Jerry Seinfeld On Staying Home: 'At My Dinner Table, You're Supposed To Be Funny' | WYPR

Jerry Seinfeld On Staying Home: 'At My Dinner Table, You're Supposed To Be Funny'

May 2, 2020
Originally published on May 2, 2020 12:08 pm

Jerry Seinfeld says he's "adjusted pretty comfortably" to his new life in quarantine.

"I think there's something to be said for not socializing," he tells Weekend Edition. "It's kind of a rest for your face and your fake emotions and your repeating the same stories."

Seinfeld's new standup special, 23 Hours to Kill, starts streaming May 5 on Netflix.

He jokes in the special: "I could be anywhere in the world right now. Now you be honest. If you were me, would you be up here hacking out another one of these?"

Talking to NPR, Seinfeld says he actually loves hacking out standup bits. It's just a joke.

"That joke is about your perception of me," he says. "Your perception of me is: If I was him, I wouldn't bother doing this. But of course, in my real life, I couldn't live without doing standup. So I love it because it's, I think, the purest connection of comedy you can have with an audience."

The new special was recorded at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, which has been temporarily closed along with practically every other place to see live standup in the country. All of Seinfeld's upcoming tour dates are either already canceled or uncertain.

His primary audience now is, of course, his family.

He says his children do find him funny. "But if I'm not, which occasionally, of course, humor is a very hit and miss business, as we know. And when I'm not, believe me, they will take me out at the knees. They will. They'll look at me and just go, 'That's it? That's all you got?' "

It goes both ways though, for Seinfeld and his kids. Complaining is only allowed if it's entertaining.

"Kvetching is only of value if you can do it in an amusing way," he says. "My son just came in a minute ago and he says, 'I can't study. The wind is howling.' I said, 'We can't say things like that.' " If you're going to complain — my whole act is, of course, constant complaining — but you have to find something amusing in that complaint. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut.

"I'm very hard on my family as far as being entertaining. You know, at my dinner table, you're supposed to be funny."

What does Seinfeld think of joking during a global pandemic? Are these times discouraging or good times to try to be funny?

"Humor is of the greatest value in times like these," he says. "Humor is an essential survival quantity, I think, of human life. I mean, I've been seeing some stuff about these nurses and medical professionals and these horrible units where they're losing people so regularly. And I heard this one nurse say, she said, 'You cry for a while and then you tell jokes.' And that seems like the most human you can be."

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Jerry Seinfeld once famously said that comedians spend one hour a day on stage and the rest of that day waiting for that hour. His latest standup special for Netflix is called "23 Hours to Kill". And he has a line early on that may ring a little different right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "23 HOURS TO KILL")

JERRY SEINFELD: It's the same meals, holidays and movies anyway. What's the difference who I'm with?

(LAUGHTER)

SEINFELD: Just want to be out. This is out. People talk about going out. We should go out. Let's go out. We never go out. Well, this is it.

SIMON: Jerry Seinfeld's special is available on Netflix beginning Tuesday, May 5. And Jerry Seinfeld joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

SEINFELD: Thank you, Scott. My pleasure.

SIMON: I've read that some of your performances at the Beacon Theatre, in fact, where the special was recorded, had to be canceled because of the obvious - coronavirus.

SEINFELD: I canceled, I think, on March 11. And then the next day, the NBA canceled. And then the whole house of cards came down.

SIMON: Yeah. You joke on stage that for all the obvious reasons we all know, you don't have to be doing stand-up at this point in your life. So why are you?

SEINFELD: That's just a joke. I do have to. Nothing I say is true. That joke is about your perception of me. Your perception of me is, if I was him, I wouldn't bother doing this. But, of course, in my real life I couldn't live without doing stand-up. So I love it because it's, I think, the purest connection of comedy you can have with an audience.

SIMON: You mean the relationship between you and the audience?

SEINFELD: Yes, it's extremely intense and delicate. That's what I love about doing stand-up.

SIMON: I know you've warned us not to take anything seriously. But you do in this hour seem to be utterly comfortable about being a senior citizen.

SEINFELD: Oh, yeah (laughter). Yeah, because, you know, all the anxiety of youth is gone. People say youth is wasted on the young - which I like to say, everything's wasted on everybody.

SIMON: (Laughter) Fair enough.

SEINFELD: When you're older - there's so many great advantages to being older, but people complain. They wish they were young. And people that are young wish they had the experience and the knowledge and wisdom of being older. So people just don't appreciate what's in front of them.

SIMON: I have read that when you were a teenager, you spent some time on a kibbutz in Israel.

SEINFELD: I did. One summer - the summer of 1970.

SIMON: Was that time fun or funny?

SEINFELD: That was a time, actually, while I was - let's see. I would be about 15 years old. There was this one particular friend that I made. And they were very interested in the Marx Brothers, which were making a comeback in the 70s. Their old movies were showing. And I was into Nichols and May, those record albums. And then people were saying that being funny like that would be the ultimate life. And that was the first time I thought about, well, gee how would you even go about that? If you wanted to have a career of just being funny, how do you do that? And that's when I first started to really think about it.

SIMON: Boy.

SEINFELD: At that kibbutz.

SIMON: But during the day, were you, like, picking radishes or something?

SEINFELD: Actually chopping dead leaves off of banana trees.

SIMON: Well, the line to comedy is pretty obvious there isn't it?

SEINFELD: Oh, yeah.

SIMON: You'd think about doing almost anything. You've got a whole section in this hour when you talk about how much - of course, this was before the current pandemic. But you talk about how much of our contact these days is remote and electronic. Have these past few weeks given you a different insight or made you appreciate daily human contact all over again?

SEINFELD: Yeah, a little bit. I've adjusted pretty comfortably to this. I don't know why. I think there's something to be said for not socializing. It's kind of a rest for your face and your fake emotions and your repeating the same stories.

SIMON: Fake emotions. You mean pretending to laugh or...

SEINFELD: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Enjoy something someone says? Yeah.

SEINFELD: Yes, exactly.

SIMON: Well, people are always interested in your reaction, right? I mean, it must be - if you can get Jerry Seinfeld to laugh, that's...

SEINFELD: Yeah, imagine what an exhausting life that would be. That's my life.

SIMON: You're this close to making me feel sorry for you.

SEINFELD: (Laughter) No, no, not at all. Even though I got pretty successful, I did not become less irritated in any way.

SIMON: I mean, I have a mental image that in cities all over this country at this moment, there are millions of people who are kind of giving voice to their interior Jerry Seinfeld.

SEINFELD: Mmm hmm.

SIMON: You know, kvetching about this and that. Can you (vocalizing) - that sort of thing. And I wonder if you ever look out at that Manhattan skyline and appreciate that?

SEINFELD: (Laughter) It's a very nice thought, Scott. I really appreciate that. But kvetching is only of value if you can do it in an amusing way. My son just came in a minute ago. And he says, I can't study. The wind is howling. I said, we can't say things like that. If you're going to complain - my whole act is, of course, constant complaining...

SIMON: Right.

SEINFELD: ...But you have to find something amusing in that complaint. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut.

SIMON: Wow, that's tough love, though.

SEINFELD: Oh, yeah. (Laughter) Well, I'm very hard on my family as far as being entertaining. You know, at my dinner table, you're supposed to be funny.

SIMON: Do your children find you funny?

SEINFELD: Oh, yeah. But if I'm not - which occasionally - of course, humor is a very hit and miss...

SIMON: Yeah.

SEINFELD: ...Business as we know. And when I'm not, believe me - they will take me out at the knees. They will look at me and just go, that's it? That's all you got?

SIMON: (Laughter) Well, all right. It sounds like they get a little, you know, a little pound of their own flesh back there.

SEINFELD: Oh, for sure.

SIMON: Yeah. Are these times discouraging or good times to try to be funny?

SEINFELD: You know, humor is sort of the greatest value in times like these. Humor is an essential survival quantity, I think, of human life. I mean, I've been seeing some stuff about these nurses and medical professionals and these horrible units where they're losing people so regularly. And I heard this one nurse say - she said, you cry for a while, and then you tell jokes.

SIMON: Yeah.

SEINFELD: And that seems like the most human you can be.

SIMON: Yeah. Jerry Seinfeld. His special, "23 Hours to Kill", drops on Netflix on May 5. He performs the hour, and he's also the only writer. Thanks so much for being with us.

SEINFELD: Thank you, Scott. It was a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.