Jerry Seinfeld: “A laugh is such a pure thing”

Design plays a role in many aspects of our lives, even if something is just built for laughs. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld shares his insights with Anthony Mason

The comic talks about the inspiration for his hit Internet series, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," and the genetics of comedy. (Photo credit: CBS News)

Jerry Seinfeld is obsessed with automobiles.

“Pretty snappy lookin’, isn’t it?” he said, of the 1985 Ferrari 308 Quattrovalvole. “In the mid-’80s, if you wanted to show off a little, this is what you would get.”

It was his wife who suggested he host an American version of the BBC hit, “Top Gear”: “And then I started thinking, ‘Well, if I wanted to do a show with cars that was funny, well, I know every funny person in the world!'”

That’s how he hatched the idea for his Internet series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

“The hard part was finding anyone who wanted to do it,” he told Mason.

“You actually met resistance on this?”

“Every single place I went.”

And what would they say to him? “I don’t understand what you’re trying to do.”

A correspondent and a comedian in a car getting coffee.
CBS News

He was trying to create a show where comedians could talk about their favorite subject: comedy. He pitched every Internet outlet he could think of with the idea, and none of them wanted it. “And I thought, ‘What kind of track record do you have to have?'”

Sony’s Website, Crackle, finally picked it up:

At the Crackle upfront, Seinfeld told the audience, “When you get to a certain point in the business, what a man is looking for in a network is the same thing he’s looking for in his underwear: He’s looking for a little bit of support and a little bit of freedom. And that’s exactly what Crackle offered.”
And Seinfeld’s having the last laugh. “Comedians in Cars,” now in its sixth season, has been viewed nearly 100 million times.

Seinfeld says when two comedians get together, there’s some kind of chemical connection: “So part of it, to me, is this kind of social experiment of, like, I sometimes think of it as I’m just trying to isolate a gene here and put it on display. I go, ‘Look at these weird people!’

“I love comedy,” he said. “And as much as I love it, I love talking about it.”

Jerry Seinfeld with correspondent Anthony Mason.
CBS News

“You like breaking it down and you like the anatomy of it?” Mason asked.

“Yes. And I also like that, as much as I know, the whole thing is still just this smoke ring of nothing that nobody can really seem to nail down.”

At heart, Seinfeld considers himself a standup comic. He often likes to make surprise appearances at his favorite clubs.

Does he need it? “Yeah,” he replied. “It’s like if you’re a surfer. You paddle out.”

“How do you feel when you’re walking on stage in that circumstance?” Mason asked.

“Here goes nothin’!”

This is how he tests and refines his material. “You break down comedy in an architectural way, almost?” asked Mason.

“Yes, I do. Not every comedian does.”

“Why do you think you do?”

“I’m an analytical guy,” Seinfeld said. “I like science. I like math. I like structure. I like logic.
“I do this joke about, you know, in marriage the most important thing is you’ve got to listen. A lot of wives complain their husbands don’t listen. I’ve never heard my wife say this. She may have!

“I’ve never had another joke quite like that joke. It just has it’s own structure to it. It’s like a magic trick!”

He’s 61 now, and has been working comedy clubs since 1975.

“Could you throw everything else away that you’ve done and you do, and just have standup?” Mason asked.

“Oh yeah. I kind of dream of that,” he said. “It’s so pure. And I just love it.

“A laugh is such a pure thing. There’s no opinion to it. Almost every other creative field has to suffer the interpretive opinion culture, but not a standup comic. You may not like this guy, but if he’s getting laughs, he’s gonna work.”

Seinfeld doesn’t need the money. Forbes estimates his net worth at upwards of $800 million, most of it from his TV series, which two decades later his fans still quote back to him.

“They will mostly yell at me things from the show, which I always explain to them, it’s not funny to me!” he laughed. “I wrote that for you. There’s nothing less funny to a comedian than his own material.”

“Is that true, really?”

“Yeah, I’m sick of it. I suffered to come up with that. I’m done with it.”

But when the series was done in 1998, its creator admits he was lost: “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was pretty confused at that moment. ‘What the hell do you do now?'”

“Because you can’t really top it.”

“No, impossible. There’s only one way to top it. And that’s to remain an artist and not a ‘star.'”

So he went back into the belly of the beast, even if some nights are rough.

“I don’t go, ‘Oh, who cares? I got a hit TV series and I’ve done all — ‘ I don’t think like that. I think, ‘This is horrible.’ And I like that.”

“What do you like about getting …”

“It means I’m not an a******,” he said. “I haven’t become a giant show business a****** — pardon my language. It’s very much what I didn’t want to be when I finished my TV series. I don’t wanna be that guy.’ And I know if I stick to standup, I can’t be that guy.”

“Because they’ll remind you.”

“Yeah, they’ll remind me in two seconds.”

“Have you ever thought you were in danger of going down that path?” asked Mason.

“I was then, yes. I didn’t need to come down from that flying saucer.”

“Most people don’t want to.”

“No, they don’t.”

“Why do you think you did?”

“I wasn’t a 20-something that suddenly hit it big,” Seinfeld said. “I knew a little bit of life, you know? I don’t wanna be spared the grime. The griminess is what I like. I felt like it’s what made me good.”

“Is this something you want your kids to do?”

“My daughter could do it. She could. I don’t think she will. But she’s got it somehow … the first I saw that, ‘Wow, this is genetic!'”

Seinfeld and his wife, Jessica, have three children. Sascha, the oldest, is now 14.

Mason asked, “Have you tried to give her any advice?”

“Yeah. It’s like being Thor. They give you the hammer. It’s hard to just leave it there.”

“You want her to pick up the hammer?”

“Yeah, pick up the hammer!”

Jerry Seinfeld is still wielding his hammer — and he has no plans to put it down.

“Are you still driven to do this?” Mason asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “That has not gone away. To me every joke is like a cool thing that didn’t exist in the world before you made it. For me, at this point in my life, I just want to find as many bits as I can before I’m dead.”

CBS News


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