As hard as it is to believe, jerry seinfield‘s Comedians in cars drinking coffee turns 10 this year. The road trip talk show, in which Seinfeld and his comedian friends get into vintage cars and talk business on their way over a cup of coffee, premiered on July 19, 2012 on Crackle, then moved to greener pastures streaming on Netflix in 2018.
Over its 11 seasons, Seinfeld has featured nearly every influential comic in the business: 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 insiders: 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 their tin anniversary, Seinfeld has compiled some of the series’ most memorable exchanges in The comedians in cars drinking coffee book (Simon & Schuster). Available November 22 and packed with hilarious anecdotes and insights into the stand-up psyche, it’s a holiday treat 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 movie Pop-Tart for Netflix), and his own thoughts on the debate rocking the comedy world right now: the controversial 12th of November Saturday night live monologue delivered by david chappelle (which, yes, appeared in an episode of drinking coffee and features in the book, too).
I am really enjoying reading the book. I think what I love about it, and also what I love about the show, is that you really let us into the whole psychology of comics. What do you feel makes a comic funny and different from the normal population?
A true comedian really doesn’t care about anything more than making people laugh. Everything else in human life feels artificial and meaningless.
There was an interesting exchange in the book where you talk to Dave Chappelle about how Chris Rock has a real advantage and speaks in statements. You refer to the delivery of it using words like “commands” and “closing arguments”. I really love that idea: that comedians have to take regular thoughts and make them more extreme.
Oh yeah sure. In fact, the sillier the idea you present, the funnier it is. I think when it starts to get real, or it starts to become “This could be a real relevant thought,” the fun goes away.
Do you think it’s somehow getting lost in translation with the public now? Perhaps that in the rise of social media, that somehow, on the journey from stage to regular discourse, people are forgetting that these are extreme versions of thought?
That is clearly evolving as we speak. I saw a stand-up special this morning and [there were] tons of great jokes. But an absolutely essential and required item now is that you show us the tremendous psychic pain you are in. 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 that has become part of what people want from stand-ups now.
[Audiences] they 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 be doing most of this work. We just want to tell jokes. But now people are looking for depth in stand up comics. I always think, “Well, the last thing I want to hear is what really upset Rodney Dangerfield.” I do not want to know! Just give me the jokes. Take the pain, give me the jokes.
I was watching your New York Times video interview where you explained how you wrote the Pop-Tart joke. I really liked it because you were breaking it down in a way that I hadn’t seen before. And you liken creating jokes to writing songs, which you have to be in a certain rhythm or groove to and sometimes it comes down to removing syllables to get a laugh.
So for you, comedy is a science. It is mathematically earning a laugh.
Some parts are math, other parts are just: it’s a sound. I was talking to this comedian the other day, it was actually today. He has a bit about a dune buggy. And I just thought, “Wow. I wish he could say dune buggy every night.” Just a fun sound.
So sometimes that’s the musical part: sounds that are fun to say. You always try. I have a lot of time about personal storage areas and there’s a part where I say, “You have to break the lock.” I’m not saying “break in”. I’m not saying “fight to get in.” But the words “break into a lock.” It’s fun to the ear.
I used to do this above the toilet stalls where it would say “the viewing window under the screen”. There is no such word as “bottom screen”. Without a phrase, it does not exist. I made it up and everyone gets it instantly. But that’s the musical part, where it’s an entertainment for your ear. Purely for your ear.
And there are certain cards that are supposed to be more fun. Like “k” I hear is a funnier letter.
Yes, because they cut.
I was watching Jon Stewart and Colbert, two of my favorite comedians, discuss Dave Chappelle. snl monologue. And I’m curious where you fall into it. Did he find him funny?
I did think the comedy was well executed, but I think the topic calls for a conversation that I don’t think I would like to have in this venue.
But it made you uncomfortable.
It sparks a conversation that is hopefully productive.
And that’s 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.
Back to the Pop-Tarts thing, where are you 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 and then we’ll see where it is next week. It should be out early next year I think.
Really. And are you happy with the first cut? Can you tell us something about it? I mean, it’s all fictional, right? It is not an actual retelling of the actual history of Pop-Tarts.
Well, no. There is no story. But there are a couple of things that are true that we used to start the story, which is that Post came up with this idea and Kellogg’s found out and said, “We have to do the same thing.” And then I told the story as The right thing with NASA against the Soviet Union.
The Pop Tart Race.
Yes, the Pop-Tarts race. (laughs.)
Well, I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’m a huge lover of Pop-Tarts, so you’re speaking to your target audience here. I was also curious about something else: you surprised everyone by becoming a model. I’m curious how that came to be, that KITH Fashion Spread.
It was my son’s idea. They only asked me to put on my clothes. I put on my clothes. (laughs.) I had a friend who was a brilliant photographer who took pictures and I thought, “This will be on the back cover of some W magazine.” That no one will ever see.
Oh good. That didn’t happen.
It was a crazy, weird thing how that happened. It was fun. It just shows you how little you can predict about the world. Honestly, I was totally shocked that anyone would see that. But of course a lot of people saw it and it was a lot of fun for me. It literally took an hour, all of it. Put on this jacket and I’ll sit here. “Take a photo.” “Give him that hat.” “I’ll sit there.” “Take that picture.” We were just kidding.
Have you opened up other modeling opportunities?
Yes. Yes. I’m going to be doing a lot of modeling.
So let’s get back to the book. What are you doing to promote it? Are you doing signings or in-person appearances?
Yes, I’m doing this. East. You’re supposed to be helping me with that.
I’m going to help you!
Thank my Lord. Netflix just asked me if they could have a book party for me because of the book. So we’ll be doing that. And I don’t know, anything else that seems good.
And are you going to be on tour all this year and in 2023?
Yes, I started traveling this month. I’m just collecting stuff. But yeah, I’m doing shows now.
Fantastic. I saw you at the Pantages and it was a lot of fun. I love the part about how painful it is to get to the movies.
Yes. Yes. And then you have to come back.
Finally, I’m just curious, who are your stars? The comedy stars of our generation.
Our generation. That’s a bit wide. What is the age range you are giving me to work?
Well, they should be alive and over 40 years old.
Alive and over 40 years old. Who do I really love who did I see? Have you, this is a little dark. I don’t know how deep you are into stand-up. Have you ever seen Fred Armisen: standup for drummers. It’s on Netflix. You have to be able to play a drum to get a ticket to go to the show. Because it’s about playing the drums, but it’s not really. It’s just like 15, 20 minutes of drum material. But it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s a great stand-up special.
I love so many people. I love Ronny Chieng he does the daily program. I love your stand up. I think it’s so excellent. I love Earthquake. I think it’s amazing. I like stand-up really hard. No, I’m not interested in the funny anecdotes in your diary. I want to hear about things that absolutely could not have happened.
So who else do I really love lately? I love everything Chris Rock does. I mean, like the guys who are really looking for jugular comedy. Right? Not so much, “I want you to know who I really am.”
You could care less.
It’s not that I don’t care. But we need the jokes. It’s like Woody Allen’s chicken joke. You remember? It’s like the guy went to a psychiatrist. He says, “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 over?” He says, “I would, but we need the eggs.” It’s about “We need the jokes.”
Interview edited for length and clarity.