Comedian in Temple Talking About Comedy 

About 20 feet away from me was Jerry Seinfeld on a temple stage explaining how he had to learn to walk and talk during his live shows so that when he got to the punchline, he’d be center stage. “That’s the most powerful place, you don’t give them your best lines while on the right or left side of the stage” was his explanation.”  This was just one of many glimpses into being a comedian that Seinfeld shared in last week’s interview with journalist Brian Williams at the Temple Emanu-El Streiker Cultural Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  Rather than shell out over a few hundred for one of his Beacon Theatre multi-night performances coming up this month, I opted to see him live and in-person for less than $50.  He spoke about comedy, his early beginnings, and his new book, The Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Book, to celebrate the show’s tenth anniversary.  And that since part of the ticket price included a copy of the weighty coffee table book was validation that I’d made the right choice.   

Brian Williams and Jerry Seinfeld

Filling in for the originally planned host, Jim Gaffigan, journalist Brian Williams was a noble replacement. He tried his best at comic bits, a tough job when opposite Seinfeld. Among the discussions was the creation of the popular internet show that featured Seinfeld driving new and old comedians in classic cars for coffee, sometimes in Brooklyn, on Long Island, or around LA.  Where did he get the cars? From the classifieds. “We’d find classic cars for sale and ask if we can use them or the owner would lend them to us,” he said. How did the show come about?  “When I had kids, it was harder to meet up with friends for dinner, so we started to meet up for coffee.” 

Around 2012, Seinfeld saw that there would be more going on than just TV and the movies, so the internet became a new playground. “It was like Play-Doh to me…how can I play?” Just having a conversation with friends could be hilarious, he said, plus, these shows were easy to produce. “There’s no green room to have to wait, and get made up.” His most nerve-wracking episode? Seinfeld mentioned two of them: the one with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks because of being comedy giants, and the one with President Obama. “Here I am walking through the bushes at the White House, knocking on the window at the Oval Office, hurrying the President,” he said. 

The conversation turned to the challenges faced by comedians today with regard to racial issues and the need to be politically correct. Seinfeld choose his words carefully, and said, that “things can happen because of an artistic choice a comedian makes, so we have to think about that, we don’t want to increase the tension.” Are comedians introverts? “Good comedians will be,” he explained. “We want to make sure that the audience is enjoying themselves and we do everything we can to perfect the show.  If a comedian has a lot of other distractions, they may not do as well.” On his first appearance on the Johnny Carson show: “Here I am, 26 years old, standing behind the curtain knowing that if I killed in the next five minutes, I’d have a career.” Comedians need to be able to tolerate that kind of pain, that level of discomfort, he says.

Does he ever watch the Seinfeld show?  “No, I can’t. I constantly want to refine jokes and I’d want to refine the show.” Another question: “What else would he like to do if not comedy?” Says Seinfeld, “Nothing. I’m like a baseball player, I want to play every day.  I’m always coming up with new bits and want to test them out right away.” Seinfeld says that he makes spontaneous appearances at local comedy clubs to try out new material. “That’s all I want to do.” Asked about being a “clean” comedian, he says that he admired Cary Grant. “What kind of standup would he be? I choose to be an elegant comedian.”  

All photos by MJ Hanley-Goff.

For more events visit the website for at The Temple Emanu-El Streicker Cultural Center.

The Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Book, by Jerry Seinfeld, Simon & Schuster, Inc. is now available.

About MJ Hanley-Goff (142 Articles)
MJ Hanley-Goff has been contributing to Woman Around Town since its inception in 2009. She began her career at Newsday in the early 90’s and has continued writing professionally for other New York publications like the Times Herald-Record, Orange Magazine, and Hudson Valley magazine. Former editor of Hudson Valley Parent magazine, she also contributed stories to AAA’s Car & Travel, and Tri-County Woman. After completing her novel and a self-help book, she created MJWRITES, INC. to offer writing workshops and book coaching to first time authors, and college essay writing help to students. MJ is thrilled and honored to write for WAT for the amazing adventures it offers, like reviewing concerts, people, authors, events, and tourist attractions in New York, and around the world. “I enjoy drawing attention to the off-the-beaten path kinds of stories,” she says. “It’s great big world out there, with so many talented and creative artists, doers, and thinkers.”