Twenty-five years ago, Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld created a little show about nothing that changed everything about the way we watch TV. Seinfeld‘s pilot episode (known as The Seinfeld Chronicles) debuted on July 5th, 1989 and went on to run for 180 episodes most fans can recite by heart — Larry David, however, is the rare exception. When we called him to reflect on one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, his first remark was, “It’s funny because I haven’t seen an episode in years.”
Yeah. I’ve been watching episodes with my daughter and I forgot how funny they were. I forgot what happened. We had a great time watching them.
I thought that you might like to know that we’re ranking the Top 100 characters on the show. So who is your favorite character?
Uh, you’re going to get me in trouble with that one. I can’t dare to answer that question. I’d have to face the six or seven people who I didn’t say.
Do you remember the conversation that you had with Jerry when you were coming up with the sensibility of the show?
Yeah, I do. We were in a grocery store and talking about the different products on the shelves. And we were making each other laugh. Then we both realized that this is the kind of dialogue we never really heard on television, or even movies, for that matter. So that was sort of the basis — that was just the way we communicated and the things that we talked about.
From the beginning, was it clear that it was going to be this cast of four?
Well, the pilot actually only had three. There was going to be a cast of four and the woman was going to be a waitress. And when the series got picked up, we changed the waitress to Elaine.
How did the idea of having stand-up routines be part of the show evolve?
That was also part of the whole initial concept. The premise of the show was going to be “how a comedian gets his material.” So, we would follow Jerry around throughout his day or week, and whatever he experienced in the episode, he would do a stand-up routine about it at the end. And it would also open with his stand-up thing. So really, it was going to be called Seinfeld, or, parenthesis, (How a Comedian Gets His Material).
How much did you need to do to convince the network that this would work? Was there a pushback there?
Well, you saw the episode when George and Jerry pitch to NBC, right?
Of course. Is that how it went down?
It wasn’t quite like that, but I did have my moments in that meeting. I did stand up and say, “This is not the show,” [laughs] much to the horror to our producers at Castle Rock.
“The Chinese Restaurant” is widely seen as the episode that marked the show’s turn into true greatness. Would you agree with that?
Well…NBC didn’t want to run that show, and they changed the order that it was written in. I think it was supposed to go much earlier, but they delayed it. They didn’t like it. In fact, when I was called in for a meeting after that season, they said that they didn’t want to have any more shows like that one. And of course, the very next season, we gave them “The Parking Garage.” [Laughs] So, so much for that.
So, yeah – the show was different, it took place in real time, as you know. There was just something funny to me about just what happens when you wait for a table because you’re still hungry, and there’s so many things going on, it’s very anxiety-producing.
What was the point when you realized the show was impacting the culture on a different level — introducing phrases into our lexicon, so to speak?
Well, I knew that people liked the show from the beginning. In fact, I was kind of shocked when I went into one of the comedy clubs after the pilot aired and one of the comedians went, “I really like the show,” because I didn’t think anything of it. I went, “Oh, the comedienne liked the show,” and she went on about it to some length. I thought, “Hey, maybe this is good.”
And then, of course, I knew that a lot of people liked the show, people thought it was different, but I never thought of it as a hit show until I guess when we started to be like Number Three or Number Four, then we got to Number One. That was probably the fourth season.
What inspired the episode “The Contest”?
I had a contest with a friend of mine.
And how did that go?
I won handily.
How did you come to be the voice of George Steinbrenner?
After we wrote the character, I was just talking about it with Jerry. And he said, “Well, what is this character? What does this character sound like?” And I did the voice that I did on the show, and Jerry goes, “Well, you should do it.” And I said, “OK.” You know, it was no big deal. But we always knew that we would only see him from the back. In fact, I think we changed the guy who did it — I don’t think anybody knows that [laughs].
Do you think that any show has matched its consistency and impact ever?
Those questions about its impact on the culture and all that…I was in a bit of a bubble because I was working — I was just going to the office all the time. During the hiatus, Jerry would go out and do stand-up and he’d go, “You can’t believe what’s going on out there.” He said, “This thing is huge.” I didn’t quite get it: I was living in L.A., I didn’t go anywhere, I was just working. So, I didn’t really pick up on it to that degree.
But in terms of its impact on culture — I don’t know. There’s always great shows that come along, but it’s left its mark, for sure.
Can you talk a little about the chemistry between the four actors and yourself?
I can’t think of any anecdotes off the top of my head; I’m never good at that. I don’t know why; I just don’t remember anecdotes. If somebody told me one, I would remember it for sure. But you know, the chemistry was great, right from the get-go. It was the perfect blend — all great actors, all really funny. And even the additions that we made — Newman, spectacular, both sets of parents. Everybody just fit in so well. It just really worked, which is an understatement.
How would the show change in today’s landscape, with technology and the Internet factored in?
I heard that there’s something on the Internet, that it’s an updated Seinfeld, with cellphones and the Internet and all that. I’m not really into technology, so from the writing end, I don’t think it would change much at all. Phones are very good for stories, for characters to get information. They move stories along. So in that sense, I found, in a way, there were advantages to it when I started doing Curb, because on Seinfeld there were really no cellphones.
I know you’re not overly sentimental, but do you ever reflect on how Seinfeld really impacted viewers’ lives? People love this show in a very special way.
Wow. You know, I get comments a lot, people thanking me [laughs], I go, “You’re welcome.” To be perfectly honest, I don’t really think about it, but if someone says something to me, it’s nice to hear. I guess it’s hard to imagine that it could have that effect on people, but I suppose it does. Because it doesn’t necessarily make me so happy, you know what I mean? So I’m wondering how it can make other people so happy, but I’ll take their word for it.