Jerry Seinfeld Reveals the Joke He Wrote for Obama, Plans to Bring 'Comedians in Cars' to TV
The host, whose Crackle series is nominated for an Emmy alongside broadcast's bigwigs, also opens up about why he's "feeling less sad" about the late-night landscape and whether he'd consider doing an episode with Donald Trump.
Jerry Seinfeld was just as surprised as everybody else to hear that his Crackle series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, was nominated for an Emmy alongside Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live!
"I feel like Lewis and Clark here paddling down the river to find the new world, and I can't believe I've found it," he says of the Sony-produced show in which he interviews comedy heavyweights including Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin and the late Garry Shandling over a car ride and coffee. The show's nomination in the variety talk category — Comedians has been nominated twice before, but both times in shortform categories — comes eight seasons into its run and has snagged a spot that might otherwise have gone to Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert or The Daily Show's Trevor Noah. Adds Seinfeld, "To be still in a world of trying to innovate at this stage of my career is thrilling."
With that astonishment evident in his voice, the 62-year-old comic opened up about his episode with President Obama, potential plans to bring the web show to TV and why he's no longer so sad about the late-night landscape.
You're in the eighth season of Comedians. How has your process evolved over time?
I used to worry: Is this really a show? Is anyone going to like this? Will anyone even watch this? So the process hasn't changed, I'm just more comfortable and confident now that I know this is something that people like. I didn't know that about Seinfeld in the early 1990s, either. I thought, "I like this show. I wonder if anyone else will." And it took years before people reacted to that.
You recently had President Obama on the show. How did it come together?
My producer called someone on the White House staff, and they said they'd been wanting to get in touch with us because they were interested in him doing the show. I really didn't believe it was going to happen. My favorite moment was when I said to him, "When I call you, you answer the phone, 'White House,' I'll say, 'I'd like to speak with the president, please,' and then you say, 'Speaking.' " He thought that was a great joke, so we started with that.
What's on the cutting-room floor of that episode that we didn't see?
We're actually talking with some other platforms now about releasing the show in other forms with different material. That's one of the fun things about this world I've fallen into: I can remake these shows into other things for other places. So some of the stuff on the cutting-room floor from all of the episodes could come out in the future.
What does that mean exactly?
We're talking to television and cable and streaming [outlets], and so there are a variety of forms that this show might take. Nothing is set yet. It's just conversations now, but there's been a lot of interest.
As you drove away from the White House, what was the thing that made you go, "Damn, I wish I had asked him that"?
He was telling me about how the thermostat worked and the fact that you have to call somebody [to operate it]. I really wished I had asked him more about that call and how annoying it is to have to call someone to change the thermostat if you're cold or hot. Yes, that's the kind of stuff I'm interested in. (Laughs.)
You've said you decided Obama made sense for the show because he's a "comedian president." We now have a presidential candidate in Donald Trump who some would argue is unintentionally funny. Would you consider doing an episode with him?
I think it's funny that he likes to end sentences with, "Believe me," which is really asking a lot when you say something crazy. But I only would have a guest on if they can make me feel funny, too, and I'm not sure if he makes me feel funny or just ... weird.
Looking at this season of Comedians, what was the highlight?
Garry Shandling hugging me and saying "I love you" was probably the best moment of my year. I didn't know that would be the last time I'd ever see him. And then being in the White House and having the president trust me to come in with cameras and make a silly show in the Oval Office and eat the fruit off the coffee table and then ask if it was washed.
Who's left on your guest wish list?
I think I'm going to start bringing some people back. Charles Nelson Reilly would come on The Tonight Show all the time, and I was always happy to see him. I'd like my show to be like that. I'd love to see Alec Baldwin again. Larry David, Bob Einstein, Sarah Silverman.
Three years ago, you told me that the late-night shows were leaving you with "a sad feeling." Is that still the case?
I'm feeling less sad now. Sometimes actors and actresses make me sad when they come out and tell you how great their show is and what a great time they had working with so-and-so. I just can't hear that anymore. First of all, you're working, so we don't care if you like them or if you're having a good time. And all we care about is the show anyway, so there must be a better question. But the political season has made late-night TV much more uplifting because you get to hear things reflected off of these people. I want to hear Bill Maher and John Oliver react — that has more substance than the general promotional tour that everybody else is on. So it's a good time for late-night comedians. I watch all of them, but I'm a really big fan of John Oliver.
You've said you don't watch a lot of TV. What's made you stop and pay attention?
We started watching [ESPN's] O.J.: Made in America last night, and that's just a hell of a piece of work.
Your pal Larry David is finally getting back to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Would you be up for making another cameo?
Anything with Larry, I'm in. I talked to him last week, and he says it's going great. Can you think of another popular show that went away and then came back five years later with the same cast?
If you wanted to pick up with Seinfeld tomorrow, you'd have a slew of options, too. But I'm guessing that won't happen?
No. But we did have an offer — I won't say who from — to do a new, live episode of Seinfeld on TV.
Did any piece of you consider it?
What happens when you land on a rerun of Seinfeld? Do you stop and watch for a few minutes?
I don't. I really should. I don't know why it makes me so uncomfortable. Whenever I see a clip of it, I think, "This is a very funny show."
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.