Even if you don’t watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, there’s little doubt that you’ve heard the show’s deliciously silly theme song. You know the one: those honky pomp pomp pomps of a brass tuba, with the mandolins that mockingly whistle when something bad inevitably happens to Larry David. It’s safe to say the instrumental “Frolic” — which was composed by Luciano Michelini — has cemented its status in the Theme Song Hall of Fame, but the song wasn’t created for Curb at all. In fact, in order to trace its origin story, we have begin in Italy in the 1970s.
“The theme of ‘Frolic’ was one of the main themes of the Italian movie La Bellissima Estate, and was the theme of a character called the Red Baron who lives by the sea in an old airplane,” Michelini, with the help of a translator, told Vulture. “The purpose of the song was to entertain with a cheerful march. The Red Baron was the idol of the children in the story.” Michelini says composing the theme came “easy” for him, and the natural silliness of it translated to the film because “you understand the joke and the funny story line between the Red Baron and the children.” To maximize the levity, he incorporated instruments that aren’t frequently combined — including a banjo, piano held down with pins, double bass, and those now-famous tuba and mandolin parts.
After the release of La Bellissima Estate, “Frolic” laid mostly stagnant for decades, with a handful of features in European commercials and the Italian comedy series Le Iene. But then, in the late 1990s, destiny called — specifically, Michelini’s Italian publisher relayed the news that Larry David picked his composition to be Curb’s theme. As David recently explained on James Andrew Miller’s podcast, he heard the song in the background of a bank commercial. “There was something circusy about it. I like to get away with things, comedically, and sometimes music can help in that regard,” he told Miller. “It tells the audience: Don’t take this seriously, it’s just funny.” Michelini agreed to give HBO the rights to the song, and the rest is history.
Although Michelini has yet to speak with David about “Frolic,” he said that he very much enjoys watching Curb, he admires David “a lot,” and he feels honored that it’s become such a defining theme. “Hearing my theme excites me,” he said. “I think it has become one of the most iconic of theme songs for television history [because it’s] cheerful and even a bit clownish.” And yes, of course he’s aware of the song’s meme status: “Obviously a theme of this type in its structure and arrangement works in my favor!”