If Jerry Seinfeld were currently in an episode of his classic sitcom, "Seinfeld," it would be called "The Wrap-Up."
The comedian, who was raised in Massapequa, appears to be putting a button on his career. His new book, "Is This Anything?" (Simon & Schuster, 470 pp., $35), which comes out Tuesday, is a collection of his best stand-up material through the decades. After 11 seasons, Seinfeld has hinted that his conversational automotive/comedy show, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" may be done and his latest Netflix special, "23 Hours to Kill," could be his last. However, Seinfeld, 66, will forever be intrigued by the science of comedy, which he recently spoke about in detail with Newsday.
The book title refers to the line that comedians say to each other when referencing a piece of new material. How often does that happen?
I can only speak to the culture that I grew up in, which was very cooperative in the late ‘70s. Actually in the early ‘70s and every decade before that it was much more competitive and cutthroat. When I came up in the late ‘70s at The Comic Strip in New York City, it was a new club and we were all new. We didn’t want to be like the other clubs we had been to where people seemed to be more acrimonious. We were always talking about bits amongst each other all the time — day and night.
Is it a sensitive thing or do you have no problem telling another comic that a bit doesn’t work?
You don’t have to say that. You either say, "I love that! That’s great" or you just go, "ehh … it reminds me of something [George] Carlin did in ’68."
Is there a specific person you run new material by?
Anyone that’s a friend because your sense of humor somewhat lines up. I go to Colin Quinn a lot.
How would you explain the excitement you get when you develop a new piece of material?
There’s nothing better in the world to me than that. It’s all I think about, all the time and it’s all I’m waiting for. Every other life experience just pales next to a new line that gets a laugh.
How often do you pop into clubs to test out new material?
I’d say at least twice a week. My process is I write something, I think it might be funny and I wonder if it is. But, you don’t know it’s good until you use it in front of a crowd. I’m very fortunate that I can go to any club, they put me right on stage and I can find out immediately. Nobody else can really do that, except a jazz musician might be the closest in terms of improvising something in front of an audience and know right away if it’s good or not. Almost every other art form you can name, there’s a huge lag between creating the thing and finding out if you have something or you don’t.
Is there more pressure on you to be hysterical because of your legendary comedic status?
I guess there is, but I don’t care about pressure. When you are on stage at 3 a.m. and you are trying to make two people laugh so you can get a spot at 2:30 a.m., that’s pressure, too. It’s all pressure. If you don’t like pressure, forget the whole game. Do people expect me to be funny? I have no interest in what people expect. I am there for my own selfish purposes of trying to make this bit work better tonight than it did last night.
What was your incentive to write the book?
It was not my incentive at all, it was my agent Christian Carino's at CAA [Creative Artists Agency]. When he found out that I had all my notes, he said, "You have to publish that." I didn’t really want to do it. I like a little bit of magic and mystery to comedy, But, I thought … I’m 65, who knows what happens next. Let me leave this for people. To me it’s kind of a text book of how one person did it. I’ve had great luck and such a long run. I thought if you are curious how I did it, here’s how I did it. I did it because I loved it and couldn’t stop doing it.
Also, I was kind of obsessed with the structural elements of it, which is why I wrote it out this way. A lot of stuff in the book I never really wrote out ever. It took me a year to get all the words right in every bit. This is the final version that got the laugh.
You have this way of trimming all the fat off a bit. Do you focus on getting every joke tight and straight to the point?
You know that thing they sell for you to put your quilt in, then you put the vacuum seal, it’s like a plastic thing that sucks the air out and flattens your quilt so you can store it in your closet? That’s my philosophy of comedy. It should be a surfboard — the slimmest, trimmest, best possible shape.
In your latest Netflix special, you seem to be more animated and full of zip. What do you attribute to this energy?
The fun thing about life to me is the lens keeps clicking around. The way I looked at life at 60 is not the way I look at it at 65. I’m not an age person or a death person. I don’t really care what happens. I’m fascinated with enjoying the experience. I love the lens of time. When I made that stand-up special, I wanted to go, "This is as good as I can get it." That’s my gift to whoever wants to watch it. I wanted to give my best. I don’t think I can do that again at that level. It takes me a long time to get the material to those levels.
I told Ted Sarandos [co-chief executive officer and chief content officer] at Netflix, "I hope you like it. I think that’s it for me. I don’t think I can do this again or better." I’m not a fan of doing things less well on film.
Will there be more of "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee?"
I haven’t made the final decision on that, but I’m starting to think I may have completed that idea. I don’t know if I can do it better and I don’t like to just crank them out.
How do you explain your instant connection with fellow comedians?
You might have never said a word to that person, but you know what the most important thing in their life is. That’s what "Comedians in Cars" was about. You take these humans and they are all Jack Russell terriers. All Jack Russell terriers are kind of the same. Tracy Morgan and I don’t hang out, but as soon as you put the two people together, they are built so similarly that I found it fascinating. I thought the public would like to see that.
It’s been awhile since you’ve done stand-up because of the pandemic. How are you dealing with that?
It’s OK. But I’m at the point where I did everything I wanted to do and more in my career. I’m comfortable. But I know this is going to end and I’m fine waiting. I always say this to young comics — you have to be able to hang. If I’m in my suit in the dressing room about to go on in five minutes then somebody comes in and says, "There’s a problem. The stage collapsed. Carpenters are working on it. The show is going to be in two hours," it’s no problem. I can hang for two hours. There’s a lot of waiting in comedy — in planes, cars and hotels. You have to be able to wait.