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.
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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
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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:
- Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld
- Seinfeld | Sony Pictures Entertainment
- Jerry Seinfeld | Netflix
- Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee | Netflix
- 23 Hours to Kill | Netflix
- The Last Laugh: The World of Stand-Up Comics by Phil Berger
- What I’ve Learned (Best Of) | Esquire
- Albert Brooks’ Famous School for Comedians | Esquire
- Jerry Seinfeld Is Making Peace With Nothing: He’s ‘Post-Show Business’ | The New York Times
- Neil Gaiman — The Interview I’ve Waited 20 Years to Do | The Tim Ferriss Show #366
- Jerry Seinfeld: Comedian, Innovator, Micromanager | Harvard Business Review
- Why The Beatles Broke Up | Rolling Stone
- My Cyborg Ear: How a Surgeon and Titanium Cured My Lifelong Deafness | Gizmodo
- The Black Stallion | Prime Video
- Transcendental Meditation (TM)
- Body for Life: 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength by Bill Phillips and Michael D’Orso
- An Officer and a Gentleman | Prime Video
- Laird Hamilton, The King of Big Wave Surfing (Plus: Gabrielle Reece and Brian MacKenzie) | The Tim Ferriss Show #89
- Hugh Jackman on Best Decisions, Daily Routines, The 85% Rule, Favorite Exercises, Mind Training, and Much More | The Tim Ferriss Show #444
- High-Intensity Interval Training: How to Do HIIT Workouts for Weight Loss | Self
- Jerry Seinfeld’s First Appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show | NBC
- The Comedy Store
- Jerry Seinfeld Recalls the Legendary Comedy Promoter Who Hated Him | Cheat Sheet
- Seinfeld saying “Newman!” | Seinfeld
- Why Is the Hudson River So Gross? Years of Pollution and Toxic Chemicals Make it Pretty Unsafe | Distractify
- The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman by Timothy Ferriss
- Bob Iger — CEO and Chairman of Disney | The Tim Ferriss Show #406
- How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the “Seinfeld Strategy” | James Clear
- Gotham Comedy Club
- In the Heart of the Sea | Prime Video
- In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
- The Skinner Box or Operant Conditioning Chamber | Verywell Mind
- Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s by Gerald Nachman
- 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]
- Phil Berger
- Cal Fussman
- Albert Brooks
- Neil Gaiman
- Rocky Marciano
- Bill Phillips
- Lou Gossett, Jr.
- Johnny Carson
- George Carlin
- Laird Hamilton
- Christopher Columbus
- Hugh Jackman
- Mitzi Shore
- Alexis Ohanian
- Lindsey Vonn
- Sam Kinison
- Bob Iger
- Adam Wright
- Ron Howard
- Jimmy Fallon
- B.F. Skinner
- Woody Allen
- Lenny Bruce
- Joan Rivers