Jerry Seinfeld sips from one of Starbucks’ recognizable holiday cups at the start of an interview about his new book “The Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Book” (Simon & Schuster, 352 pp., out now) commemorating the decade since his series first percolated on Crackle.
“Good coffee is my drink, but I will drink any coffee,” Seinfeld, 68, says.
His beverage is an interesting choice considering the standup personally pitched “Comedians in Cars” back when it was a bean of an idea to Howard Schultz, then-CEO of Starbucks and got denied.
“He said, ‘I don’t see how this is right for us,’” remembers Seinfeld. “And I said, ‘Well, maybe another major comedian will have a show with the word coffee in the title very soon that you will like.’”
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The series ended up debuting in 2012 on Crackle, but after nine seasons found a new home on Netflix. The show’s 11th and latest season premiered in 2019. At this time, there are no plans for additional installments.
The Starbucks story is one noted in an oral history featured in the book, which also includes an introduction from Seinfeld and transcribed snippets of episodes divided into sections about getting started in comedy, relationships, the art of comedy and “Seinfeld” the series.
Over 84 episodes, Seinfeld has interviewed comedic legends like Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin. The “Comedians in Cars” host was “most nervous” for his chat with then-sitting President Barack Obama for Season 7.
“I didn’t want to waste his time, for obvious reasons,” says Seinfeld. “I was very appreciative that they were even letting me do that, that he was willing to do that. That’s not like sitting with Jamie Foxx. It’s a very different energy.”
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Seinfeld says Obama surprised him in every way: “That he wanted to do it, that he was comfortable doing it, that he enjoyed doing it. There’s not too many cool presidents… I don’t think I could have a conversation with most presidents or would even want to.”
Getting all the way to the White House is an impressive feat for a show Seinfeld wasn’t sure would putter along. He had doubts he didn’t experience at the start of his eponymously named sitcom famously billed as being “about nothing.”
“I knew that ‘Seinfeld’ was going to be a hit,” the star and co-creator says. “I didn’t know how, in what way, but I knew people were ready for a show where people talked differently.”
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But with “Comedians in Cars,” Seinfeld says the project was so personal, he wasn’t sure how it would be received. “There’s this other side of my life that was about just hanging out with these crazy people and was just as great for me as the career part.”
On-camera hangouts with his fellow comics are “less dirty” than off, Seinfeld says. But he wanted the show to be family friendly. “Comedians are very, very vile in our discourse,” he says. “Very whatever the opposite of politically correct is, that’s how comedians talk. It’s vile. It’s vicious, and it’s unsympathetic to anyone in every situation.
“Steve Harvey had a great line in his episode about whenever there’s some tragedy, comedians have to figure out how long till we can talk about it,” Seinfeld continues. “But we have the jokes already. The jokes are ready immediately, that second.”
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There’s nothing too sacred to make fun of, Seinfeld says. Nothing is off-limits.
“It’s not the thing, it’s the joke,” he explains. “How good is the joke? Obviously, the worse the thing, the better the joke has to be to justify doing it.”
It’s a conversation with Don Rickles, a guest from Season 2 who died at age 90 in 2017, who Seinfeld says influences his career today. Outside of Rickles’ condo, “his leg was bothering him and he was trying to shake the leg out, and he just looked at me and he says, ‘I gotta keep working,'” Seinfeld recalls. “I don’t know why, but I think about that a lot. I think about this thing of just working till death. Is that the right or the wrong thing to do? Is that a good light to follow in life just work till you’re dead? I’ve decided it is.”
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