Living His Favorite Life
March 30, 2017
After his groundbreaking sitcom ended on a high note, Jerry Seinfeld kept a low profile for a few years.
"I wasn't doing anything," he told the Hollywood Reporter last year. "I learned to play pool really well."
A standup performance by Chris Rock inspired him to make his next move, which happened to look a lot like one of his first moves.
"I thought, 'I would like to do that,'" he said. "I thought, 'Hey, I know how to do that! I just have to go back.'"
Since the early 2000s, Seinfeld has been writing, honing and performing standup material in venues big and small.
He will return to the Embassy Theatre on April 6.
Unlike his pre-sitcom days, Seinfeld no longer has to tour to put food on the table. His accumulated wealth of $800 million means he can put an almost immeasurable amount of food on an incalculable number of tables.
Seinfeld told the New York Times that he keeps doing it because he appreciates the meticulous craft of joke writing.
"It's similar to calligraphy or samurai," he said. "I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That's it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it."
The craft of joke writing requires care and scientific exactitude, he said.
"In comedy, success is not about taking risk, it's about eliminating risk," he said.
Seinfeld said he devotedly practices joke writing for the same reason that any artist or athlete practices anything.
"I read an article a few years ago that said when you practice a sport a lot, you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information," he said. "As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down. Reading that changed my life. I used to wonder, 'Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don't I know how to do this already?' The answer is no. You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop."
Seinfeld's other big, current project is something that started modestly almost five years ago: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
The onetime web series combines Seinfeld's two passions: collectible cars and the mechanics of comedy.
"I thought that there was another kind of conversation that was missing from what we think of as a talk show," he told CNN. "I thought, there's another vibe that people have, another energy that they have. I thought maybe I could find it if I just put them in a car and we just go for coffee and we get rid of the lights and [had a] camera that you wouldn't even notice. It's been a lot of fun, it's just a fun, different thing to do."
Seinfeld wasn't sure at first how the show would be received.
"I used to worry: Is this really a show?" he said. "Is anyone going to like this? Will anyone even watch this? So the process hasn't changed; I'm just more comfortable and confident now that I know this is something that people like. I didn't know that about Seinfeld in the early 1990s, either. I thought, 'I like this show. I wonder if anyone else will.' And it took years before people reacted to that."
Seinfeld was in its fourth season before it began to catch on, he said.
"I used to be making the show and having a fantasy, 'I wonder what it would be like to do a show that's popular,'" Seinfeld recalled. "'I can't even imagine what that would be like. It must be so fun.'"
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee hit a couple of high notes in 2016, Seinfeld said: one involving an old friend, and the other involving the leader of the free world.
"Garry Shandling hugging me and saying 'I love you' was probably the best moment of my year," he said. "I didn't know that would be the last time I'd ever see him. And then being in the White House and having [President Obama] trust me to come in with cameras and make a silly show in the Oval Office and eat the fruit off the coffee table and then ask if it was washed."
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee was recently picked up by Netflix.
As entertaining as the show is, it is not exactly ambitious. It plays to Seinfeld's strengths and eccentricities, and doesn't require a lot of heavy lifting on his part.
It may be that Seinfeld never again creates anything that reaches the artistic and consequential heights of his sitcom. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
"I really love being a stand up comedian," he said. "That's my favorite life. All the other things I do are electives. That's my major."