Oprah Winfrey kicked off one of her last-ever national talk shows on Tuesday with hugs from Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise and Madonna in a packed Chicago arena. Instead, he shows up unannounced at some minor comedy club in New York or New Jersey, and inserts himself into that night's lineup. Having spent a decade making a celebrated "show about nothing", he could easily afford to just do nothing now. But he prefers - or feels compelled - to keep honing his act, trying a new line here, shaving a word off an old one there, analysing the audience's laughter: Aren't cows outside a lot of the time?
But in his best lines, buffed to a perfect shine, extreme professionalism crosses over into a kind of absurdist Zen - and that takes work. He has just posed for pictures in one of his trademark designer suits, but now he's back in dark jeans, a sweatshirt and blue-and-green sneakers, his tall frame slouched in a tatty armchair. A lot of times, you could play me just the laughs from my set and I could tell you, from the laugh, what the joke was.
They didn't want to move to Florida, but they're in their 60s, and that's the law. But I've said it many times: They get excited in the beginning, but they can't lie to me. They cannot lie to me. I'm going to find out.
There was the documentary Comedian ; and there was 's Bee Movie , a modest box-office success, which Seinfeld co-wrote and produced, and in which he voiced the lead role of a bee outraged to learn that humans are stealing honey.
But even as he promoted it, he was ruling out the possibility of a Hollywood producing career. Advertisement These days, an alternative possibility is beginning to suggest itself: His latest creation, a web series entitled Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee , has frequent moments of brilliance, but it's not even a show about nothing; it's barely a show at all.
In each of the episodes, which vary in length, Seinfeld collects a fellow comedian in a different vintage car Chris Rock, Larry David, Mel Brooks and Ricky Gervais are among the participants ; they then drive to a diner or cafe, drink coffee and talk. But apart from that, the analysis isn't unfair. What's strange is how well the idea works.
It's literally getting in a car. The format doesn't allow for audience-tested Seinfeld one-liners, so much of the pleasure comes from the other comedians' contributions. One of the best episodes largely involves Mel Brooks eating pastrami in Carl Reiner's living room and retelling old jokes: Put it under his head! Rewatching the show today is a curious experience. The haircuts are terrible, obviously. But the much-hyped focus on "nothing" - on overblown conflicts with doormen, restaurateurs and so on - feels familiar: The latter's success fuelled yet another theory about Seinfeld's posts career: What stands out, in those old Seinfelds, is the weird callousness: When George's fiancee dies, poisoned by the glue in the cheap wedding invitations he'd insisted on buying, his pure relief is certainly funny, and in keeping with the famous motto of the show's writers: The real-life Seinfeld has little time for this kind of analysis, professing zero interest in capturing zeitgeists, or in the postmodern themes that academics love identifying in his work.
He even claims, semi-convincingly, not to know what people meant when they called the sitcom "meta": Could you define it for me?
Baseball players don't think: To drop it to do something else? I just don't get that. But a person who defends themselves through aikido or tai chi? You've already got a better foundation than someone who's bringing up something that does not need to be discussed.
I find the chair very funny. No one's really interested in that - but I'm going to get you interested! That, to me, is just a fun game to play. And it's the entire basis of my career.
But a miscalculation, he insists, is what it was; it's a misunderstanding of standup to conclude that it showed Richards to be a racist himself. He already did it! It's a knife-throwing act, and unfortunately Michael missed.
In a recent New York Times profile of Seinfeld, another guest on the series, Sarah Silverman, called him "the least neurotic Jew on earth". But his early life was highly typical for Jewish New York. The son of Austrian and Syrian immigrants, he was raised in the Long Island town of Massapequa, which he likes to say is "an old Indian name, meaning 'by the mall'".
The family kept strictly kosher and attended synagogue; the teenage Jerome spent time on an Israeli kibbutz. He seems never to have considered any career but comedy: Jackie Mason, in the audience one night, delivered praise that kept him going for years: Seven years later, over coffee in a New York diner of course with Larry David, the sitcom, originally entitled The Seinfeld Chronicles, was born. All the way through, from first standup shows to stardom, he forced himself to work by marking a cross on a calendar for every day he wrote material; soon enough, he had a long chain of crosses, and kept going partly because he didn't want to break the chain.
Since he revealed this trick to a would-be comedian years ago, "Seinfeld's Productivity Secret" has achieved cult status online: This amuses its inventor no end. I can't believe this was useful information to anybody! There are people who think, 'I'll just sit around and do absolutely nothing, and somehow the work will get done'? But 15 years later, he touts the conventionality of his domestic arrangements: If you're smart, you stay married if you can.
Marriage is hard for everyone - that's a basic fact - but it's a better life if you can do it. That's going to tell me exactly your relationship to the world. I wouldn't need to know anything else. Advertisement The subject also offers him a guaranteed point of connection to audiences, counteracting the ironic fate of the extremely successful observational comic - which is that once you're travelling in private jets or a fleet of vintage Porsches, the life you're observing isn't one your audiences know.
You leave your gorgeous house, get in your gorgeous car, and go to some gorgeous place where you're feted. That was a conscious choice of mine, when I lived in LA: I thought, if I want to stay funny, I need to get out of here. I'll describe it very simply: And so now you can recover from this exhausting experience of being a human, twice a day. Now that's something that can help people. As opposed to this idiotic calendar thing. That's the same thing I was saying when I was five.
I can't believe they're still doing the same material! With a bit of work, there could be a few minutes of an act there.
Some things just have potential while others don't; he doesn't claim to be able to explain why. Chairs are inherently amusing. Salt-shakers, Seinfeld reckons, are not. Reflecting upon the comic possibilities of various other everyday objects, a thoughtful expression passes across his face. The third season of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee has begun at comediansincarsgettingcoffee.