As hard as this might 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 hop in vintage cars and talk shop on their way to grab a cup of java — premiered July 19, 2012, on Crackle, then moved on to greener streaming pastures at Netflix in 2018.
Over its 11 seasons, Seinfeld has hosted just about every influential comic in the business — his 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 hosted a few comedy-adjacent folks, too: 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 tenth anniversary, Seinfeld has compiled some of the most memorable exchanges from the series The Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Book (Simon & Schuster). Available Nov. 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, appeared on an episode of Getting Coffee and features in the book, as well).
I’m really enjoying reading the book. I think what I love about it, and it’s also what I love 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 regular population?
A true comic really doesn’t care about anything else but getting the laugh. Everything else in human life feels artificial and pointless.
There was an interesting exchange in the book where you’re talking to Dave Chappelle about how Chris Rock has a real edge and that he speaks in pronouncements. You refer to his delivery using words like “commandments” and “closing arguments.” I really love that idea — that comedians have to take regular thoughts and make them more extreme.
Oh yeah, for sure. In fact, the dumber the idea that you’re presenting, the more fun it is. I think when it starts to become real, or starts to become, “This might be an actual relevant thought,” the fun is gone.
Do you think that’s somehow getting lost in translation with audiences now? Maybe that in the rise of social media, that somehow, in the journey from the stage to regular discourse, people are forgetting that these are extreme versions of thoughts?
That is clearly evolving as we speak. I watched a stand-up special this morning and [there were] tons of great jokes. But an absolutely essential and required element now is it shows us the tremendous psychic pain that 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 that’s become a part of what people want from stand-ups now.
[Audiences] seem so in love with stand-ups. And I think that’s a kind of an indictment of other forms of entertainment. Like, hey, the movies and TV are supposed to be doing 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 would want to hear was what was really bothering Rodney Dangerfield.” I do not want to know! Just gimme the jokes. Take the pain, gimme the jokes.
I was watching your New York Times video interview where you were explaining how you wrote the Pop-Tart joke. I really liked it because you were breaking it down in a way I hadn’t seen before. And you like joke crafting 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 to you, comedy is a science. It’s mathematically earning 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 buggy every night. Just a fun sound.
So sometimes that’s the musical part — sounds that are just fun to say. You always try. I have this whole long bit about personal storage areas and there’s a part of it where I go, “You gotta bust off the lock.” I don’t say “break into it.” I don’t say “struggle to get into it.” But the words “bust into a lock.” It’s fun for the ears.
I used to do this bit about bathroom stalls where I would say “the underdisplay viewing window.” There’s no word “underdisplay.” No phrase, it doesn’t exist. I made it up and everybody instantly understands it. But that’s the musical part — where it’s an entertainment for your ears. Purely for your ears.
And there are certain letters that are supposed to be funnier. Like “k” I hear is a funnier letter.
Yeah, 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 it. 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’d want to have in this venue.
But it made you uncomfortable.
It provokes a conversation which hopefully is 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’re friends and it’s 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 today for the first time after I just finished editing and then we’ll see where it is at next week. It should be out early next year, I think.
No kidding. And are you happy with the first cut? Can you tell us anything about it? I mean, it’s all fictional, right? It’s not a real retelling of the actual Pop-Tarts story.
Well, no. There is no story. But there are a couple of elements that are true that we use to begin the story, which is that Post came up with this idea and Kellogg’s heard about it and said, “We have to do the same thing.” And then I kind of told the story as The Right Stuff with NASA versus the Soviet Union.
The Pop-Tarts race.
Yeah, the Pop-Tarts race. (Laughs.)
Well I’m definitely looking forward to it. I am a big Pop-Tarts lover, so you’re speaking to your target audience here. I was also curious about something else: You surprised everyone by becoming a model. I’m curious how that came to be — that KITH fashion spread.
It was my son’s idea. They just asked me to put on the clothes. I put on the clothes. (Laughs.) I had a friend who was this brilliant photographer taking pictures and I thought, “This’ll be in the back page of some W magazine.” That no one will ever see it.
Oh, well. That didn’t happen.
It was an insane, weird thing how that 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 that. But of course so many people saw it and it was so funny to me. Literally took an hour, that whole thing. “Put this jacket on and I’ll sit over here.” “Take a picture.” “Give that hat.” “I’ll sit over there.” “Take that picture.” We were just fooling around.
Has it opened up other modeling opportunities?
Yeah. Yeah. I’m gonna be doing a lot of modeling.
So back to the book. What are you doing to promote it? Are you doing any signings or in-person appearances?
Yes, I’m doing this. This. You’re supposed to be helping me with that.
I’m going to help you!
Thank you, sir. Netflix just asked me if they could do a book party for me for the book. So we’ll be doing that. And I don’t know, whatever else seems a good thing to do.
And are you gonna be touring at all this year and in 2023?
Yeah, I’ve started touring this month. I’m just putting material together. But yeah, I’m doing shows now.
Terrific. I saw you at the Pantages and it was so funny. I love the bit about what a pain in the ass it is to even go to the theater.
Yeah. Yeah. And then you gotta go back.
Finally, I’m just curious, who are your all-stars? Our generation’s comedy all-stars.
Our generation. That’s a little broad. What’s the age range you’re giving me to work?
Well, they should be alive and over 40.
Alive and over 40. Who do I really love who I watched? Have you, this is a little obscure. I don’t know how deep you are into stand-up. Have you ever seen Fred Armisen: Standup for Drummers. It’s on Netflix. You have to be able to play a snare drum to get a ticket to go to the show. Because it’s all about drumming, but it really isn’t. It’s only like 15, 20 minutes of drumming material. But it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s a great stand-up special.
I love so many people. I love Ronny Chieng who does The Daily Show. I love his stand-up. I think it’s so excellent. I love Earthquake. I think he is incredible. 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 else do I really love 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’s 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.