As hard as it may be to believe, jerry seinfeldit is Comedians in cars having a coffee turns 10 this year. The on-the-road talk show — in which Seinfeld and his comedian pals hop into vintage cars and talk shop for a cup of java — premiered July 19, 2012, on Crackle, then moved to greener pastures at netflix in 2018.
Over its 11 seasons, Seinfeld has hosted just about every influential comic in the industry – its Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, David Letterman, the late Don Rickles, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, Steve Martin and Tracy Morgan, among them. Along the way, he also hosted a few comedy neighbors: Then-President Barack Obama joined him in a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray in season seven, then had coffee with Seinfeld in the White House staff dining room.
To commemorate his pewter birthday, Seinfeld has compiled some of the show’s most memorable exchanges in The Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Book (Simon & Schuster). Available November 22 and packed with fun anecdotes and insights into the stand-up psyche, it’s a no-brainer holiday gift for the comedy lover in your life.
Seinfeld, 68, joined The Hollywood Reporter for a conversation about what he finds funny, what he’s working on (including his Pop-Tart movie for Netflix) and his own thoughts on the debate rocking the comedy world right now: The controversial November 12 Saturday Night Live monologue delivered by Dave Chappelle (which, yes, appeared in an episode of Have coffee and book features, as well).
I really enjoy reading the book. I think what I love about it, and it’s also what I love about the show, is that you really let us into all the psychology of the comics. In your opinion, what makes a comedian a comedian and different from the ordinary population?
A real comedian doesn’t really care about anything but making people laugh. Everything else in human life seems artificial and pointless.
There was an interesting exchange in the book where you talk to Dave Chappelle about how Chris Rock has a real edge and he talks in statements. You refer to its delivery using words like “commandments” and “closing arguments”. I really like this idea – that comedians have to take regular thoughts and make them more extreme.
Oh yes, of course. In fact, the sillier the idea you present, the more fun it is. I think when it starts to get real, or starts to get like, “That might be a relevant thought,” the fun is gone.
Do you think that somehow gets lost in translation with the audience now? Maybe in the rise of social media, somehow, in the shift from performing to regular speech, people are forgetting that these are extreme versions of thoughts?
This is clearly evolving as we speak. I watched a stand-up special this morning and [there were] tons of good jokes. But an absolutely essential and required element now is that it shows us the enormous psychic pain in which you find yourself. We want to see it. We want to know how and exactly how damaged you are and in what way and whose fault it is. And it’s become part of what people expect from stand-ups now.
[Audiences] seem so in love with stand-ups. And I think that’s kind of an indictment of other forms of entertainment. Like, hey, movies and TV are supposed to do most of that work. We just want to tell jokes. But now people are looking for the depth of stand-up comics. I always think, “Well, the last thing I want to hear is what was really bothering Rodney Dangerfield.” I do not want to know! Just give me the jokes. Take the pain, give me the jokes.
I was looking at your New York Times video interview where you explained how you wrote the Pop-Tart joke. I really liked it because you broke it down in a way that I had never seen before. And you compare crafting jokes to writing songs – that you have to be on a certain beat or beat and sometimes it comes down to shaving syllables off to get a laugh.
So for you, acting is a science. That’s mathematically earning a laugh.
Some parts are math, some are just — it’s a sound. I was talking to this comedian the other day, actually it was today. It has a bit on a dune buggy. And I just thought, “Wow. I wish I could say dune buggy every night. Just a fun sound.
So sometimes it’s the musical part – sounds that are just fun to say. You always try. I have this whole long piece about personal storage areas and there’s a part where I go, “You gotta break the lock.” I’m not saying “get into it”. I’m not saying “have a hard time getting into it”. But the words “break in a lock”. It’s fun for the ear.
I used to talk about bathroom cubicles where I said “the under-screen viewing window”. There is no word “sub-display”. No sentence, it does not exist. I made it up and everyone understood it instantly. But that’s the musical part – where it’s entertainment for your ear. Purely for your ear.
And there are certain letters that are supposed to be funnier. Like “k” I hear is a funnier letter.
Yes, because they cut.
I was just watching Jon Stewart and Colbert, two of my favorite comedians, discussing Dave Chappelle SNL monologue. And I’m just curious where you stumble upon it. Did you find it funny?
I thought the comedy was well executed, but I think the topic calls for a conversation that I don’t think I want to have in this room.
But it made you uncomfortable.
This sparks a conversation that is hopefully productive.
And is that the kind of conversation you would have with Dave? Because you seem to have a close relationship with him.
I don’t have a close relationship with him. We are friends and it is not a close relationship.
Going back to the Pop-Tarts thing, where are you at with the Netflix movie Pop-Tarts [Unfrosted: The Pop-Tart Story]?
Netflix is watching it today for the first time after I just finished editing, then we’ll see where it is next week. It should be out early next year, I think.
No kidding. And are you satisfied with the first cut? Can you tell us something about it? I mean, it’s all fictional, right? This is not a true retelling of the actual history of Pop-Tarts.
Well no. There is no story. But there are a few things that are true that we use to start the story, which is that Post had this idea and Kellogg heard about it and said, “We have to do the same. And then I kind of told the story like The good thing with NASA against the Soviet Union.
The Pop-Tarts race.
Yeah, the Pop-Tarts race. (Laughs.)
Well, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m a big fan of Pop-Tarts, so you’re addressing your target audience here. I was also curious about something else: you surprised everyone by becoming a model. I’m curious how this happened – that The spread of KITH fashion.
It was my son’s idea. They just asked me to put on the clothes. I put on the clothes. (Laughs.) I had a friend who was this brilliant photographer who took pictures and I thought, “This will be in the back page of some O magazine.” That no one will ever see.
Never mind. This does not happen.
It was a crazy and strange thing how it happened. It was so much fun. It just shows you how well you can predict the world. Honestly, it totally shocked me that anyone even saw this. But of course a lot of people saw it and it was so funny to me. It literally took an hour, the whole thing. “Put on this jacket and I’ll sit here.” “To take a picture.” “Give that hat.” “I’ll sit over there.” “Take this photo.” We were just laughing.
Has this opened up other modeling opportunities?
Yeah. Yeah. I will do a lot of modeling.
So back to the book. What are you doing to promote it? Do you do any signings or in-person appearances?
Yes, I do that. This. You’re supposed to help me with this.
I will help you !
Thank you sir. Netflix just asked me if they could do a book party for me for the book. So we’ll do that. And I don’t know, all that seems like a good thing to do.
And will you be touring at all in 2023?
Yeah, I started shooting this month. I’m just collecting material. But yeah, I do shows now.
Tremendous. I saw you at the Pantages and it was so funny. I love the bit how painful it is to go to the theater.
Yeah. Yeah. And then you have to come back.
Well, I’m just curious, who are your all-stars? The comedy stars of our generation.
Our generation. It’s a bit wide. What is the age range you give me to work?
Well, they should be alive and over 40.
Alive and over 40 years old. Who do I really like who I watched? Do you, it’s a bit obscure. I don’t know how into stand-up you are. Have you ever seen Fred Armisen: stand-up for drummers. It’s on Netflix. You have to know how to play the snare drum to get a ticket to go to the show. Because it’s all about the battery, but it really isn’t. It’s only 15, 20 minutes of drum material. But it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s a great stand-up special.
I love so many people. I like Ronny Chieng who does The daily show. I love his stand-up. I think it’s so excellent. I love Earthquake. I think he’s amazing. I like real stand-up hardball. No, I’m not interested in the funny anecdotes from your diary. I want to hear about things that absolutely could not have happened.
So who else do I really like lately? I love everything Chris Rock does. I mean, like the guys who really like jugular comedy. Right? Not so much, “I want you to know who I really am.”
You might care less.
It’s not that I don’t care. But we need jokes. It’s like Woody Allen’s chicken joke. Do you remember that? It’s like the guy is going to a psychiatrist. He said, “My brother thinks he’s a chicken. I don’t know what to do for him. The psychiatrist says, “Why don’t you send him?” He says, “I would, but we need the eggs.” It’s about “We need the jokes”.
Interview edited for length and clarity.