How Larry David Faked a Mental Health Episode to Leave the Army One Year Early

(John P. Johnson/HBO)

Although he's now one of the most lauded comedians in Hollywood, Larry David never saw himself becoming a writer or a comedian. After graduating from the University of Maryland in 1970, he was lost and had little direction from his parents, who wanted him to take a job as a mailman.

The future writer for "Saturday Night Live," co-creator of "Seinfeld" and creator of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" joined the Army Reserve for one very important reason: to avoid going to Vietnam. He regretted it almost immediately.

He had never held a weapon, and he was terrible at push-ups and sit-ups. Basic training did not go well for David. That wasn't even the worst part of it, he told Howard Stern in a 2015 interview.

"I had an apartment in New York and I would go to Brooklyn for the weekend, stay with my parents, and spend all Saturday and Sunday at Floyd Bennett Field in a freezing airplane hangar," he said.

He especially hated the monthly meetings in Brooklyn, because his hair had grown out of regulations. His solution was a creative one: He and his fellow soldiers stuffed their big, curly 1970s-style "fro" into crew-cut wigs. David said his entire unit wore the same style of wig to the monthly meetings.

"I had been in for two years, and every summer, you had to go to summer camp for two weeks and sleep in a tent. I mean the whole thing was absurd," he said.

In all, David spent five years in the Army Reserve, almost twice as long as the required service of a draftee. He concocted a plan to separate one year early with the help of a psychiatrist.

"Then I heard about this psychiatrist who was writing letters to get people out of the reserves," David told Stern. "I got the name of the psychiatrist. ... I acted a little crazy because I think he was looking for me to act a little crazy. He wrote me this letter and I read the letter, and according to the letter, I'm 'stark, raving mad' and can't be in the military."

David had to take the letter on his next reserve weekend and hand it to his commanding officer, having to act the way the letter described him.

"This was only a month later; I was fine a month ago," David said. "I have to walk into the hangar, I sort of isolate myself from everybody. I was looking around, my eyes are darting around ... and I see people nudging each other, pointing at me."

Finally he walks up to the NCO and asks to talk to the unit commander. Once in the commander's office, David handed the letter over and began to get "knee deep in this performance ... living this part."

After five minutes of rambling and raving, the officer asks David whether he's able to drive home. And that was it. David was out of the Army Reserve.

David worked a series of jobs after leaving the military, including as a New York cab driver, a private chauffeur and stand-up comedian before getting his gig as a writer on "Saturday Night Live" between 1984 and 1985.

His next stab at acting after leaving the Army Reserve came in the form of an acting class. David didn't like acting, either, because he hated waiting for the other person to finish their lines. When he was able to act with unscripted lines, he got some laughs.

David's off-the-cuff style didn't sit well with comedy club audiences, so his stand-up career was also short-lived. In 1989, he and Jerry Seinfeld teamed up to pitch a show called "The Seinfeld Chronicles" to NBC. The show aired as "Seinfeld," one of TV's most popular and successful shows of all time.

Read David's own take on his Reserve service in an opinion piece he wrote for The New York Times in 2004. Listen to him tell his story of leaving the reserves on "The Howard Stern Show" in 2015.

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