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Life’s Work: An Interview with Jerry Seinfeld

Source | : By Daniel McGinn

After years as a stand-up performer, Jerry Seinfeld conquered 1990s television with his eponymous sitcom. Two decades later he’s again drawing viewers and accolades, this time for his inventive online talk show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee—even as a new generation discovers Seinfeld on streaming video.

HBR: How did Comedians in Carsoriginate?

Seinfeld: It’s very important to know what you don’t like. A big part of innovation is saying, “You know what I’m really sick of?” For me, that was talk shows where music plays, somebody walks out to a desk, shakes hands with the host, and sits down. “How are you?” “You look great.” I’m also sick of people who are really there to sell their show or product. “What am I really sick of?” is where innovation begins.

You and Larry David wrote Seinfeld together, without a traditional writers’ room, and burnout was one reason you stopped. Was there a more sustainable way to do it? Could McKinsey or someone have helped you find a better model?

Who’s McKinsey?

It’s a consulting firm.

Are they funny?


Then I don’t need them. If you’re efficient, you’re doing it the wrong way. The right way is the hard way. The show was successful because I micromanaged it—every word, every line, every take, every edit, every casting. That’s my way of life.

How much of Seinfeld’s continuing popularity stems from quitting when it was still atop the ratings?

I would love to know the answer to that. My theory is that proportion is key to everything. You’re making this TV show, and it gets really popular, and you have to stop at a certain point or it loses the magic. I’m not comparing myself in any way, shape, or form to the Beatles, but they ended after nine years when I was a kid, and there was something about that single-digit number. Once a TV series is in double digits, it’s like, “God, is this thing ever going to end?” Ten seasons seemed so much longer than nine. I decided that ninth season should be the last so that the audience would feel it saw a performance that ended on a high note.

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