s accent.) “He liked me. It’s fine.”
Every meeting he had, there it was again: “Can I ask you a question?”
This post is inspired by my research for my upcoming book, Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything, available for pre-order now.