Seinfeld turned Jerry Seinfeld from a popular standup comedian to a TV star. The classic sitcom about nothing still plays in syndication. Seinfeld himself recalled the process he and co-creator Larry David went through to write the very first script, when the show was called The Seinfeld Chronicles.
Seinfeld was a guest on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast on June 8. In the discussion between the two comedians, writers and actors, Seinfeld revealed how he developed the secret to writing Seinfeld long before he ever got the show.
Jerry Seinfeld learned from the mistakes of other comedians
Seinfeld rose to prominence at comedy clubs like Catch a Rising Star in the ’70s. His goal was to be on The Tonight Show and he would become a regular. He saw fellow comics do well in the club with 35 minutes but then bomb on TV doing only six.
“He goes on, does well, goes on again, not as good,” Seinfeld told Maron. “Goes on a third time, struggles, never see him again. I noticed that as a young man. I went, ‘Ohhhh. Now I see how this works. What you think you have is not what you really have when they put you under that light in that context under those constraints.’ So I realized I have to have a way of growing. I need a better system than that. So I set about creating that for myself.”
Jerry Seinfeld practiced writing comedy the way George Burns did
A friend gave Seinfeld George Burns’ book Living It Up, or They Still Love Me In Altoona. Seinfeld decided to practice the method for comedy writing Burns described.
“I read that he sat and worked every day for at least two hours on jokes, which I had never heard of or done,” Seinfeld said. “Everybody was just doing it on stage and I think to this day most people do. They just catch hold of an idea, they take it on stage and that works for a lot of people. It wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to go dig deeper down the hole and I wanted to take my time doing it and then take it on stage and then go back and explore.”
That became Seinfeld’s process. He wrote most of his classic sets you see that way.
“It was the back and forth stage and the pad, the stage and the pad,” Seinfeld said. “Then I found I was coming up with a lot of stuff. Then I started progressing and going past people. I thought oh, this is my way.”
He was still writing for ‘The Tonight Show’
Seinfeld’s standup would eventually translate into Seinfeld. First, he just didn’t want to lose his spot in the Tonight Show rotation.
“I thought if I’m going to get on The Tonight Show three times a year and crush every one of them, this has got to be a bit of a serious endeavor,” Seinfeld said. “Because I loved it so much, all I wanted was I didn’t want to get kicked out. I’d seen so many people get kicked out. You go on, you do a couple shots and they don’t want you anymore. I didn’t want to be one of those casualties.”
Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David used the same process to create ‘Seinfeld’
By the time Seinfeld and David hooked up to write The Seinfeld Chronicles, they both know how to put jokes on a page.
“If you go from that moment to when Larry David and I got the TV series and you roll a blank sheet of paper into a typewriter, I was not intimidated by the because I’d been looking at blank sheets of paper for years at that time,” Seinfeld said. “I knew how to write. When Jerry and George sit down together at the coffee shop, Larry and I, neither one of us were intimidated by that.”