In what could easily be billed as a priceless ticket, Netflix brought David Letterman and Jerry Seinfeld together in a rare live sit down last night in Hollywood for Emmy voters, where the two interviewed each other, canvassing a melange of topics from how they met, the wakes they left behind, the headaches of show businesses, the ‘My Pillow guy’, Flexseal and their weight. Letterman was at Netflix’s FYSEE space at Raleigh Studios to spotlight his talk series on the streaming giant My Next Guest Needs No Introduction while Seinfeld was repping his stand-up Netflix special Jerry Before Seinfeld.
“Do you do Trump stuff when you go up?” Letterman asked Seinfeld about his act.
“No, it doesn’t interest me,” said Seinfeld, “I do a lot of raisins stuff,” and that was the extent to which POTUS, the punching bag for most comedians and late-night talk show hosts, was broached during the evening between the two 1990s icons. The two also didn’t spend that much time doting on current affairs, again keeping the chatter about themselves, except when comedian and White House Correspondents Dinner host Michelle Wolf came up.
Letterman asked Seinfeld his thoughts about her dinner gig, to which he answered, “I’m very simplistic. What I love about comedy is that nobody has to talk about what happened. We all felt it and saw it” after which he went on a tangent about how useless it is for the media to review comedians’ sets, especially after they’ve left town.
“So I saw the complete script of what she had done. The more I got to thinking about it, I thought ‘wow, that was great.’ Because, just, whatever the reaction – there’s no damage. And she had the guts to stand up there and didn’t apologize, where everybody is now apologizing for everything. So whether you liked it or not, I really had great admiration for the fact that she was able to just walk into that room and decimate the place.” said Letterman to great applause.
“They both made New York food workers famous,” said Netflix content boss Ted Sarandos in his introduction of the duo last night, an appearance that will not serve as an episode of Letterman’s My Next Guest.
“Both TV legends were responsible for shaping NBC in different ways,” said Sarandos, “I don’t know how tonight is going to go, but if it’s like Dave’s show on Netflix, it’s going to be a great deep dive-hour where we might be here all night. If it’s Jerry’s show we’ll be in-and-out in 20 minutes including the car talk.”
By those time standards, it went Dave’s way with the evening lasting close to 90 minutes.
At the onset, Letterman and Seinfeld figured out that it was at the Comedy Store on Sunset where they first met around 1978. Letterman asked Seinfeld who his peers were coming up at the Comedy Store, to which the latter confessed, “I never got into the Comedy Store. Mitzi Shore didn’t care for me and told me in no uncertain terms to my face” — and this was at a time when Seinfeld says he was doing well as a stand-up. Letterman pressed him to which Seinfeld answered, “Ya know she recently passed? It would not be an appropriate story”.
In talking about the Comedy Store, the convo switched to Freddie Prinze and how the Chico and the Man star would show up in his sports car to perform at the club. Seinfeld in getting philosophical about the craft described the late comedian who took his life at 22 as a “comedian on a great stallion”.
“Talent is a horse that you just find yourself on, and the extent that you can learn to ride it, or throws you — that’s how I think of a career. A rider on a horse. You’re trying to control this talent, you have this talent, you discovered you have this thing and now it’s how do I make it work,” said Seinfeld.
Seinfeld asked Letterman about coming west and leaving his Indiana weatherman job behind.
“Did you know you wanted to be a stand-up comedian?” asked Seinfeld.
“I know I would have to do it, I did not want to do it, I knew I had to do it,” answered Letterman to which Seinfeld responded, “That’s weird.”
“All I wanted to do was get on The Tonight Show and then I thought once I get on The Tonight Show, by God, I bet they give it to me,” said Letterman.
“Which they did,” Seinfeld quipped referring to the whole Leno-Letterman debacle at NBC that prompted the latter to walk uptown to CBS for his own 11:30PM rival slot with The Late Show.
Seinfeld shared, “I was the only guy in the 80s who was welcome on your show and Carson. Usually there was a bit of a wall there…If you were a Carson comic, you probably were not young enough or cool enough for Late Night and vice versa. I was able to go back and forth and I was always very proud of that in the early days. ”
“I know the experience of being with Johnny. If you didn’t do well they were going to pull your show business license and you would be gone,” Letterman responded, “Many people did not come back form a bad experience on that show.”
While The Tonight Show possessed a number of ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’ in regards to what could be done on the talk show comedically, Letterman took advantage and worked around that show’s rules in turning Late Night into a benchmark show. Letterman regaled how he would go back and forth with his writing staff on what was necessarily funny. Was it the offbeat stuff that he enjoyed with his writers? Or would that alienate people? Seinfeld believed that Letterman stuck to his guns material-wise, evident in the circus he served up with such kooky guests as Larry Bud Melman.
When it came to Seinfeld, the stand-up said that a bulk of what made it on-air stemmed from what he and co-creator Larry David found funny. If a storyline or piece of material had been used before on another sitcom, it was off limits.
The two further compared notes on their approach to material: Seinfeld is a guy who collects notes since he’s always been about building an act, whereas Letterman, following sage wisdom from his late manager Jack Rollins, tosses his jokes away after he’s finished. After a bad performance several decades ago, Rollins told Letterman that “‘comedy is a like a paper cup. Once you’re done with it, you crush it, and throw it away'”
“I tried to take that to heart,” said the Netflix talk show host.
Letterman asked Seinfeld about keeping a clean act.
“It’s a skill sport for me,” said Seinfeld, “I could use the words, I don’t find offense with them, but (as comedians) we’re suppose to be good at language.”
Letterman agreed: Profanity exists in comedy to heighten mediocre material; “It’s a crutch.” Seinfeld then remembered a moment on Late Night in 1991 when the F-bomb occurred during Letterman’s interview with Joe Pesci. “You were both so freaked out, you got up and walked off the set,” said the comedian.
And before closing out their night, they took to their clean observational stylings.
“What do you think of this ‘My Pillow’ guy trying to sell pillows? Would you try that pillow?,” asked Seinfeld.
“I’d try that pillow because two presidents have used those pillows,” snarked Letterman.
“Is he more annoying or less annoying then the un-tuck-it-shirt guy?” continued Seinfeld.
The material switched over to Flexseal.
“My son likes it when the guy (in the commercial) cuts his boat in half, and then he gets out and drives around in the boot and yells ‘Yahoooo!’ — proof positive that the Flexseal is keeping him from drowning” observed Letterman.
“I’ve got seven minutes on Flexseal,” declared Seinfeld.
Throughout the night the two complimented each other, and then waved each other’s praises. Letterman reminded Seinfeld how his NBC comedy series was the all-time best per Rolling Stone.
Letterman said he should have quit the late-night talk show circuit ten years earlier because he could have done more for humanity.
“I think you could not have done more for humans than what you did,” Seinfeld told Letterman to big applause, “You did 30 years of culturally changing television.”
“Please stop staying that,” responded Letterman, “It’s not true.”
“Then who did, Merv? Did Merv change the world?” exclaimed Seinfeld sarcastically.
But as Sarandos predicted to a degree, it was Seinfeld who ultimately called an end to the conversation because everyone had to get to dinner.
“I think we’re about done here,” said Seinfeld.
“Wait, a minute are we done?” asked Letterman who then went on for another five minutes asking about Seinfeld’s work with Tracy Morgan.
“I don’t have anything else,” said Seinfeld.
“That’s been apparent,” elbowed Letterman.