Jerry Seinfeld brings bright, clean humor to NBC’s prime time

Jerry Seinfeld

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
July 5, 1989

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld wants you to listen to the Nike gym-shoe ad and just do it.

“It” is whatever you have putting off because of fear or laziness, said the 35-year-old comedian.

“I think when people say they’re suffering from creative or writer’s block, it’s just an excuse,” Seinfeld added. “There’s no such thing. A doctor can’t say, `Oh, I don’t feel up to performing surgery today.’ He does it.

“My job is to make people laugh. So I do it. I have to work at it, but I eventually do it.”

One of today’s funnier and brighter comedians, Seinfeld is starring in his own comedy special on NBC. “The Seinfeld Chronicles” will air from 8:30 to 9 tonight on WMAQ-Channel 5. The program mixes vignettes with some of Seinfeld’s standup routines.

“The show was such a great opportunity for me because I’d always wanted to do a program about being a comedian, rather than just doing straight stand-up routines,” he said. “This show is all mine, because I conceived it, wrote it and did the casting. I couldn’t have been more involved. It was a perfect working situation for me.”

Although some people may consider it strange that a relative novice to television was given so much control, Seinfeld said he wasn’t surprised.

“People will let you take control if you let them know you have ideas on what you want to do,” he said. “I think they actually prefer that over someone who just sort of sits there and doesn’t do anything until he’s told exactly what to do.

“I’m prejudiced, of course, but I think the show is just smart, funny stuff. There are no dumb jokes.”

Seinfeld didn’t have to worry about cleaning up his act for network television because, like Jay Leno, Seinfeld keeps his comedy routines clean. He draws his laughs from day-to-day life, not four-letter words.

“I don’t think swearing is necessary to be funny,” he said. “It’s kind of acceptable today to be vulgar, but I think that’s the easy way to get a laugh. I want people to laugh because they are genuinely having a good time. I don’t want any nervous laughter.”

Born in Brooklyn and reared on Long Island in Massapequa, N.Y., Seinfeld became interested in comedy when he was 8.

“I remember watching comedians on TV and asking my parents who they were,” he said. “My father told me, `It’s their job to make people laugh.’ And to a kid, that sounds like the best job in the world.

“It’s funny, ’cause I have a nephew who is 5, and he and I are exactly on the same wavelength now. The only thing we care about is being funny and acting silly. Comedians are encouraged to remain children and act silly, so my job suits my personality perfectly.”

Seinfeld majored in theater and communications at New York’s Queens College, intent on using his education to launch a comedy career. After graduating in 1976, he went to work onstage. But a shaky gig at New York’s Catch a Rising Star convinced him that he needed to hone his skills.

“Failing kind of makes you take a good look at reality,” he said, laughing. “Actually, not always doing the best does work to your advantage, because it makes you more determined to succeed.

“I worked during the day, doing things like selling light bulbs over the phone, and then performed in small clubs at night. It was a rough life, but I really enjoy working. I don’t know that I’m a workaholic, but I always do seem to be doing something.”

These days, Seinfeld sells out many of his shows. He is on the road 300 nights each year.

If “The Seinfeld Chronicles” does well in the ratings and gets picked up as a series, Seinfeld said, he will have to cut back on travel to meet the demands of a weekly TV show.

“I love being on the road and performing live, but sometimes it can really wear you down, too,” he said. “So I wouldn’t mind staying in one place for a little while and filming the show every week, if it came to that. I think this is true for most comedians: You’re just happy working. It doesn’t matter where or for whom. You just want to work.”

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