An apology is in order: Kanye West's ill-fated Curb You Enthusiasm clone isn't horrible. Tonight the full, half-hour version, once feared lost to history, was screened before a small audience. It was one of the most batshit crazy, wonderful pieces of television you can't imagine.
West once said he imagined himself a "black Larry David"—and yes, it's impossible not to cringe at that. But the 2007 era Kanye that HBO captured isn't a bad impersonation. It's absolutely, psychotically, pitch-perfect Kanye. The show, presented Monday night at Brooklyn's Night Train comedy series by former Daily Show regular Wyatt Cenac, who also happened to have had a role in the pilot, wasn't just going to be Yeezusification of Seinfeld tropes. The plan was to make an unscripted show that combined Entourage (a cast portraying Kanye's friends, leaning heavily on J.B. Smoove, who is almost always crammed into the frame), Sex and the City (Kanye wanted the show to be equally influential for male fashion) and Charlie Rose. He'd recorded troves of interviews with thinkers like Cornel West that were to be sprinkled in each episode, splitting the plot into incoherent vignettes. To watch Kanye West step into an elevator with Jeff Garlin in a robe is to feel briefly, completely out of your mind.
HBO asked for 30 minutes of this. Kanye delivered 60. HBO killed the project.
But the half-hour that remains is a surreal, silly fever dream. Kanye bangs on a table channeling the Hitler video meme. He talks at length about Tom Cruise, who we're told is a personal idol of his, but turned down a role on the show. The pilot's plot curves around the rapper's spell of halitosis, which is one of his deepest phobias. He's funny at times, though strangely peripheral, letting the overfull cast deliver most of the jokes. He stares into space, smiles, holding back a laugh.
He acts like a child. He is a child. This was his chance to, the audience was told, "rise to the occasion" with people he knew were funnier than he'd ever be. It's Kanye at his most unbelievably vain, his most pathetically vulnerable. The consummate nutcase.
Questlove of the Roots joined Cenac on stage to riff on the video, but didn't comment much beyond calling it "interesting." Cenac recalled a UCB improv instructor conducting intimate practice games at Kanye's house—he had to pretend to role-play a pet store owner and sell Kanye an imaginary dog. There was also, Cenac recalled, the afternoon Tom Cruise called mid-shoot, sending Kanye into a giddy fit of fanboyism. He made everyone shut up as he told Cruise how much he'd been practicing. Half the audience clap-voted that they'd watch more of the series, in some parallel universe in which Kanye West's vanity comic project was made instead of True Blood, and maybe he ended up with Kristen Wiig instead of Kim. I want to go back to that universe and huff Kanye's stank breath as he giggles and makes jokes about terminally ill children while playing a xylophone.