Standup comedian Jerry Seinfeld has turned self-deprecation into an art form on his sitcom, “Seinfeld,” now in its third successful season on NBC.
The show was created and is produced (for Castle Rock Entertainment) by Seinfeld and longtime friend Larry David, who was also a standup comedian.
Seinfeld, more or less, plays himself on the show, a mildly, neurotic comedian with an assortment of usually perplexed friends, one of whom, the brooding, hapless George, played by Jason Alexander, is said to be directly based on Larry David.
Talking to David about the series, which moves to Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. next month, one can see how that may well be true.
Q. Were you surprised that “Seinfeld” was so well-received?
A. Anytime I’m involved with anything that’s well-received, it’s a surprise to me.
Q. Did you have a notion of what you had?
A. It seemed funny to us. I don’t know. It’s always hard to know.
Q. There was a risk, wasn’t there, having Seinfeld talk directly to the audience?
A. I think when you’re taking risks–I don’t even know if you’re aware of it–you’re just doing what you think is funny and let the chips fall where they may, I guess. Or some other cliche that’s appropriate.
Q. Whose idea was the show?
A. Jerry’s and mine.
Q. The idea was to combine his standup expertise with a sitcom?
A. Well, that was sort of the ini-tial premise of the show. Howa standup getshis material.We would seesome bit of hislife and then hewould take theincidents thatwe showed andturn it into material. During the first two seasons, most of the shows had a standup in the middle, but the stories have gotten so dense now that we don’t even have time for a standup in the middle, generally. We usually have to cut five or six minutes out of every show.
Q. You don’t script to time, you let the show go and then edit as you must?
A. Right. It’s hard to script to time when you have so many funny things to say. Put quotes on that if you use it. Most people think I’m immodest.
Q. Is there a lot of improvisation?
A. No, there’s not too much improvisation. It’s mostly scripted. The actors will come up with things, but the show is scripted.
Q. What about along the way, in rehearsal time?
A. Yeah, if the actors come up with things that are funny, they’ll get used.
Q. Who writes the scripts mainly?
A. Jerry and me. And we have a staff and they do a great job. Larry Charles and Peter Mehlman; Bob Shaw, Jon Hayman, Steve Skrovan, Bill Masters.
Q. Is having the star of the show as a producer a good thing or a problem?
A. No, it’s not a problem at all. It’s a benefit because he’s such a terrific writer. He has a good sense of what he wants to do.
Q. How do you get on with the network?
A. They’ve been very cooperative and I’m really appreciative for some of the things they’ve allowed us to do.
Q. What’s your feeling about the future of the networks, given the freedom on cable regarding language and nudity?
A. Don’t get me wrong, I love nudity. If I could somehow work it in, I would. If they’d let me. If that’s my only opportunity to see a naked woman, I’ll try and take advantage of it.
Q. Do you think they’re about to let you anytime soon?
A. I don’t know. I doubt it. They did a nude scene on, what was that show?
A. Was she really naked in that?
Q. Apparently, but it was a side view and she moved quickly across the screen. A. Oh, OK, well, no big deal. That side view does nothing for me. I’d rather see her with her clothes on. Don’t give me that.
Q.There are so many sitcoms today, do you think the form will last?
A. You’re really out of my milieu there. I don’t really know much about it. I don’t really know much about TV and what people want to see. I’m not that well-informed about it.
Q. But your background is TV, right? You wrote for “Saturday Night Live.”
A. My background is degradation and sloth, mostly.
A. Meaning, I was pretty much of a bum before this came along. No, my background is in standup. Jerry and I met working the clubs in New York years’ ago. NBC was interested in doing a show with Jerry. He approached me to develop something.
Q. Having come from degradation and sloth, what do you make of the network world?
A. So far, so good. No problems. I haven’t murdered anybody. I haven’t gotten any dressings’ down.
Q. What’s your ideal show for Jerry?
A. Oh, well, if I had an ideal show I would have written it already.
Q. Nothing you want to do that you haven’t done?
A. No. I would like to get Jerry naked, though, if possible.