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The End of 'Seinfeld'

Page 3 of 8

Thursday, April 2nd
At today's location, Jason Alexander walks up, rubbing his hands. "Today's the day for the big scoop," he says, playfully.

There are no big scoops, I say. Just a trickle of small ones. (He's talking nonsense. I'm talking nonsense. This happens in Seinfeld- land.)

"That's what we've been saying!" he says. "No one believes us. There's no information! That's what we've been telling them for ten years!"

Yes, I say. But you couldn't keep quiet about it, could you?

"No. We told them. There's no story here. It drove them crazy!" An Alexander chuckle. "There's no Story Here. That'll be the headline. Flip by, readers. The next three pages are complete bullshit."

I point out that it will be more than three pages, and Alexander stares at me rather sadly. More than three pages? About this?

That afternoon, Seinfeld and Alexander are between takes when a man unexpectedly bounces into the scene and sits down. "Pussies!" he says. "One more year! Come on! Pussies! Pussies!" And then Garry Shandling grins. "Excuse me for interrupting," he says. "Ignore me." He stays about two minutes. "I came to say congratulations and so on and so forth. I came with my support and love. I don't want to impose...."

Time passes. Alexander looks at his watch. Each day, as the clock marches on, you feel the same pressure with Alexander and Louis-Dreyfus: the desire to stay and be irresponsibly funny, all night being challenged by their need to get home and spend time with young children. (They each have two.) "We can do this!" Alexander declares. "I can see these children!" Tonight he will. Soon afterward they are done.

I Can't tell you much, but I can tell you this: You may have wondered whether the creation of comedy is a messy, hands-on, somber and profoundly unjoyous process, whether its progenitors and co-conspirators stand steely faced as each arduous laugh is coaxed into existence. Perhaps, somewhere else, it is like that: sad, dark souls sacrificing and suffering to make the public laugh.

On the set of Seinfeld, it is different. They chortle. They splutter. They collapse onto the floor in pathetic, gut-splitting, childish giggles. The filming of one part of the final episode – an extended speech by a guest character – is prolonged for some time because the principals simply cannot control their mirth. Only the guest actor keeps a straight face. "You are amazing," Alexander praises him. "You have four idiots sniggering along at you, and you are just clown free." ("I go," the actor responds, firmly, "to my rock." This statement, quite naturally, triggers further merriment of its own.)

I wonder whether this chuckle-y mood is somewhat atypical, a side effect of their final-episode demob spirit. Alexander assures me otherwise. This is funny business as usual. "We find ourselves endlessly amusing," he says.

Which is your favorite "Seinfeld" contribution to the language?

Jerry Seinfeld: [Long pause] Oh, that's a hard question. I don't know. They really went nuts on "yada yada," didn't they? Every article has "yada yada." It's become quite irritating. I think it actually superseded "nothing." Before that, it was all "nothing." Much ado about nothing. It actually overtook "nothing." But I don't have an answer to that question.

Jason Alexander: There was one that I actually thought was going to be huge that didn't quite catch on, which was the idea of, when someone sneezes, saying, "You're so good-looking," instead of "God bless you."

Julia Louis-Dreyfus: I have no idea. They all tickle me. Every single one. I just love this show. I'm a big fan of it.

Michael Richards: I like to make up languages [for Kramer]. Sometimes I call somebody "boodk-ggaba." Or "jabaa-a." Or "ragonnen-nett-tt-tt-o." See, that's what's so good about it – it can't be spelled: "tattotid-dao." Sometimes I'm put up against the wall, so to speak, and I'll kind of back off by saying "ntt-ttt-ttd-dtt-ddd." And there was the "giddy up." I say that every once in a while. I can't tell you what the other words mean. [Smiles] I don't know. I think that what you're asking me is to define God. Are we making any progress here? Is this horseshit?

Friday, April 3rd
Alexander and Louis-Dreyfus gather around the craft-service table, where copious supplies of food and drink are available all day. (Alexander tells me he is powerless against this. "I'm starting Weight Watchers on Thursday," he says. "For some reason, whenever we have conversations here, it's always by the brownies and not by the celery.")

Right now, Alexander is thirsty. "Water," he says. "I want some water."

"How about some coffee?" Louis-Dreyfus helpfully suggests.

"Nuhhhhhhhh," he says, in full, dismissive George Costanza voice, shaking his head. "Done that."

They act out a scene in which Richards does some complicated physical comedy. One take goes much further than intended. A prop comes loose, Richards takes full, risky advantage and ends up sprawled horizontally. The others laugh, until they realize that he has actually bumped himself quite badly. It goes quiet. Richards stays on the ground, rubbing his head. Finally, he looks up. "It was funny, though, wasn't it?" he says. Later, after plenty more of Richards' physical comedy, and of the cast's ensuing laughter, he will ask, with mock insult, "Is my character being used as a device?"

The cast gets trapped in another scene. Jason Alexander cannot lose the giggles. "Let's all get serious," he beseeches, but the next time the action and reactions around him make him explode midway through the take, and he actually falls to the floor, laughing convulsively. "You fuckers," he splutters. Louis-Dreyfus does a little jig around his body.

Michael Richards is the one who usually manages to hold his Kramer face until the director yells, "Cut!" "I very rarely break during a take," he says. "It's just part of my training. If I ever broke character in front of Stella Adler" – who was his acting teacher – "she'd have had my head."

What would Stella Adler have made of Seinfeld?

"Oh, I think she would have enjoyed it. Although she always thought that anybody that rides around in a Mercedes is impertinent."

And you have a Mercedes?

"I have a Mercedes."

And even knowing she thought that, you got one?

"Oh, fuck Stella Adler," he says. He says this for comic effect, and we both laugh, though later he worries about this. It is a joke, but he still has links to her acting school; he is concerned they will think he is disrespectful. "You could get me into a lot of trouble. I'm saying it playfully, but in print it could make me look like, 'Fuck my teachers.' I've been with them for years. So, I have a Mercedes, big deal. I got it on the Iooth anniversary. I didn't realize we got paid for two shows because it was a one-hour show, so I sent the check back to the lady in the office, saying I'd been paid twice. And she said, 'No no, you get the extra money.' So I was, 'Wow, what do I do with this?' Julia just got a new car, so I thought, 'I'll go get a Mercedes.' So I went out and plopped the money down and I drove off with a Mercedes. I was going to put Iooth epi, then I thought: 'Now I've really become Hollywood.'... But there are many actors who have Mercedes, and they can still function."

The Seinfeld cast wonders how to play the next, rather dramatic scene. "The worse the better, basically," counsels Seinfeld. "The stupider it sounds ..." Richards thinks of a new, universally approved line for Kramer to whoop at this juncture. "You know," he says, "this is going to shake up a lot of people who think Kramer is Jewish."

George Shapiro comes over to talk. He has been with Seinfeld for eighteen years. Shapiro, who at the time he first met Seinfeld had Andy Kaufman as a client, saw Seinfeld do stand-up: He liked that his material was sharp, and he liked that Seinfeld was the comedian the other comedians wanted to see. He talks to me about the meeting in which Seinfeld finally decided to refuse all of NBC's enticements to do a tenth season. "I think he just knew it was time to get off the stage," Shapiro says. "As a stand-up, his instinct is incredible for when to leave the stage. I feel exhilarated by his decision. I mean, from a strategy standpoint – he's just doing it from instinct – it gives him a mystique that is going to keep him hot for the rest of his life. He did it because he had to, but it's great strategy."

We move to Stage Nine, the stage that has been Seinfeld's home in recent years. Here is where you will find the Jerry's-apartment and coffee-shop sets. Stage Nine is now policed by its own security guards – as the show ends, the pilfering has begun. The Superman statue on Jerry's bookcase has been stolen (the one seen in the final episode is a replacement). This week, the nameplate on Michael Richards' parking space disappeared.

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