Times Colonist

Se­in­feld digs into 45 years of jokes for new book

- JOHN ROGERS Humor · Los Angeles · Jerry Seinfeld · Jerry Seinfeld · New York City · York City F.C. · New York County, NY · Manhattan · Easthampton, NY · Hampton, New York · East Hampton, NY

LOS AN­GE­LES — For­get the high­per­for­mance sports cars, the lux­ury Rolls-Royces and all the other clas­sic au­to­mo­biles in which Jerry Se­in­feld ush­ers his fel­low comics to the diner on tele­vi­sion’s Co­me­di­ans in Cars Get­ting Cof­fee.

The most valu­able things Se­in­feld owns are the thou­sands of pieces of pa­per — yel­low, scrib­bled over, some­times crum­pled — that for years he’s been cram­ming into those brown ac­cor­dion fold­ers that were once a sta­ple of stor­age un­til some­thing bet­ter came along called the lap­top com­puter.

They con­tain the jokes Se­in­feld has been writ­ing and telling since the first day he walked into a New York night­club as a 21-year-old wannabe comic who ac­cepted free ham­burg­ers in lieu of a pay­cheque.

They con­tinue right up to the present-day mus­ings of a 66-year-old man won­der­ing how the world keeps get­ting more crowded when he doesn’t see any more ceme­ter­ies be­ing built.

“Flights, restau­rants, the­atre shows sell out all the time. Ceme­tery? Any­one croaks, send them in. We just had an open­ing. What hap­pened? Some­body came back to life and walked out. You’re very lucky.”

He has com­piled them all in a new book, Is This Any­thing?, the ti­tle taken from the ques­tion ev­ery comic asks ev­ery other comic when he or she is about to try out new ma­te­rial.

As­sem­bled in chrono­log­i­cal or­der, they pro­vide not just a trove of laugh-out-loud one­lin­ers but also a time­line, be­gin­ning with a kid com­mut­ing from his par­ents’ home on Long Is­land to New York City to try to make strangers laugh. It con­tin­ues through a ca­reer dur­ing which Se­in­feld be­came ar­guably the great­est stand-up comic of his era and the piv­otal fig­ure of the fun­ni­est TV sit­com of its time.

Still, why did he save ev­ery joke of his ca­reer? Or at least ev­ery one that got a laugh?

“A lot of peo­ple ask me that ques­tion and I al­ways say I don’t know why I saved any­thing else,” he replies with a chuckle in a phone in­ter­view. Then he adds more se­ri­ously, “This is the most valu­able thing I have.”

Hun­kered down in the fam­ily home with his wife and their three chil­dren in East Hamp­ton, New York, he is con­tin­u­ing to add to those fold­ers.

He’s also work­ing on an­other pro­ject that for the mo­ment he isn’t dis­cussing ex­cept to say it in­volves the peo­ple with whom he made the hit 2007 an­i­mated com­edy film Bee Movie.

Even quar­an­tined from the coro­n­avirus, Se­in­feld says he finds no short­age of new ma­te­rial.

“A lot of ma­te­rial just comes out of be­ing con­stantly ir­ri­tated by some­thing else, and that seems to go on end­lessly,” he says, es­pe­cially when stay­ing home with four other peo­ple.

“It’s usu­ally one good fight per day, I would say, is our ba­sic rou­tine. Two meals and one good fight.”

Still, un­like his bach­e­lor days in Man­hat­tan, be­ing a fam­ily man puts a limit on just how much ir­ri­ta­tion he can vent.

“When I lived alone when I was sin­gle, I would fill up an en­tire house with com­plaints, but now I have to share it,” he jokes. “I’m on a com­plaint diet.”

When the pan­demic fi­nally ends, he’s look­ing for­ward to go­ing back out on the road, reschedul­ing the stand-up gigs he had to can­cel. But don’t look for him to fill them with coro­n­avirus jokes, al­though sev­eral good ones fill the last chap­ter of Is This Any­thing?

“I think peo­ple are go­ing to be so sick of it that they’re go­ing to move on and want us to talk about other things,” he says of that and pol­i­tics, al­though he ad­mits he’s been con­sumed by both dur­ing the months stuck at home.

Still, he’s never been much for po­lit­i­cal jokes, say­ing that, one, he’s not good at them, and two, they don’t hold up over time.

“It’s like pol­i­tics ages and spoils very quickly,” he con­tin­ues. “But a great piece of standup can live a long life.”

One other thing he’ll be do­ing is head­ing back to his se­cond home in his beloved Man­hat­tan and drop­ping by the din­ers and com­edy clubs again.

“That’s kind of my New York lifestyle, din­ers and com­edy clubs.

“Like on the TV se­ries,” he adds of the char­ac­ter he por­trayed on Se­in­feld from 1989 to 1998.

“Funny thing is,” he con­tin­ues, dur­ing the TV se­ries, “I never went to din­ers, re­ally, and had cof­fee in those days. And now I do.

“I’m liv­ing the life of the char­ac­ter on the show.”

 ?? THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS ?? In co­me­dian Jerry Se­in­feld’s new book, Is This Any­thing?, the comic re­veals a time­line of jokes he’s writ­ten over the past 45 years.
THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS In co­me­dian Jerry Se­in­feld’s new book, Is This Any­thing?, the comic re­veals a time­line of jokes he’s writ­ten over the past 45 years.

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