The Scholar of Comedy

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The cartoon of Jerry Seinfeld is that he is the comedian who goes on “about nothing.” The nihilist of the Upper West Side. And yet Seinfeld is, like Chris Rock and few others in comedy, as serious and self-conscious about his craft as the best musicians. We were once having a conversation in front of an audience at the Society for Ethical Culture, on West Sixty-fourth Street, and, after a few minutes, he stopped to take note of the echo in the hall. The way the echo affected how the audience took in his jokes. And the subsequent effect on the quality of the laughs.

Seinfeld made a fortune with “Seinfeld.” He could easily have lived out the rest of his life going to Mets games and eating cereal. Instead, he writes jokes for hours each day, as disciplined as a concert pianist. Larry David, of course, was his partner in creating “Seinfeld,” and Seinfeld appeared from time to time in David’s long-running HBO series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Seinfeld’s series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” indulged his passion for cars, sure, but it was really about his comedian friends, their common craft, and their joy in talking––freely and without inhibition. In 2020, he published “Is This Anything?,” which contains some of his best standup work but also delves into his craft and his devotion to it.

And now, for the first time, he has directed a movie. It is about a Russian Orthodox monk in the sixteenth century who starves himself to death rather than give in to the depredations of tsarist society. No, it isn’t. It’s about the race in the early sixties between Kellogg and Post to invent the Pop-Tart. Yes, really. It is called “Unfrosted” and will air on Netflix on May 3rd. It is extremely silly, in a good way.

The New Yorker Radio Hour

Listen to Jerry Seinfeld talking with David Remnick.

Seinfeld came to our studio at One World Trade Center for The New Yorker Radio Hour. He was very well dressed and in good spirits. He immediately started ripping me to shreds. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity and sometimes to preserve my ego and dignity—though no editing could manage that entirely.

How are you?

You really, really look like a doctor. Doesn’t he look like a doctor?

I do?

If he walks in and says, “I’m your cardiologist,” you would just feel so calm.

Would you?

I would feel, Oh, I’m in good hands here.

Jerry. It’s nothing to worry about. We’ll take a few tests—

Oh, you got the tone!

Come into my office. Jerry, we can’t do anything about dementia—

Right. But they always frame it positively. Here’s the good news, right?

You’ve got the good dementia.

Here’s the good news. You didn’t have much to begin with.

How are you?

Fantastic. How are you?

Good. Jerry, are you doing a lot?

This is my first thing since the “Curb” finale. No one’s talked to me since that.

I was once talking to the writer Adrian LeBlanc, who’s been working on a book about comedy, and I asked, “Who are the two smartest comedians about comedy?” I expected her to name two obscurities. And she said you and Chris Rock, because you study it. You’ve been thinking about this; it’s not just a bunch of jokes.

Yes. Chris is the smartest person, maybe, I’ve ever met. You would be up there. You are really smart. But I was with Chris a couple of weeks ago, and he was talking about a young comic. He was asking the comedian about what he did that day. And the guy said, “Nothing. But I’m going to do a set tonight.” And Chris explained to him, “You make money during the day. You collect it at night. During the day is where the money is made.”

What does that mean for a comedian?

Comedians don’t generally think they have to do more than perform onstage every night. They don’t think there’s more to it than that. But there is quite a bit more to it than that.

And it shows if they don’t.

Well, it shows when you try and go to different levels or different worlds. If you have a really solid work ethic and have some sense of writing, you can move into different fields more easily.

If they watch “Seinfeld” or “Curb,” the two of you, in those shows, are patshke-ing around all day. You’re chatting. You’re at the diner. They don’t see you working working.

It’s a show, David. It’s not a MasterClass.

What does working mean for you? You published a book of all kinds of attempts at jokes. It was almost like a master’s notebook.

It was. In case I depart early—just, if anyone cares, here’s what I did. I’ve been reading a lot of Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations” book, which I’m sure you probably read when you were fourteen.


And the funny thing about that book is he talks a lot about the fallacy of even thinking of leaving a legacy—thinking your life is important, thinking anything’s important. The ego and fallacy of it, the vanity of it. And his book, of course, disproves all of it, because he wrote this thing for himself, and it lived on centuries beyond his life, affecting other people. So he defeats his own argument in the quality of this book.

Do you have any thoughts of how long your work will last? Do you have any hope for—

No. I really have adopted the Marcus Aurelius philosophy, which is that everything I’ve done means nothing. I don’t think for a second that it will ever mean anything to anyone ten days after I’m dead.

Here we are, one day after the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” finale was on, and, I’ve got to tell you, I watched this thing and I thought, Larry David has been told for years that the finale of “Seinfeld” didn’t work. It was overstuffed, it was too long. And he’s basically telling us, “You didn’t like it the first time? Here it is again, baby!” How do you see it as somebody who performed in it, but also as a viewer?

Well, I am not comfortable complimenting myself. That’s going to be your job.

I’ll get to it.

I absolutely thought it was sensational. And you’re going to be the only person I speak to who might understand or might see exactly what happened there.

How do you view it?

I’m not going to brag on it because I just love it. I love it. We paid off a joke with a twenty-five-year lag. We made you wait twenty-five years. Not planned—inadvertent—but we paid off a joke. We set it up on May 14, 1998, and paid it off in 2023. It aired this year, but we shot it last year. Think about what had to be in place for that to happen. Two series, two characters playing themselves who worked together twenty-five years ago, come back together twenty-five years later and relate these two events.

How do you feel about the “Seinfeld” finale? Did you think it was a misfire?

When we were shooting the last episode of “Curb,” we spent the whole day talking about it. What did we do wrong there? Just because Jeff Schaffer was there, who worked on the series, and Larry and me, and they were telling me how they watched it, and they were going, “You know, it was really pretty good until the very end. That’s where we could have done a better job.”

So how did you come upon your new movie, “Unfrosted”?


You were going out of your mind, weren’t you?

Yeah. And my friend Spike Feresten, the writer who wrote the “Soup Nazi” episode—we used to joke about making a movie about the Pop-Tart. It was a joke. And then, when COVID happened, he says, “I really do think there’s a movie there.” He’s a producer now. I go, “There’s no movie here.” He goes, “Give me one meeting. Let’s just get the two writers that I love from ‘Bee Movie,’ Barry Marder and Andy Robin—just the four of us do one meeting.”

Do you remember the scene in “The Right Stuff” when Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer run down the hall and they burst into the conference room, and L.B.J.’s sitting there, and they go, “It’s called Sputnik!” [Feresten] goes, “That’s what this is.” I went, “Oh—yeah. That’s funny.”

What were you doing all day during the pandemic?

My normal day is just—I like to write and work on standup. That’s my favorite thing to do. It’s like a woodshop. It’s like doing Lego. It’s like a world of Lego to me. I just take plastic pieces and play with them all day. Not all day, but for a couple hours a day.

And how did you start working on this film, and how did it begin to come together?

On Zoom. And we would just have this meeting. And the four of us—four comedy writers who love each other’s sense of humor. I do a twenty-minute warmup of just anything, of just nonsense. “What’d you do last night?” “What’d you eat?” “What’d you watch?” And you just start laughing and having fun. This is how comedy is done. You can’t have anybody in the room who doesn’t have the same brain disaffection.

What does that mean?

Regular people need courtesies and respect to converse and socialize with them. You can’t say hostile things to them, to their face, but comedians love that.

You don’t get offended?

The offense is if it wasn’t funny. That’s the offense.

The other person is never offended if you insult them, rag on them, or something.

As long as it’s funny. Which—usually, insulting someone to their face is pretty funny. But we don’t think that there is much value in everything else in life. Everything else in life is pretty much a nuisance. But, if you can get a laugh out of it, it’s worth it. That’s the way you go through life. You only care about laughing and being funny.

So describe these meetings to me.

They’re all the same. They start off with fifteen to twenty minutes of absolute nonsense. There’s a lot of really vile profanity, complaining about absolutely everything and anything. And then you go, “O.K., what were we working on yesterday? What was the scene? Where are we going from here?” And then you start to write, but you’re all kind of—you’re in this mood now, and that’s how you write comedy. If somebody else walks in the room, you have to stop. “What do you want? Yes, I know. O.K. Dinner’s fine. It’s six. That’s fine. O.K.”

You experience it as fun or work?

Fifty-fifty. It does have to make sense to an audience. That’s the work. All you want to do is be totally insane. We have a joke that I did not do in “Unfrosted” that’s driving me nuts because I loved it so much. There’s a scene in the movie where we visit the sugar drug lord, and he’s like an El Chapo. We call him El Sucre. And we were having a lot of fun with the drive up to the compound and how these guys always have exotic animals and stuff. We wanted to have a llama with a human head on it that yells at them, as they drive by, “My name is Alan Hoffman. Tell my wife I’m alive.”

[Laughs.] And that didn’t make it in?

It didn’t make it because the crack in the reality that it would cause was just. . . . We just thought, This is too much.

In the film, you play a marketing executive for Kellogg. Everything is set in ’63. J.F.K. is the President. The story centers on this race between the Kellogg Company and Post, which is another popular cereal maker. And they’re both working toward a trip to the moon—no, they’re working toward the creation of Pop-Tarts, whether they know it or not. Tell me about how that story line originated.

Well, the story line is the truth of the story, which I have always loved. Post came up with this idea. Kellogg heard about it months before they [Post] were about to début it in supermarkets, and freaked out. They [Kellogg] go, “We have to have the same thing as them. We have to get there before them. We have to make it better than them.” And that’s what we came up with. It’s “The Right Stuff.” It’s the U.S. versus the Soviets. You need to put a man on the moon.

Did you really like Pop-Tarts all that much growing up?

Oh, yeah.

How about now?

Still, yeah.


Yeah. I love them.

That’s a good breakfast for you?

I don’t eat it for breakfast. I eat it after a bad show on a Wednesday night.

I see. When have you ever had a bad show?

A lot of times. I mean, to me a bad show is, I’m going to do four new pieces tonight. If three of them tank, it’s a frustrating night. The show’s still good, but what I was trying to do—you’re always trying to forge ahead.

You know you could do for Pop-Tarts what “Barbie” did for Barbie. This could be a big thing for them—

Except that Kellogg’s did not even know we were doing this.


No, they did not. We only called them three weeks ago. To tell them, “By the way . . .”

The lawyers didn’t freak out?

We found a lawyer in the Valley. We asked, “Could you write us a letter saying that this is O.K. to do, that we can show to Netflix?”

So there’s no fee paid to Kellogg or Post and no permission given or taken?

No. Do you think that Kellogg’s would make a movie where people lose their lives trying to invent a pastry?

I think you’re in big trouble. Now, you’ve got an amazing cast here. Melissa McCarthy, Jim Gaffigan, Sarah Cooper, Kristen Wiig . . .

Hugh Grant.

And Hugh Grant. He’s a little famous for being not so easy on set.


Was that your experience?

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Tell me about that.

I love this man. With my apologies to all the other people I’ve met, he’s my favorite human.

Hugh Grant is?

Yes. He’s my favorite human. Because his charm and funniness is what I dreamed of when I was a kid in the sixties. I wanted to be a charming, witty man. That never happened.

You wanted to be Cary Grant?

Yes. Well, when we grew up—Muhammad Ali and J.F.K. and Sean Connery. Those were men. We wanted to be like them. They were all witty and handsome and had broad shoulders. Hugh Grant has the shoulders. He has the wit. He likes to drink. He knows how to have fun. He knows how to put people at ease. But a lot of these actors, you know, they’re very—they’re prima donnas. And he told me he would be, too.

So, right off the bat, he said, I’m going to be a pain in the neck.

Yeah. I don’t care. I don’t care if someone’s an asshole if they’re charming. A charming asshole is way better than a boring, polite person.

So how did it play itself out on set, for example, him being a charming asshole?

I say, “Hugh, in this scene, you’re wearing these sunglasses and we’re paying a lot of money for Hugh Grant. Would you be completely against the idea of not wearing sunglasses in the scene?” This is a negotiating technique I learned. The answer you always want to get from your counterpart is “no,” not “yes.”

Why is that?

Because people love to say no. They hate to say yes. Saying yes makes you feel vulnerable. Saying no makes you feel secure. So you ask a question where the answer you want is no. “Hugh, would you be totally against not wearing the glasses?” “No, I wouldn’t be totally against it.”

Jerry, you must get any number of ideas for films either brought to you or—

No, wrong. No, I never got an idea. This is the only idea I’ve ever had for a film.


I never get asked to do a film.



Why the hell would that be?

I don’t know! When I was at DreamWorks, and we were casting “Bee Movie,” this casting director came in and she had two cards, a blue card and a pink card. On each card were the biggest male stars. And on the pink card were the biggest female stars, in the business, at that time. This is the two-thousands. And we go through the names. There were, like, twelve names on each card. That’s it. So, we were casting the thing, and, before she leaves, I go, “Can I ask you—am I on that blue card?” And she says, “No.”


And I went, “Why not?” She said, “Because everybody knows you won’t do it.”

Ah. Was she right?


Well, “Hamlet,” maybe. But you wouldn’t do any number of other things if the project was right?

You have to realize, if you look at my career, I have never succeeded at anything that wasn’t my material. Not one time. I’ve only done it once. And it was a huge failure—when I did “Benson” in 1980. I have to write my own material, or I stink.

It’s possible that you’ve made a dollar or two from “Seinfeld,” and yet you still work hard. Why?

Because the only thing in life that’s really worth having is good skill. Good skill is the greatest possession. The things that money buys are fine. They’re good. I like them. But having a skill—I learned this from reading Esquire magazine in the sixties. They did an issue on mastery. Do you remember that?

I don’t.

I’m surprised. You definitely read Esquire.

Oh, yeah. Of course.

I loved Esquire in the sixties. “A magazine for men,” remember?

Yeah, I do.

Yeah. And they did one issue—in fact, I gotta get this issue. I’ll get it on eBay. I’m sure it’s there. It was a very Zen Buddhist concept: Pursue mastery. That will fulfill your life. You will feel good.

I know a lot of rich people. So do you. They don’t feel good, as you think they should and would. They’re miserable. Because, if they don’t master a skill, life is unfulfilling. So I work because if you don’t, in standup comedy, if you don’t do it a lot, you stink.

Who did you start listening to or watching in comedy and say, “That’s the skill I want to learn”?

Robert Klein and Jay Leno were the two guys that—and George Carlin. Bill Cosby I loved, but I thought I could never be that good.

I was preparing to write a little piece about the finale of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” So, at one point, I’m thinking about you, and I’m thinking about Larry and Jewish humor, and I go to the Encyclopædia Judaica, which has the following statistic: in the late seventies, Time magazine had an article that said that eighty per cent—eighty per cent!—of the best-known comedians in America were Jewish. I don’t know where they got the statistic—

Sounds low.

Doesn’t seem provable, does it? But, when you were growing up and listening to all this [comedy], did that aspect of things occur to you?

No. It never crossed my mind. I saw somebody write something about Jews and culture—you know, with all the antisemitism—that I was the first person to star in a network sitcom as a Jewish person, for some decades. But that was the world we grew up in. I think you would probably have much higher awareness that you were Jewish than I did.

Jerry Seinfeld from Massapequa, right?


I mean, you had some awareness. No?

No. In fact, it’s only looking back on my life that I can see all the things that I did that had to do with being Jewish, and why I did them. But in the moment. . . . Like, when we wanted to name the series, I thought, Well, they’ll just call it “Seinfeld,” no matter what we call it. So we might as well call it “Seinfeld.” Because Carson wasn’t the “Tonight Show.” You’re on “Carson.” It becomes the name of the guy. And that’s why we called it that. And I never thought, Well, that’s a Jewish name. What about Middle America? Never ever crossed my mind.

When you first conceived it with Larry, didn’t [the NBC executive] Brandon Tartikoff say it’s a little “too New York and too Jewish”?

Yes, he did.

And George Costanza had to be Italian, and all of a sudden Jerry Stiller was Italian—which is, can I just say, not the most believable Italian in the world? And Elaine is occasionally crossing herself.

I don’t remember that—oh, in India, she crossed herself. Yeah. In India.

So, in other words, there was an element of, “We can’t be too Jewy.”

Not too Jewy. We skimmed at the surface occasionally.

Right. We knew you were Jewish because you were making out with your girlfriend at “Schindler’s List.”

Maybe we mentioned a bar mitzvah one time, maybe. I don’t know. We would’ve done anything. In comedy, you do anything that you think might work. Anything.

There’s a bridge between “Seinfeld” and “Curb”—

You think?

[Laughs.] Yeah. But he unleashes that part of him. The Jewishness becomes just much bolder, much more pronounced. And nobody’s made an Italian, if they’re not Italian.


What was the permission, do you think, that happened?

Well, when we started making my show, Larry and I thought of it as, We’ll be a little boutique item somewhere on a back shelf of a major television network. This is not going to be a real network show.

You thought it was going to be a modest thing?

A cult hit at best. And if it didn’t work, that was fine with us. But I think Larry knew setting out [with “Curb”] that that’s what he was going to do. So I think he probably felt a greater sense of freedom.

The reason my show succeeded was the brilliance of Jason [Alexander], Michael [Richards], and Julia [Louis-Dreyfus]. They took this really esoteric material and, the brilliant performers and actors that they were, made this material accessible to a wide audience. That’s why the show worked. Those three people. Larry and I could never have done it. Our humor is not—I think it’s maybe a little more accessible now, but, at that time, no. Brandon Tartikoff was right. But he didn’t realize how great Jason, Michael, and Julia were. That’s what he missed.

Jerry, tell me about learning to tell a joke as an absolute rank beginner. The way a musician learns to play a song.

That’s easy. Don’t. Don’t try to be funny. If you’re not funny, if people aren’t always telling you you’re funny, don’t be funny. Unless you’re drunk and you’re with your very close friends.

And that’s it.

That’s it.

So you set out to be funny, set out to do it for . . . ?

I set out to find out if I was funny. I didn’t think I was any funnier than any friend I had growing up. I thought we were all exactly the same.

Tell me about taking the leap.

The leap was so terrifying. I don’t know why, but I had no confidence that I might be funny to people who don’t know me. And I drove to this club, the Golden Lion Pub, 143 West Forty-fourth Street. No longer there.

What year?

  • I’m still at Queens College. And they have an audition. I think there were just a few people there. And I did this joke about being left-handed, and it got a laugh. And then they booked me.
  • I want to hear the joke.

    O.K. The joke is, “I’m left-handed. Why are so many left things negatively associated? Two left feet. Left-handed compliment. You go to a party, there’s nobody there. Where’d everybody go? They left.”

    It’s not a bad joke.

    It’s a cute joke.

    And how did it go over?

    Huge. It got a huge laugh.

    Can you remember the feeling?

    Yeah. And the applause. You know that scene in the Elton John movie when he’s at the Troubadour, in L.A., and he goes off the ground, and the audience comes off the ground? I love that scene. That’s what it felt like. I felt like, Oh, my God—I’m a plane and I just left the ground. I just knew from that moment, That’s it. I now know what I will do the rest of his life.

    That’s incredibly inspiring. And, at the same time, huge pressure.

    Why is it pressure?

    Because you then have to write more jokes and repeat it.

    The book that got me into comedy is a book called “The Last Laugh,” by Phil Berger. I read it in high school, and there’s a joke in there that Jimmie Walker told at [the comedy club] Catch a Rising Star. It’s a pouring, rainy night in Manhattan. He goes onstage, he’s soaking wet. He goes, “It is raining so hard out there, I just saw Superman getting into a cab.” And I read that and I go, “How in the world can a brain come up with an idea like that?” I still love that joke. But I go, “How do you think of that?” I didn’t know how. But, when I did the “left” thing, I went, “Oh, there’s a guy in there who knows how to do it. And he’s going to now work his ass off for the rest of my life.”

    So you became disciplined right away?

    Not right away. It was after I saw a comedian do a couple of “Tonight Show”s and get bounced that I realized—

    Who was that?

    I don’t want to mention the name. He went on, he did well. The second time he went on, he did less well. The third time, he struggled, and they never had him back. And I went, “Oh, now I get how this racket works. This is a writer’s game. If you can write, you succeed. If you can’t, you will not make it.” The performing, being funny onstage, that’s great. Any comedian can be funny onstage. But the bullets are the writing.

    Not long ago I was watching on YouTube—not for the first time, and maybe for the thousandth—Rodney Dangerfield’s performances on the “Tonight Show,” which are insanely good and filled with rocket fuel.


    So, he’s a great writer, and he’s invented this character, which is himself times eleven, I guess. How did you invent how you wanted to be onstage—the persona?

    It’s like sculpting. Sculpting is removing everything that isn’t the sculpture you want to make. You’re not adding; you’re removing. Stone sculpture, not clay. So, when you do a joke and it gets a laugh and something inside you doesn’t feel quite right, you don’t do that joke. You do the jokes that you feel connect to your anger, your attitude, your personality. Success in comedy is very much a—conducting. So, the face, the voice, the body, the joke—when all of that is working together, it hits. Bang. You just feel it. You feel it like hitting a baseball on the button. And, when one of them is a little off, it’s not there.

    How did you make the decisions that formed what you are onstage? You wear a suit, you work clean, you make all kinds of decisions.

    I do what’s funny on me. I don’t do what is not. I mean, every artist works like this.

    Do you listen to tapes of yourself, watch films of yourself?

    Sometimes. Every artist is only showing you his best. When you watch a movie, every scene—they only show you the one take that worked. Seventeen times, they missed it. You’re only seeing the peak of it. But in standup you gotta make it happen every night. That’s the difference. That’s why actors, I think, like to do the theatre. They want to be honest. They want to be held to account. And only a live audience holds you to account.

    What do you think about the difference between doing a comedy film for Netflix and doing a night at the Beacon? It’s the same thing, and yet it’s not.

    The only similarity is your sense of humor is an essential tool. After that, it’s all different. No similarity. A night at the Beacon to me is like if you’re a great jazz player, and people come in and they want to hear you play. And you’re going on and I’m going, “I know this instrument. I’m good at it. Let’s all enjoy the playing.”

    But, for the jazz musician or any musician, they want to hear “ ’Round Midnight” or whatever it is, again and again and again. Do you feel that’s O.K. for jokes, or is there constant pressure to make it new, and make it new all the time?

    That conversation would take another hour. It’s a constant issue in the comedy world. Everybody has a different opinion about it.

    Well, give me the short version.

    The short version is there’s no answer. If I love a bit that somebody does and I go, and they do the bit, I love it. That comedian—if you see ’em after the show, you go, “You did the peanut bit. I love the peanut bit.” And they go, “I know. I’m trying to get it out of my act and do something new.” You go, “No, I love that bit!” Who’s right? There’s no answer. There’s no answer.

    I think if you go see a comedian and he does some great stuff that you know and a bunch of stuff that you don’t know, the audience is happy. I think comedians now try so hard to be all new, all the time. I think the quality suffers, because none of us are really that good. Chris Rock and I have determined that a great comedian working his ass off his entire career writes two good hours.

    Well, how many specials have you done for Netflix?

    Two. And I don’t think I’ll do another one.



    Why not?

    Again, we don’t have time for that.


    These are gigantic subjects in comedy, but I don’t want to do—I won’t do it unless I think it’s at a certain level. I won’t put it out there unless I think it’s of a certain quality. And I doubt I could get to that in the time I have left. And I don’t like old people, either. Even though I’m seventy—I don’t like old people.

    You’re about to be seventy, right?


    How are you feeling about that?

    I don’t care.



    When you say you don’t like old men, do you mean that in a kind of Friars Club sort of way?

    No, I don’t like old people. Period.


    They don’t look good. Everything’s going. Everything’s deteriorating. I don’t want to see this. If you want to hang around, fine, but we’re moving on to younger people. I’m with you up to about thirty-eight. If you want to stay, you can stay, but I’m moving on.

    Did you not like old comedians?

    No, I love old comedians, I do. Because they just get better. This is the great blessing on the other side of the material, torture; on the other side of that, the blessing of it—you just get better and better.

    Who is great old?

    Rodney. Don Rickles. Johnny was great, even as he aged. Alan King—all those guys.

    Mr. Morty Gunty.

    Morty Gunty. Yes. Guy Marks.

    I’m going to make an admission. I’ve been covering, publishing, thinking about what’s going on in the world, particularly in the Middle East now, for six months. And it’s a very dark time. Even as I was watching your film, it couldn’t help coming into my brain. It was hard to sort of think about the “Palestinian Chicken” episode or Pop-Tarts. Tell me how you deal with the weight of the world, or the serious aspects of the world weighing on you, and how that affects comedy.

    Nothing really affects comedy. People always need it. They need it so badly and they don’t get it. It used to be, you would go home at the end of the day, most people would go, “Oh, ‘Cheers’ is on. Oh, ‘M*A*S*H’ is on. Oh, ‘Mary Tyler Moore’ is on. ‘All in the Family’ is on.” You just expected, There’ll be some funny stuff we can watch on TV tonight. Well, guess what—where is it? This is the result of the extreme left and P.C. crap, and people worrying so much about offending other people. Now they’re going to see standup comics because we are not policed by anyone. The audience polices us. We know when we’re off track. We know instantly and we adjust to it instantly. But when you write a script and it goes into four or five different hands, committees, groups—“Here’s our thought about this joke.” Well, that’s the end of your comedy.

    Isn’t that what “Curb” is all about?

    Yeah. Larry was grandfathered in. He’s old enough so that—“I don’t have to observe those rules, because I started before you made those rules.” We did an episode of the series in the nineties where Kramer decides to start a business of having homeless people pull rickshaws because, as he says, “They’re outside anyway.” Do you think I could get that episode on the air today?

    But you think Larry got grandfathered in and there could be no thirty-five-year-old version of—

    Right, right. If Larry was thirty-five, he couldn’t get away with the watermelon stuff and Palestinian chicken . . . and HBO knows that’s what people come here for, but they’re not smart enough to figure out, How do we do this now? Do we take the heat, or just not be funny? And what they’ve decided to be is, Well, we’re not going to do comedies anymore. There were no sitcoms picked up on the fall season of all four networks. Not one. No new sitcoms.


    Yeah. It’s too hard.

    Do you ever go back and think, Yeah, that joke went too far?

    We would write a different joke with Kramer and the rickshaw today. We wouldn’t do that joke. We’d come up with another joke. They move the gates like in the slalom.


    Skiing, yeah. Culture—the gates are moving. Your job is to be agile and clever enough that, wherever they put the gates, I’m going to make the gate.

    You think this is going away now? This, what you’re describing as P.C., is kind of receding?

    Slightly. I see a slight movement.

    How do you see it?

    With certain comedians now, people are having fun with them stepping over the line and us all laughing about it. But, again, it’s the standups that really have the freedom to do it because no one else gets the blame if it doesn’t go down well. He or she can take all the blame themself.

    Who are the young ones that you like?

    Nate Bargatze, I love. Ronny Chieng, I love. Brian Simpson, really funny. Mark Normand, really funny. Sam Morril, really funny.

    Do you ever go to clubs?

    Yeah, I go all the time. I don’t go and sit there and pay for two drinks and watch and go, “This guy’s fantastic.” I go to work out my own stuff.

    Do your kids think you’re funny?

    They’re tougher. It’s a tough audience. If you try and be funny and they don’t think it’s funny, they just look at you and go, “Is this one of your new bits, Dad?” ♦


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