IT’S FAIR to say that since his sitcom Seinfeld ended in 1998, Jerry Seinfeld has not really wanted to do that much.
He has voiced animated films such as Bee Movie, done a few ads for Microsoft, authored a children’s book or two, and appeared in Curb Your Enthusiasm with his old Seinfeld writing partner Larry David. But all of these have had the air of diversions, not proper jobs. And with an estimated $800m in the bank courtesy of the most successful sitcom of all time, who could blame him?
The mistake is to think that because Seinfeld isn’t working much on screen, he’s not working. He sees himself as a jobbing stand-up, sometimes in New York dive bars, sometimes in stately pleasure domes like his upcoming gig at Dublin’s O2.
“Stand-up is my whole life these days and I’m very happy doing it. It’s just become this very solitary focus. I do probably 60 concerts a year in the States. And I go out to clubs in the week. I’m doing new stuff all the time. Stand-up is hard. Or to keep it at a certain level is hard: I have no writers but me.”
Of course, on Seinfeld, he had one particular writer, Larry David, and from episodes of last season’s Curb Your Enthusiasm we got to see Seinfeld and David back in the writers’ room, batting gags back and forth. Even though they were playing semi-fictional versions of themselves, their languid interaction was just as funny. Could they work together again?
“A lot of people have commented that the scenes with me and Larry were their favourites. Because it really was the way we were — it was a special chemistry that we had. But what happens when people become successful, one of the things they lose is the ability to do something someone else’s way. It’s one of the great poisons of success. When you’re young — and especially when you haven’t made it — you’re more open to that. So it might be a bit more difficult for us at this point because we both like doing our own thing.”
Seinfeld’s thing has always been observational comedy — the little itches in everyday life that, when isolated and reviewed, are absurd. And it’s comforting to find that even after 35 years of doing it he just can’t help himself — in the course of our interview I get two riffs for free, one on hotel televisions (“You should just hit power and the TV should come on. Don’t they understand that we’re new in the room? Two, three remotes? It’s not my house. I don’t live here…”) and one on the Olympics (“How depressing is the silver medal? For the person who wins it to have to tell the story for the rest of your life of how you almost won…”).
The problem is that wry, everyday observations must be harder to come by in the rarefied existence of a multi-millionaire. Where does he find them now?
“Just in travel! Once I get off of the plane I’m just up and down, walking around talking to people. I always pick up things when I’m in a local area. Like today I was noticing these public toilets, these big black boxes that look like they take you to another dimension. You go in there, you talk in to it and you say ‘I want to see the signing of the Magna Carta and the door opens and you’re in 1166’.” And off he goes again.
Seinfeld married his wife Jessica, author of two family cookbooks, in 1999. They met in a gym shortly after her return from a three week honeymoon with her husband, theatrical producer Eric Nederlander. She filed for divorce from Nederlander in Oct 1998, only four months after marrying him. She married Seinfeld the following year. They have three children.
Seinfeld turned 58 last week. Without the cycle of preparation and performance that is stand-up it’s hard to see what else he’d do, save dream up the odd panel show. In 2009 Frankie Boyle said that he planned to quit stand-up at 40 “because most comedians are rubbish once they hit 40”. What does the doyen of US comedy think of that?
“That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. I think quite the opposite. Forty is when you actually begin even deserving to be on stage telling people what you think. Forty to 60 I would say is your prime. That’s when you know the most, you’ve seen the most, you understand the most and you still have some physical energy.”
Which means that Jerry Seinfeld is just about at his peak.
* Jerry Seinfeld is at the O2 Dublin on May 13