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Left Coast / Right Coast: Great Comedians are like Nobel Prize winning scientists

One of the things I find most interesting is how special and difficult Jerry Seinfeld thinks being “funny” is. He talks about it with great reverence. It is almost as if he’s comparing being a funny comedian to being a Nobel Prize winning scientist.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Frank Hammer.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."

Jerry Seinfeld has been producing (and starring) in a “made for streaming” television program called "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" on Netflix.

As if Seinfeld needed any additional net worth (his current net worth is reportedly near $1 billion – most recently fueled by the syndication of the Seinfeld TV series). His "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," which just completed its 11th (and probably final) season, is sponsored by LaVazza coffee that purportedly paid Seinfeld about $800,000 per 20-minute episode. 

The premise of the show is Seinfeld phones a well-known comedian, picks him or her up in a very fancy and usually highly collectible older sports car, and then they drive somewhere to get coffee and talk. 

One of the things I find most interesting is how special and difficult Seinfeld thinks being “funny” is. He talks about it with great reverence. It is almost as if he’s comparing being a funny comedian  to being a Nobel Prize winning scientist.

I like how he talks about being funny. He often says: “There is no need for judging in comedy. You know whether you’re funny during and just after you perform. The audience lets you know, in no uncertain terms, whether you have talent, or you don’t.” And Seinfeld doubles over with laughter as each guest does some of his “shtick.”

What precipitated this column was the passing yesterday of Carl Reiner at age 98!

Reiner was the father of also famous comedian/actor/producer Rob Reiner – Meathead – Archie Bunker’s son-in-law from "All in the Family." 

Reiner has done so much great work over six decades in show business that simply reading his obituary takes you a while. One of my favorite bits he does is, in fact, in one of Seinfeld’s episodes of "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee." 

Seinfeld has coffee with Reiner, then later on has dinner with both Reiner and Mel Brooks (a lifelong friend and equally famous and accomplished comedian/producer).

Reiner said deadpan to Jerry, “First thing when I get up is read the obituaries in the newspaper. If I’m not in it, I go down and have breakfast.”

 In fact, this episode is just as much about Brooks as about Reiner. Brooks seems to be performing as if he is on stage in the episode.

One example is when Seinfeld mentions that it is 2012 (the year when this episode was made), Brooks looks at his watch, bolts up from his chair and said, “I thought it was 2002. I’ve got appointments that I missed over the past few years, I’ve got to go” as he dashes for the front door. 

Brooks talked about his hit Broadway play, "The Producers." It's a musical play as well as a great movie. He talked about writing one of the songs, “Springtime for Hitler” as he hummed the tune. Then he related that the play received a top award in Germany. He added, “I don’t know if the play was appreciated as art or whether it was simply German guilt.”

Woody Allen wrote a movie in 1989 called "Crimes and Misdemeanors." Alan Alda plays the part of a pompous documentary film maker who is making a film about comedy. In it he talks about when tragedy can be made fun of. He commented, “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.”

Here are some of the greats who, like Reiner, are no longer with us:

Don Rickles. The king of insults. He used to hang around with Frank Sinatra when both were headlining in Las Vegas. I still can’t watch him on YouTube without cracking up.

David Brenner.  I still love his one liner: “Did you ever notice that when you’re looking for something it’s always in the last place you look.”

Robin Williams.  As “manic” as any comedian. He revered Jonathan Winters who was equally as manic.

Richard Pryor.  One of the greatest stand-up comedians. Made fun of race in a way that only a black comedian could.

I guess Carl Reiner won’t be having breakfast today. Forgive me if this is “too soon.”

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