The End of 'Seinfeld'

Page 4 of 8

Saturday, April 4th
Today they are shooting on an outdoor set at another studio complex. They have been assured by seven weather organizations that there is zero chance of rain today. It begins drizzling at around eight in the morning, and for much of the day it will pour. "You fucking live in L.A.," says Seinfeld, mixing both comic and real exasperation, "month after month after month without a drop..." Today, Richards, Alexander and Louis-Dreyfus only work for a couple of hours in the early morning, then they are allowed to go home. Seinfeld stays all day. He has no more scenes in front of the camera, but whenever they are filming, he is pretty much always there, watching, thinking, suggesting, approving, improving.

When they are getting ready to film Barney Martin, who plays Seinfeld's father in the show, Martin asks him, "You know what the best thing for dandruff is?" Seinfeld waits. "A light-gray suit." Seinfeld sort of laughs. "I haven't told that joke in forty years," says Martin. When someone says something to Seinfeld that he seems to find truly funny, he will sometimes lose himself in laughter, but often he will just nod warmly and say, slowly, "That's very funny," like a gourmand savoring a prized delicacy.

Sunday, April 5th
Larry David is fretting. Kramer, his one-time neighbor whose name David took, along with certain details of temperament and biography, for the fictional Kramer, is coming to Los Angeles to see the final taping. "He's staying at my house," says David. "My wife doesn't know yet."

Seinfeld, David and some of the writers hand round a copy of Swing magazine, which contains an article on the show. One of them comments that Swing sounds like a Fifties porn mag. This triggers other thoughts.

"Is Juggs still published?" David wonders.

"I don't think published is exactly the word," Seinfeld smiles. "Are they getting it out somehow? Yeah. I think so."

He is handed a bottle of water, one of many he will drink today. He brandishes it. "Suddenly water is so popular," he says. "Fifty years ago, nobody had a glass of water. Nobody. And what is the difference? Does anyone look any different?"

They film some short sequences to frame the clip show. I chat with one of the final-year producers, Jeff Schaffer, who tells me some of the ideas they never got to: one that started with George giving change to a homeless man, then seeing him playing video games; one in which George is invited to a business lunch at somewhere like the Fashion Cafe after he has already eaten, so he orders a sweat shirt instead and, when he gets into trouble, vehemently argues, "But it cost less than the steak..."; a guy who says, "knock on wood" inappropriately after saying a fact. (He offers, by way of example, "I've been writing for this show for four years, knock on wood.")

A conversation with Jerry Seinfeld about life afterward:

Me: What are your retirement plans?

Seinfeld: A low profile. Keep a low profile.

Me: Obviously, people expect you to make a movie.

Seinfeld: Yes. Perfect reason not to do it.

Me: The people around you all seem to believe you will do one.

Seinfeld: I'm sure I probably will. But not for a great while.

Me: What's the drawback?

Seinfeld: Size. I don't like the size of movies. They're perfect for an evening, but they're too big to think of and write and make, and they're just so ponderous. So invasive. And they're so self-important. You know, just the idea of making a movie makes it seem like you think you're so great. You think your ideas are so terrific that people should go to a special place and sit there and just focus on that. And all the money that's spent. I don't know. I'm not a maximizer, I'm a minimizer. That's why I like the idea of a commercial – it's so humiliating. Not only do you only have thirty seconds, you have to sell something, too, in addition to entertaining. It completely hems you in.

Me: Through history many people have noticed those drawbacks and denigrated the art.

Seinfeld: Of commercials? Yeah. But to me, I like that challenge. Anyone can make a movie. They give you zillions of dollars. But it's ponderous, as Casey Kasem once said. Ponderous, man.

Me: And there's very few good, funny movies.

Seinfeld: Very few. It's very hard to make a funny comedy. I don't know if comedy wants to be a movie.

Me: So you'll continue making those American Express ads?

Seinfeld: [Nods] American Express gives me a certain freedom, and I like the product – it's a good product.

Me: Presumably, they pay you, too.

Seinfeld: They throw me a little.

Me: Um, I don't have an American Express card. Should I have one?

Seinfeld: [Sincerely] Oh yeah – it's the greatest. It's the greatest company in the world.

Me: But it costs you loads of money.

Seinfeld: [Passionately] Do you know what a Visa card costs? It costs the average card holder $300 a year in interest. That's on average.

Me: But I'm a smart Visa card holder, so I don't pay that.

Seinfeld: If you were really smart, you wouldn't even have one. Use American Express. Visa, it encourages irresponsibility.

Me: Oh. So it's a moral thing.

He has vague plans to launch an ad agency that would make commercials for companies who would agree to having no input. "I like a nicely made little thing," Seinfeld says. "I like the size of the form. I find a great commercial to be very uplifting, because it's right in the middle of all this crappy TV, and they're selling me something, and if you can somehow make that fun for people, it just seems like a great service to provide. I'm very appreciative of people who put work into making commercials entertain them, because we have to watch them." But his primary work plan is to return to stand-up. And he will not be making things easy for himself. After a short tour and an HBO special, I'm Telling You for the Last Time, he has vowed to retire all of his material permanently. "That is my solemn promise," he says. "I'm pledging that in my special. To push myself forward, so I have to do new things." He'll work on new material – a slow business for a comedian – and when he has twenty minutes of stuff he likes, he says he'll go on tour as a supporting act to one of his peers. "Fame has never interested me," he says. "[Stand-up] is a way that I can stay vital and keep growing. It's really what I'm best at. To really master it is a rare thing, and even if it's not seen by millions and millions of people, the people, who do see it will be seeing something very special. That's what's important."

And aside from that?

"He's going to have fun," says George Shapiro. "He's going to go skiing, he's going to race cars. We'll go on the Cyclone in Coney Island again. He's like a little kid. He loves fun. His child is very much alive and doing very well."

Will he ever grow up?

"He'll never grow up. That's why he'll be a great father."

I am reminded of Jason Alexander's thoughts: "I think I could objectively say he would like to have a great relationship with a woman, and I think he'd like to have a family. I'm just not sure how willing he is to alter some of the other things about his life that he values in order to achieve that."

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