Vibrant, new comedy web series emerge on the Internet almost every week. The problem is, almost none of them star Jerry Seinfeld.
Earlier this summer, a promo for Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee quietly debuted on the web, promising to show the star of America's favorite "show about nothing" doing what he does best: dissecting the minutia of everyday life with other funny people. Only this time, they'd be in cars. Getting coffee.
Now on its fifth episode, Seinfeld's relatable brand of observational comedy is alive and well in each 11-minute conversation with the likes of Larry David, Alec Baldwin, Ricky Gervais and Brian Regan. This week, Seinfeld spoke about the new project for the first time with HuffPost Comedy, explaining his personal mission to give fans a taste of what it means to live a life in comedy -- specifically, the casual chatter that enriches it -- without the distraction of advertisements or promotional tie-ins.
HuffPost Comedy: Hi Jerry, how’s it going?
Jerry Seinfeld: Fantastic.
HPC: Thanks for taking the time.
JS: Congratulations on this great honor! You’re the first journalist that I’m speaking to.
HPC: [Laughs] I can’t tell you how thrilled I am about that.
JS: Yeah, believe me, I’ve tried everything to avoid it. I thought if I give the show a very explanatory name I won’t have to explain the show.
HPC: You’d think so, right?
JS: That was the idea behind the name. What else do I need to say?
HPC: Well you are one of a select few people in the comedy industry who can essentially do whatever you want. Why a web series, and why now?
JS: I think I first started playing around with this kind of thing in 2002 with my “Comedian” documentary. Colin Quinn and I did a commentary as a DVD extra and I was kind of amazed at how funny it was. You know, it was just us sitting there talking. Then I bought this VW Bug in Albuquerque, New Mexico and went to pick it up with my friend Barry Mardar and we videotaped ourselves driving back. And so those two experiences plus the “Comedian” documentary itself really had a lot of just comedians talking, although it was more talking shop than what you would call the usual stand-up comedian nonsense talking that we do quite a bit of.
JS: We’re very well-served with talk shows and comedian interview experiences, we get plenty of that. I thought, “Maybe there’s something else.” I always just felt like there was another thing to the life of a comedian that audiences might enjoy, but I had to figure out how to create a context where it would happen. I don’t think it happens, you know, in what I guess we would call the ‘controlled environment.’ So, I cooked this up.
HPC: In the first episode, Larry David joked that you finally did a show about nothing. Is that sort of what you intended, to have a free-flowing conversation, kind of like what you had on the show in the coffee shop?
JS: Nobody enjoys the “little show about nothing” humor more than me, but that is never the way I look at it. To me these are great things and essential things. I’m very well-known as an obsessive of the minute, but it’s not minute to me. I mean, this is stuff that I love and I wanted to make something for comedy fans and people that wanted to maybe experience this other side of the life of these comedians.
HPC: It seems pretty genuine and true to the types of conversations that comedians actually have.
JS: Oh it is, very much so. I hate when people think any of the laughter is forced. It may be annoying to certain people -- I get that -- but the laughter is completely genuine. I mean, all of these guys, we love comedy so much. So when we get together we love making other people laugh and being made to laugh.
HPC: It seems like so far your guests have all been people that you’ve known for a long time. Are all the guests going to be old friends of yours, or do you have people coming up that you’re newly acquainted with?
JS: Well Ricky Gervais is someone who I’m newly acquainted with. I did one with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks which is really interesting and unusual and Mel and I had never met before.
HPC: Wow, really?
JS: No, never met him before. [Reiner and Brooks] have this nightly dinner that they do at Carl Reiner’s house and they’ve been doing it for some years. They get together every night and eat together and watch TV together in the living room, and a lot of people have tried to come in there and film it and they weren’t comfortable with it so I was very flattered that they allowed me to do it. Obviously that was amazing, you know, that room was incredible to be in, I mean, there’s a lot of big comedy stuff that happened with those two guys. I was very excited about that one.
HPC: That must be one of your favorite episodes.
JS: I love all of them. They’re all kind of just mud pies to me. I don’t know what they’re going to be and I have my own little internal rules for what I’m trying to make, but one of my things is that I want to put people in a certain mood, and these elements of stand-up comics and cars and coffee to me, create a mood. So that’s what I’m after.
HPC: So does the Reiner/Brooks episode not take place in a car while getting coffee? It’s dinner at their house?
JS: No, it started out with me going out with Carl Reiner and then he mentions to me that he and Mel get together every night and I was fascinated by it. And then he invited me to come that night, so I did.
HPC: That’s incredible.
JS: Yeah, we talked about “Get Smart” and “Blazing Saddles” and the 2000 Year Old Man and “The Producers.” I mean… I was kind of wobbly when I left that one.
HPC: In the last episode you mentioned that you would host the Oscars under some pretty funny special conditions with Alec Baldwin. Do you think that that could actually come to fruition?
JS: [Laughs] No I don’t. I don’t think they’re gonna hire him to produce it, number one. I was just kind of joking around there. I was imagining “The Larry Sanders” show and I’m Garry Shandling and he’s Rip Torn. I thought that would be funny, but the Oscars is a very wonderful tradition. I kind of like it the way it is. And I know people want to change it but [...] I don’t think the host can completely reinvent it, and I don’t know if it needs to be reinvented. I really am loving trying to do something where I don’t know what the rules are and nobody else does either.
HPC: The Internet has freed up a lot of comedians to produce these personal sorts of series and also releasing their specials directly online. Would you consider doing other online ventures in addition to the series?
JS: No, I’m frankly completely obsessed with the show and I love that it seems to have found a little audience that’s enjoying it and that’s a wonderful connection. It’s very much like the experience of being a stand-up comic in that you come up with something and you bring it right to the general public. There’s no intermediary. I haven’t done one ad. We have no advertising commercial promotion. This is my first interview. I haven’t talked about it. So, I just went right to the public with it and they liked it and it didn’t really matter much what anybody else thought about it.
HPC: Very cool. All the cars that you’re using in the show, are they yours or rentals or is there some sort of promotion going on with that?
JS: No there’s no promotion. Three of the cars are mine and the rest are ones we called people and asked to borrow and paid them for the day for using the car.
HPC: So it’s entirely your own project.
JS: Yeah, this is my personal little idea of a small, fun show, and I think it seems to fit these new mediums: small screens and portable digital platforms. I got the idea at the right time, I guess, because I don’t think I could have made this three years ago. I don’t think the cameras existed, the viewing devices didn’t exist in the numbers that they do now. So it all just kind of seemed to be good timing.
HPC: Tell me a little bit about the “Spare Parts” outtakes. How do you decide what to cut?
JS: The episode itself I like to keep to a certain length. Even if I have tons of great stuff, I don’t want an episode to run too long. Kind like how a pop song has gotta be about three minutes. Things feel right to me at like 11 or 12 minutes but sometimes I have a lot of funny stuff, and there are obviously obsessive fans out there and we love them, so we want to give them more if they want more. I put up these little “spare parts” if you want more so you can kind of customize the length depending upon how much you’re liking that particular show.WATCH: "Spare Part" featuring Joel Hodgson
HPC: You’re also battling the ADD generation online so I’m sure that helps.
JS: Yeah, although from what they’re telling me the length of time that people are hanging in with these shows is kind of not typical. I’m very excited that I’ve gotten people to sit, you know, for that length of time. We put a lot of care into each one, you know the music and the images and the conversation. It may seem completely casual, and the day is casual, but the post production is not casual because I want these shows to have this particular feeling.
HPC: Are there any other upcoming episodes you’re particularly looking forward to releasing?
JS: Well, some of the people you’re not going to recognize at all and I didn’t ask them to be on the show because of their profile, just because of the chemistry that I have with them and the funny conversations that I have with them. For example, a lot of people were not aware of Brian Regan. He’s extremely popular but outside of his fanbase there were a lot of people that didn’t know about him. So I was only too thrilled to introduce him to an audience that maybe isn’t aware of him. There’s a couple of other people coming up that probably are not household names, but I feel like in this format you can potentially get a little addicted to them as I am and want to see more of them.
HPC: I was surprised to see you in this week’s episode with Joel from “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
JS: Yeah Joel and I know each other probably from ‘84 or ‘85 when we met and we’ve been friends all this time. I have antennae for people who are funny to talk to, I think since I was a little kid I’ve sought these people out. It’s been one of the big aspects of the joy of living a life in comedy: all your friends are comedians! So now I’m getting to share that with audiences. It’s pretty fun.
HPC: And let’s not forget about the coffee.
JS: And the coffee! Don’t forget the coffee! I’m having a cup right now. Coffee is a comedic substance to me. Obviously, we had tons of it on the TV series. It’s the preferred social lubricant of the overactive mind.
HPC: That’s a great way to put it. Are there any people that you would like to bring on the show but haven’t reached out to them yet?
JS: I talked to some people that kind of see this as something that could expand beyond just the comedy world and I suppose at some point that might be possible, but not in the near future. It might be fun to interview like, David Mamet or Bill Gates or David Wright or somebody like that. But at this point I’m still... I like this tiny world.
HPC: It’s definitely something to consider, especially if you can get people to pay attention for 12 minutes on the Internet. That’s basically the equivalent of a 30-minute show on TV.
JS: Yeah, although it’s more intense. I find that you have to be more respectful of people’s attention on the Internet than you do on TV, but TV is not as personal. The Internet is a very personal medium. You only want to look at what you as an individual want to look at. That’s why I’m strict about the length of the episodes and the feel of the episodes. When you make a TV show they always say you’re a guest in someone’s home. Online, you’re a guest in someone’s face. So that’s why I try to make it sound and look and feel very inviting and attractive, because I know that I’m in your face.
HPC: Have there been any funny or scary mishaps with the cars or driving?
JS: Anything like that I would have definitely used in the show. The scariest one was Ricky Gervais, we were really struggling to keep that car on the road [laughs].
HPC: And then when you were with Brian it wouldn’t start.
JS: Yeah that was almost a good mishap. It will definitely happen. We will definitely have a flat tire or a break down at some point and I think it’s gonna be great. Two idiots trying to change a tire... That would be a good episode to make.
HPC: That could be a whole spin-off series: Comedians Breaking Down In Cars... With Coffee.
HPC: Anything else you want to say about your upcoming guests?
JS: I love ‘em all. I’m not just saying that. I mean these people, I would have done this anyway. We would have gone out that day anyway. That’s the thing about the show. We’re not plugging anything, we’re not trying to keep our face out there and it’s not an exposure thing. This is just what we like to do.