Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is on par with Snakes on a Plane as the greatest title of anything, anywhere. It tells you everything you need to know about what you are going to see. Jerry Seinfeld’s streaming series debuted in 2012, and for 11 seasons, first on Crackle and then on Netflix, where it remains, he was behind the wheel of his own comedy carpool, chauffeuring a staggering array of creative artists—mostly comedians, with some actors and writers, and one president of the United States. His passengers weren’t promoting anything; it was all about the hang.
The Emmy-nominated series won five Producers Guild Awards. There was plenty of gas in the tank when Seinfeld put the series in park. While season 12 has yet to materialize, a handsome new coffee-table book, aptly titled The Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Book, is out today. While Cosmo Kramer’s coffee-table book about coffee tables on Seinfeld was a bust, this one’s a total gas.
Worth the proverbial price of admission are the photos. The images, including ones of comedians who have since passed—Garry Shandling, Norm Macdonald, Bob Einstein, Carl Reiner—are at once poignant, but exhilarating in the way they capture each comedian’s inimitable essence. For the most part, though, it’s Seinfeld and company doubled over in laughter, and that never gets old.
The book also features an oral history of the show’s creation, as well as excerpts of wide-ranging conversations with, to name more than a few: Judd Apatow, Alec Baldwin, Mel Brooks (with Reiner), Dave Chappelle, Stephen Colbert, Larry David, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Jim Gaffigan, Ricky Gervais, David Letterman, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Murphy, Patton Oswalt, Brian Regan, Don Rickles, Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, Howard Stern, Jon Stewart, and George Wallace.
Vanity Fair circled the block with Seinfeld about the book and the series; which guests were most special to him, which late comedian he would have most liked to get coffee with, and the episode he feels best exemplifies the series. Buckle up.
Vanity Fair: Your last book was titled Is This Anything? Did you ask yourself that question when you were developing the series?
Jerry Seinfeld: Every single day. As somebody who loves to create comedy material and spends hours and hours [doing it], it was hard for me to understand that people would be interested in people rambling.
What was the original inspiration? Were you, say, driving around with Freddie Roman and thought, “This would be a good idea for a show”?
It wasn’t Freddie Roman, it was [writer] Barry Marder. We were laughing, and I was thinking, “People would enjoy listening to this nonsense.”
The show was cross-generational when it came to the comedians. You had the present and next generations, your peers and elder statesmen. Did you get something unique out of talking with each group?
Every one of them was fantastic. But really, the older ones were the most special to me. It’s very hard to describe what Jerry Lewis meant to me as a kid, and to be sitting in a car with him and having coffee with him, that was an unreal moment for me.
I loved the Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks episode.
Such a thrill. Carl had a line in the episode. I asked him what he likes to watch on TV. He said, “I’ll watch any movie where somebody says, ‘Secure the perimeter.’ I recently produced a movie [Unfrosted: The Pop Tart Story for Netflix] and I made sure to put that line in the movie.
My favorite section of the book deals with starting out. I was sorry to hear about (Improv comedy club owner) Budd Friedman’s passing this month. What advice did he give you when you were starting out?
“Get out of the hallway,” was the best advice he ever gave me. “The waitresses need to get through here.”
In the Don Rickles episode, he talks about doing shows in Las Vegas at 5 a.m. Your conversation with David Letterman touches on this, but there’s now no nightclub circuit. There is no titanic figure like Johnny Carson who can make or break a career. There are more platforms to be funny, but the need for content might be rushing some comedians to the majors before they are ready. Do you think today’s comedians are missing out on something?
I thought that about my generation, and I started in the ‘70s. I was just starting out, and I was taken to an afternoon show Bob Hope was doing in New York. I asked him: if I was missing something because I wasn’t going through what he went through (coming up through vaudeville) Everybody has to exist where they are. Of course, I think they’re missing something, but they’re having something I never had. It’s a liquid universe.
Along with President Obama, Eddie Murphy could qualify as your biggest “get.” And it seems like he’s floating some “Is this anything” material by you. Was that part of the thrill of the series for you?
I don’t know if those were things that he had said to other people. Comedians, everything we do is material. If I tell someone a story and they laugh, I’m going to tell it 10 more times to 10 more people to hear that laugh.
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