By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Ten p.m., the phone rings: "Hi, it's Laurie David. Is it too late? Have I passed the cutoff point?" It's a surreal, Seinfeld-ian moment. Or, perhaps, Davidian — Larry devoted an entire episode of Curb to that bit of minutia. There are, in fact, so many parallels between Larry's real and reel lives that, at first, Laurie David has trouble recalling specifics. Then she remembers another recent episode, in which the fictional Mrs. David gets stuck driving through a car wash after having taken a hefty dose of Colon Cleanse. "That really happened to my sister Lisa. Larry just exaggerated it."
The sort of celebrity-adjacent life that David leads is fairly organic. "I thought I was going to be president of a network someday," she says. "I was very ambitious." After a stint as talent coordinator for David Letterman in New York, she formed her own Manhattan-based management company representing comedians. Then, while at a club scouting for new talent, Laurie "It's All Good" Lennard met Larry "I Tend To See the Catastrophic in Most Things" David. The earth did not immediately move. "We had two dates, and then I completely blew him off," she says. "He was, you know, bald. And even before, when he did have hair, it was bad hair. He had no money and no potential for earning, because he was a comedian who didn't like to travel. But everything worked out. Now all I have to deal with is always having my life on television."
In 1990, she and fiancé Larry schlepped out to Los Angeles after "his and her sitcoms" had been green-lighted — miraculously, in the same week. Hers was the Chris Elliott vehicle Get a Life; his was about a struggling New York comic who made a big deal about a lot of nothing. "Nobody thought Seinfeldwas going anywhere. Everybody thought my show was gonna be a big hit," she says. "My show lasted two years, and his show . . . you know, the rest is history."
David "retired" to have children — two daughters, 7 and 9 — and the question, many millions of dollars later, became: Now what? "That was the end of show biz. What was I gonna do — go back and start developing comedies that were better than Seinfeld? It just took the air out of the whole project." So she tapped into another passion, one born out of a new parent's concern for her children's future, and nurtured by environmental reporting in The New York Times. "I have kids, I want something left for them. It's a cliché, I know, but it's true. That's what drives me every day."
And then there was that childhood littering thing. "When I was a little kid — and I don't know why — I was obsessed with littering. I'd yell at people in their cars if I saw someone throw paper or a cup out of their window. My mother would say, 'Stop it back there — you're going to get us in trouble!'"
Larry would argue that his wife hasn't changed much since then: "She's gonna get me in trouble pretty soon," he whines. "Either I'm gonna get beat up because of her, or people are gonna stop watching my show — I'm gonna lose viewers! And that's where I draw the line." But the only people David has gotten into any trouble, thus far, live in Detroit — auto-industry execs. And she's been that much more dangerous since hooking up with the NRDC six years ago, approaching pesticides and children's health issues with a characteristically ferocious passion. Fuel economy eventually became her central issue, and David found her voice advocating for hybrid cars; then she fashioned a niche cultivating people in Hollywood. Which is important because the challenge for groups like the NRDC is to get the debate aired nationally, and the Hollywood community offers a direct route.
Since David's involvement, the NRDC has raised its profile significantly — both in Los Angeles and nationwide. "Laurie's made an enormous difference in expanding our ability to connect with top celebrities, and enlist their support," says Joel Reynolds, director of the NRDC's Southern California office. "There are so many people trying to get things from people like Pierce Brosnan or Cameron Diaz. Laurie has enabled us to talk to them. I've seen what Leonardo DiCaprio can do in terms of focusing public attention and getting results."
Celebrity activism is a tricky thing, however, as the growing controversy over Michael Moore's speech at last week's Academy Awards suggests. When someone like DiCaprio starts proselytizing about Mother Earth, people take note; but then they don't stop taking note. They glare through a ä magnifying glass under a heat lamp. And the criticism tends to be selective. "You don't see them criticizing Republican celebrities," says David. "I don't see any criticism of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it's because of him that we have the Hummer — the single worst car in the history of this country. It was a military vehicle. He said, 'I vant one,' and they made the first commercial Hummer for him."
Of course, there's no shortage of celebrity hypocrisy out there for conservative talk-show hosts to mine, such as the endlessly referenced 21-car garage of Detroit Project contributor Norman Lear. New York Post gossip columnist Richard Johnson is on a crusade questioning celebrities' integrity, criticizing them for being "hypocrites who consume huge quantities of fossil fuels in their stretch limos, Gulfstream jets and oversize Beverly Hills mansions." And it is much easier to advocate for the environment when there's discretionary income — huge amounts of it — to buy and trade hybrid cars like baseball cards. So, for all the money and publicity toward select causes that famous spokespeople generate, to what extent is the parallel criticism obscuring the issue and undercutting the message?