Jerry Seinfeld says 'good stand-up should feel like jazz'
Jerry Seinfeld talks to EW about his new book Is This Anything?
Jerry Seinfeld is releasing his first book in 25 years— letting the world in on his very particular process.
EW spoke with the comedian ahead of the release of Is This Anything? (Oct. 6) about how he dug up material from his early days for the book, why he wanted to share his process now, and whether young comedians need to go viral to break into comedy now.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: To write this book, you went through your filing cabinets filled with jokes from the past 45 years. How were you able to organize it?
JERRY SEINFELD: If I had something I thought was good, I would just throw it in a folder. When I sat down to do the book, most of the stuff was in terrible, terrible shape. It was just scribblings that were completely unorganized. It took me months and months and months. But I remember every joke because, as a comedian, there’s nothing we care about more than the joke. When it’s life-and-death, you remember!
Why did you decide to share this inside look at your work after all this time?
When I was young, I was starving to try to figure out this world we live in. I couldn’t figure out how these [comedians] were doing this, or what [the industry] even was, but I just loved it. So I wanted to leave a trail for young people. I thought it might be a nice thing to leave a written document of my work, for whatever value it might have to other young comics.
Early on in Is This Anything?, you talk about a book, The Last Laugh by Phil Berger, and a movie, 1974’s Lenny (starring Dustin Hoffman), which inspired you to get into comedy. Is there a piece of music that influenced your stand-up?
Oh, yeah. I like jazz. I stopped really listening to rock music in my early 20s. Good stand-up should feel like jazz, in that it’s a very pure invention of that person.
How much of your success is due to being naturally funny versus putting in the work?
There has to be a certain spark of life. It’s like the way a lighter works. You have the fluid, the friction, but the spark is what makes the alchemy of a bursting laugh. It’s an unearthly phenomenon. To control it is...it’s kind of like juggling fire. Like with baseball — what they do is try to get the percentages just slightly more in their favor. Choke up on the bat. Move just an inch. Lock my elbow up. Bring my hands down. Comedians are not risk-takers, they are risk eliminators.
The industry is so different now from what it was in your early days. Do you think up-and-coming comedians have to chase viral moments more?
Yeah, and that’s fine! The greatest thing about stand-up is getting into it. The worst part of stand-up is being thrown out of it. I was so happy when I made it inside comedy. I felt like a tropical fish that had found an aquarium. All I want is to never leave this aquarium.
For more from EW's Fall Books Special, order the October issue of Entertainment Weekly now, or find it on newsstands beginning Sept. 18. You can also find a special edition of the issue at Barnes & Noble stores beginning Sept. 25. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
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