Jerry Seinfeld isn’t short on jokes. His latest Netflix special “23 Hours to Kill” is only a few weeks old and already the hardworking funnyman has written enough fresh material to deliver another hour on stage. Alas, Jerry lives by the rule that less is more, so fans probably shouldn’t hold their breath.
“I already have the material to do another special, but I always like to give a little less than you really want. A little less,” Jerry told Howard on Wednesday’s Stern Show. “Like [‘Seinfeld’]—we could’ve done one, two, three more years. The reason people still love that show is we didn’t wear it out."
“But isn’t it a little sad that we’re not going to hear, maybe, your observations on COVID-19?” Howard asked. “Don’t you wish the world was a little less judgmental?”
“I don’t care about the world,” Jerry responded. “I’m doing what I like. You do what you like, Howard. That is the genius of Howard Stern—I’m going to do it the way I want to do it and that’s what people respond to, that’s what they like. They don’t want you catering to them. They want you catering to yourself. That’s your art.”
Howard understood completely. At one point, he recalled seeing iconic funnyman Groucho Marx make a few TV appearances well past his sell-by date and imagined Jerry was reluctant to do the same.
“I think you got me there. I don’t like seeing old people on TV,” Jerry laughed. “I don’t want to inflict myself on people in a deteriorated state. I am a perfectionist that way. That’s why I obviously never did another TV series. I’m not gonna try and beat that. I can’t beat that.”
While Jerry’s need for perfection may keep him from wearing out his welcome, it’s his passion for comedy which keeps his motor running and helps him perfect his craft.
“When you love something it’s a bottomless pool of energy. That’s where the energy comes from, but you have to love it, sincerely—not because you’re going to make money from it or be famous or get whatever you want to get. When you do it because you love it, then you can find yourself moving up and getting really good at something,” the “Seinfeld” co-creator and “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” host told Howard.
Part of the reason why Jerry loves comedy is the rush he gets while performing. “It is the most vivid hour of my life on stage,” he said. “Steve McQueen had a line that racing is life and the rest is just waiting … [tight-rope walker] Karl Wallenda, he said the wire is life. So, there are those heightened moments in life that make the rest of life kind of pale a bit. It gets a little black and white.”
Jerry admitted he’s a highly competitive person but said he doesn't compete against other comedians, he competes against himself. “Is this my best version of this bit? Am I in my perfect flowing state of performing right now? And, if I’m not, how do I get there? I’m not thinking of anybody else,” he said.
Still, comedy isn’t the only thing in Jerry’s life. At one point, he invited his wife Jessica Seinfeld on camera to say hi to Howard and listeners. Howard was thrilled to see her and Jerry could only sing her praises. “She’s the best, isn’t she?” he said. “She’s so funny, too. That’s really how I fell in love with her. You know, as soon as I met her, she was so funny.”
Howard imagined being a comedian’s wife wasn’t easy, however, and wondered if she ever got annoyed when he discussed their relationship on stage. Jerry assured Howard the marriage anecdotes were just part of the act. “I made that up. It’s all made up heard other people fight about it. I eavesdrop. I listen in,” he said, adding, “We will make up and say or do anything if the audience likes it. That’s the fun of it. No one’s gonna check. No one cares.”
Howard wondered if most comedy acts didn’t contain at least a kernel of truth, though.
“Comedy uses truth and quotes as a tool among other tools to catch attention, to hold people’s mind’s eye in a certain place,” Jerry told him. “It’s very much a martial art of flipping people unexpectedly in directions they didn’t think they were going to go, but the manipulation is the whole thing.”
Howard loved “23 Hours to Kill” and specifically appreciated the comedian’s word economy and the special’s rapid-fire pacing. “It’s shaved down. It’s quick. There’s no nonsense. There’s no filler,” he said.
“I work very hard at that,” Jerry said, telling him a large part of his approach to comedy was about speed. He said many of the best things in life happen quickly, just like a run-in he once had at the Oscars.
“I bumped into Meryl Streep, who I adored and had never met, never seen in person. I just turned and she was right in front of me. I just said, ‘I love you,’ and she said, ‘I love you,’ and I just walked away,” he recalled. “That’s the greatest moment I ever had,” he recalled.
As Howard looked closer at Jerry’s home office, he noticed photographs and books about several comedy greats. One was Robert Klein, who made a name for himself in the 1970s with stand-up specials, albums, and hosting “Saturday Night Live.” “He really was the best,” Howard said.
“I adored him so much,” Jerry agreed. “He synthesized who we were, Howard,” Jerry agreed. “Here was a guy like us, expressing the way we looked at things, and just the funniest guy.
Howard was somewhat surprised to see Lenny Bruce up on Seinfeld’s wall, considering Bruce was celebrated for his free-flowing irreverence while Jerry is known more for his precision and insights. But Seinfeld credited Bruce with ushering in a new era of comedy. “He came out in the era of mother-in-law jokes, you know, and ‘my wife sits around the house,’ and all that crap,” he said. “He suddenly made comedy personal … and that’s a gigantic evolution of the art form.”
Another superstar they discussed was Eddie Murphy. Jerry has driven around many icons on his interview series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” but Howard particularly enjoyed Eddie’s episode. “I’ve never seen him or so into the conversation,” he said.
“I think he knows I’m not interested in anything about him personally, really,” Jerry said. “I just like talking silly and he likes it and that’s what that show’s about—this is the silly way comedians talk to each other.”
Jerry and Eddie came up together in the stand-up circuit together and Howard wondered if Murphy was at the top of his game from the beginning or if he started out a little, well, raw. “Everybody develops,” Jerry said. “You think anybody thought that TV series I did was going to come out of me? Nobody thought that. I didn’t think that.”
“You didn’t say to yourself, ‘Holy mackerel, this guy is going to be the biggest thing ever?” Howard continued.
“No,” Jerry responded. “There were a lot of other people we thought were gonna be—and weren’t.”
Still, he wasn’t shocked when Eddie landed a spot on “Saturday Night Live” and starred in a string of blockbuster films. “We had seen that a lot, you know? I saw Andy Kaufman and I saw Robin Williams, I saw these people go from the club to TV or movies and just explode,” he said.
Howard was curious to hear more of Jerry’s thoughts on Kaufman. “I worshipped Andy Kaufman. He was the first comedian I ever heard of on Long Island,” Jerry said, recalling the time he went into the city to see him perform while crying and playing the bongos.
Considering his knack for physical comedy and prior success on the late-‘70s sitcom “Taxi,” Howard thought Kaufman would’ve been an interesting addition to the “Seinfeld” cast. He maybe even could’ve played Michael Richard’s iconic character Cosmo Kramer.
“You know, that’s funny that you say that because Michael Richards is one of those parts that you could never cast somebody else, but now that you mention it Andy could’ve pulled off Kramer,” Jerry said. “He’s the only guy who could’ve pulled off Kramer.”
Jerry and Howard also reflected on the recent passing of comedy legend Jerry Stiller, who played Frank Costanza on “Seinfeld.” The part was originally played by actor John Randolph, but the character was recast after appearing in just one episode. Stiller did such a great job as Frank they later had him to reshoot the character’s debut episode for syndication. According to Jerry, that was co-creator Larry David’s idea.
“Larry was right,” Howard said.
“Larry was always right,” Jerry agreed.
Howard took a few minutes on Wednesday to thank Jerry for all his friendship and support, especially a few years back as Howard wrestled with whether or not to renew his radio contract. “Jerry Seinfeld did a very loving thing for me, which I consider something that I will always hold near and dear,” he said. “You called me up and said we should go to dinner together … I hear on the radio you’re confused and … I would like to sit and listen to you.”
“Now, I have never gotten a call like this from anyone in or out of show business or any grown man,” Howard continued.
“It was so much fun, Howard,” Jerry said. “We said to each other we’re going to have dinner and we’re not going to bullshit about anything but this issue ... there’s one thing on the table. It’s better than a shrink because I have a better perspective on you because my life is similar.”
Howard was beyond appreciative of the gesture. “I was actually overwhelmed with emotion,” he said. “You didn’t have any prejudgment … You listened to me … I know you’re a busy guy and you could be doing 20 million other things, the fact that you did that it still moves me when I think about it.”
“Aw, that’s so nice. I’m so glad that you feel that way about it,” Jerry told him.
As it turned out, Howard leant his ear as Jerry struggled with a decision of his own that night, too—whether or not to continue making “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” Both men made up their minds about their futures that night, but apparently only one stuck to the plan. “I ran into you a couple of months later. I said, ‘Jerry I want you to know I'm doing what we decided to do,’ and he goes, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m doing the complete opposite of what we decided to do.’ It was like you smacked me in the head,” Howard recalled with a laugh.
Jerry laughed too and compared it to the memorable episode of “Seinfeld” where he and George made a pact to get married ... and only George followed through. What about of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” though? Is that gone for good? “Not necessarily,” Jerry told Howard. “I don’t know. I haven’t made a final decision on that.”
Regardless, Seinfeld fans have plenty to look forward to in the near future. Jerry plans to return to the road at some point and will also soon release a brand-new book about comedy called “Is This Anything?” On Wednesday morning, he even gave Howard and his listeners an exclusive first look at the book’s cover. Check it out (below).
“Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill” is available now on Netflix.