December 24, 2020

Jerry Seinfeld — A Comedy Legend’s Systems, Routines, and Methods for Success (#485)

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Pain is knowledge rushing in to fill a void with great speed.

— Jerry Seinfeld

Entertainment icon Jerry Seinfeld’s (@jerryseinfeld) comedy career took off after his first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1981. Eight years later, he teamed up with fellow comedian Larry David to create what was to become the most successful comedy series in the history of television: Seinfeld. The show ran on NBC for nine seasons, winning numerous Emmy, Golden Globe, and People’s Choice awards, and was named the greatest television show of all time in 2009 by TV Guide and in 2012 was identified as the best sitcom ever in a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll.

Seinfeld made his Netflix debut with the original stand-up special Jerry Before Seinfeld along with his Emmy-nominated and critically acclaimed web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which has garnered over 100 million views and which The New York Times describes as “impressively complex and artful” and Variety calls “a game-changer.” His latest stand-up special, 23 Hours To Kill, was released by Netflix earlier this year.

He is also the author of Is This Anything?, which features his best work across five decades in comedy.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear another episode with a comedian who embraces the “just work” philosophy? Check out my conversation with Jerrod Carmichael, in which we discuss the benefits of being a creature of habit, common comedian mistakes, good versus great comedians, achieving zero fear, overcoming writer’s block, the wisdom of cliches, and much more.

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Jerry Seinfeld:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

SHOW NOTES

  • How did the book The Last Laugh: The World of Stand-Up Comics by Phil Berger enter Jerry’s life, and what made it so influential to him as a high-schooler who didn’t do much reading outside of comic books and magazines like Esquire? [07:35]
  • How is Jerry’s writing technique similar to that of fiction writer and past guest Neil Gaiman, and how has it changed over time? What did Jerry learn very early on about the importance of writing in his chosen career as a stand-up comedian? [11:41]
  • What’s the real wellspring of ideas that Jerry spins into comedy gold, what is typically the enemy of this wellspring, and what lifestyle choice did he make that almost ensures the well never runs dry? [18:42]
  • To understand Jerry’s micromanagement approach to steering Seinfeld for nine seasons on network television (and why this turned out to be his limit), imagine it as a boat. [21:05]
  • Did Jerry look toward any role models when deciding to step away from this massively successful creative endeavor on a high note? [24:51]
  • Is the irritability Jerry credits as a wellspring of material actual dissatisfaction, or just more of a sensitivity to notice what others might overlook in the moment? [26:01]
  • Jerry says there was a lack of discord among the cast of Seinfeld, which seems to be a rarity — especially for a comedy ensemble that lasts nine years together. To what does he attribute this lack of discord? [28:23]
  • Why Jerry considers “systemize” a valuable part of his personal operating system, and how he’s trying to instill it in his own kids to apply it to their own projects. [32:17]
  • What are the main lessons Jerry would try to convey if he taught a class on writing, and how does this tie in with the methods he used to get back in shape later in life? [36:23]
  • On feedback and why Jerry never shares what he’s written for at least 24 hours. [38:43]
  • Does Jerry solicit feedback from fellow comics when he’s finished a stand-up set? [41:23]
  • If a reward is crucial for a writing session, does Jerry have a self-reward for completing a stand-up set? [42:29]
  • As a beginning comedian, did Jerry have a long-term career plan? [43:17]
  • What kind of audience feedback from a set would, for Jerry, beat the reward of an ice cream sundae? [44:23]
  • Aside from writing sessions, what other routines does Jerry consider imperative to his well-being, and how often–and for what kind of duration–are they followed? [47:49]
  • How learning to nurture your creative self is akin to parenting, and why Jerry believes that “pain is really knowledge rushing in to fill a void at great speed.” [52:27]
  • Aside from his aforementioned daily routines, is there anything else that helps Jerry stave off or mitigate depressive episodes? Would he agree with other comics who fear seeking help for depression because it might rob them of the mechanism that gives them their best material? [53:56]
  • Does Jerry have any favorite failures that set him up for later success? [56:24]
  • What happened when Jerry went from writing three days a week to seven? [1:01:14]
  • How many times did Jerry rehearse his set before appearing on The Tonight Show for the very first time? [1:03:00]
  • Why does Jerry think Mitzi Shore, The Comedy Store owner, gave him such a hard time? [1:03:13]
  • On self-sufficiency as a seemingly rare commodity in the world of comedy (except among those who are in it for the long haul), and how Jerry has maintained his constitution beyond his years through gamification. [1:06:40]
  • Has Jerry applied this gamification to creative or professional projects? [1:11:14]
  • Who comes to mind when Jerry hears the word “successful?” Maybe survival is the new success. [1:14:22]
  • What would Jerry’s billboard say? [1:20:21]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:21:51]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

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The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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