As hard as it may be to believe, Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in cars getting coffee turns 10 this year. The road trip talk show — in which Seinfeld and his comedian pals get into vintage cars and talk shop on their way to grab a cup of java — premiered on Crackle on July 19, 2012, then moved on to greener flowing pastures at Netflix in 2018.
Over its 11 seasons, Seinfeld featured just about every influential comic in the business — she 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’s also hosted some comedy-adjacent people: 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 its tin anniversary, Seinfeld has included some of the most memorable exchanges from the series The comedians in cars get coffee book (Simon & Schuster). Available November 22 and packed with amusing anecdotes and insights into the stand-up psyche, it’s a holiday gift no-brainer 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 Pop-Tart movie for Netflix) and his own thoughts on the debate rocking the comedy world right now: the controversial Nov. 12 Saturday Night Live monologue delivered by Dave Chappelle (who, yes, on an episode of Get coffee and features in the book, as well).
I really enjoy reading the book. I think what I like about it, and it’s also what I like about the show, is that you really let us into the whole psychology of comics. What do you feel makes a comic a comic and different from the general population?
A true comic really doesn’t care about anything other than getting the laughs. 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 edge and that he speaks in expletives. You refer to his delivery using words like “commandments” and “closing arguments”. I really love that idea – that comedians should take regular thoughts and make them more extreme.
Oh yes, for sure. In fact, the dumber the idea you present, the more fun it is. I think when it actually starts, or starts, “This could be a really relevant thought,” the fun is gone.
Do you think it’s somehow getting lost in translation with audiences now? Perhaps in the rise of social media, that somehow, in the journey from the stage to regular discourse, people forget that these are extreme versions of thought?
It is clearly developing as we speak. I watched a stand-up special this morning and [there were] tons of good jokes. But an absolutely necessary and required element now is that it shows us the immense 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 it has now become part of what people want from stand-ups.
[Audiences] seem so in love with stand ups. And I think that’s kind of an indictment of other forms of entertainment. Like, hey, the movies and TV are supposed to do most of this work. We just want to tell jokes. But now people are looking for depth from stand-up comics. I always think, “Well, the last thing I wanted to hear was what was really bothering Rodney Dangerfield.” I don’t want to know! Just give me the jokes. Take the pain, give the jokes.
I’ve been watching you New York Times video interview where you explained how you wrote the Pop-Tart joke. I really liked it because you broke it down in a way that I haven’t seen before. And you compare jokes to songwriting – that you have to be on a certain beat or rhythm and that sometimes it comes down to shaving off syllables to get the laugh.
So for you, comedy is a science. This mathematically deserves a laugh.
Some parts are mathematical, other parts are just — it’s a sound. I was talking to this comedian the other day, actually it was today. He has a bit about a dune buggy. And I just thought, “Wow. I wish I could say dune cart every night.” Just a fun sound.
So sometimes it’s the musical part – sounds that are just fun to say. You always try. I have this whole long piece about personal storage areas and there’s a part of it where I go, “You have to break off the lock.” I’m not saying “break into it.” I’m not saying “struggling to get into it.” But the words “bust in a lock.” It’s good for the ear.
I did this bit about bathroom stalls where I would say “the underscreen viewing window.” There is no word “underrepresented”. No phrase, it exists. I made it up and everyone understood it immediately. But it’s the musical part — where it’s an entertainment for you. Pure for you.
And there are certain letters that are supposed to be funnier. Like “k” which I hear is a funnier letter.
Yes, because they cut through.
I was just watching Jon Stewart and Colbert, two of my favorite comedians, debate the Dave Chappelle SNL monologue. And I’m just curious where you fall on that. Did you find it funny?
I did think the comedy was well executed, but I think the subject matter calls for a conversation that I don’t think I would want in this venue.
But it made you uncomfortable.
This provokes a conversation that is hopefully productive.
And is that 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.
Going back to the Pop-Tarts thing, where are you with the Netflix Pop-Tarts movie [Unfrosted: The Pop-Tart Story]?
Netflix is watching it for the first time today after I just finished editing and then we’ll see where it is next week. It should be out early next year I think.
Serious. And are you happy with the first track? Can you tell us something about it? I mean, it’s all fictional, right? This is not a true retelling of the actual Pop-Tarts story.
Well, no. There is no story. But there are some elements that are true that we use to start the story, which is that Post came up with this idea and Kellogg’s heard about it and said, “We should do the same thing.” And then I kind of told the story as The real stuff with NASA versus the Soviet Union.
The Pop-Tarts Race.
Yes, the Pop-Tarts race. (Laugh.)
Well I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’m a huge Pop-Tarts fan, so you’re talking to your target audience here. I was also curious about something else: You surprised everyone by becoming a model. I’m curious how it came about – that KITH fashion spread.
It was my son’s idea. They just asked me to put on the clothes. I put on the clothes. (Laugh.) I had a friend who was this 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 it.
Oh, well. It did not happen.
It was an insane, strange thing how it happened. It was so much fun. It just shows you how little you can predict about the world. Honestly, it totally shocked me that anyone even saw it. But of course so many people saw it and it was so funny to me. Literally took an hour, that whole thing. “Put on this jacket and I’ll sit here.” “Take a picture.” “Give me that hat.” “I’ll sit over there.” “Take that picture.” We were just kidding.
Did it open up other modeling opportunities?
Yes. Yes. I’m going to do a lot of modeling.
So back to the book. What are you doing to promote it? Do you do any signings or personal appearances?
Yes, I do. This. You are supposed to help me with that.
I’m going to help you!
Thank you sir. Netflix just asked me if they could do me a book party for the book. So we will do it. And I don’t know, whatever seems like a good thing to do.
And will you be touring at all in 2023?
Yes, I started touring this month. I’m just putting materials together. But yes, I do shows now.
Fantastic. I saw you at the Pantages and it was so funny. I like the bit about how it’s a pain in the ass to even get to the theater.
Yes. Yes. And then you have to come back.
Finally, I’m just curious, who are your all-stars? Our generation’s comedy stars.
Our generation. It’s a bit wide. What is the age range you give me to work?
Well, they should be alive and over 40.
Alive and over 40. Who do I really love who I’ve been watching? Did you, it’s a bit obscure. I don’t know how deep you are in stand-up. Have you ever seen Fred Armisen: Standup for Drummers. It’s on Netflix. You must be able to play a snare drum to get a ticket to go to the show. Because it’s all about drums, but it really isn’t. It’s just like 15, 20 minutes of drum material. But it is absolutely brilliant. It’s a great stand-up special.
I love so many people. I love Ronny Chieng doing this The Daily Show. I love his stand-up. I think this is so excellent. I love Earthquake. I think he’s amazing. I like real hardball stand-up. No, I’m not interested in amusing anecdotes from your journal. I want to hear about things that absolutely could not have happened.
So who have I really been loving lately? I love everything Chris Rock does. I mean, like the guys who really go for the jugular comedy-wise. Right? Not so much, “I want you to get 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 the Woody Allen chicken joke. Do you remember that? It’s like the guy goes to a psychiatrist. He says: “My brother thinks he is a chicken. I don’t know what to do for him.” The psychiatrist says, “Why don’t you send him in?” He says, “I would, but we need the eggs.” It’s about, “We need the jokes.”
Interview edited for length and clarity.