Jerry Seinfeld: The Blackbird Spyplane Interview
Talkin' '90s sneakers, the lost *SEINFELD* episode that never was, and a RARE car with a wild story
Jerry Seinfeld — you know him as a master stand-up comedian, as the star & co-creator of history’s greatest sitcom, as the vechicular-jawn-connoisseur behind Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and as Earth’s pre-eminent NIKE SHOX AFICIONADO …
The through-line connecting it all? The man appreciates extremes of craft — the excess of time, tinkering, idiosyncrasy and ingenuity that goes into making a uniquely dope thing uniquely dope, whether it’s a ’58 Porsche Speedster Carrera; a joke about why, when you buy new socks, they come on miniature clothes hangers; or a weird sneaker with its own built-in suspension.
Jerry just put out a new book, Is This Anything?, that collects hundreds of jokes he’s spent the past 5 decades crafting. Here at Blackbird Spyplane HQ we’ve been cracking it open to pages at random and reading thru bits in our internal <Seinfeld voice> — a delight that no work of literature since 1993’s SeinLanguage has delivered !!
Since Blackbird Spyplane is the no. 1 source across all media for “unbeatable recon” on under-the-radar gems, and since Jerry is a highly discerning lifelong gem-collector, we emailed him to see if he wanted to tell us about a unique & cherished possession …
He wrote back the next day:
Then he called us on the SpyPhone to TELL US MORE…
Blackbird Spyplane: Jerry, first, please take some pride in the fact that you are cool enough to say yes to an interview with this strange but extremely good newsletter.
Jerry Seinfeld: “Well, honestly, it’s my favorite subject. Like I said in my email, I could do this with virtually everything I own. There’s almost no object I own without deep consideration, because I’m so interested in things — I never look at them casually. Every object has to have something about it that I really relate to, and there’s no group of things where I don’t want to take the time to pick out, ‘Which one do I like the best?’
“I’ve been doing that since I was 8 years old. I remember going through tremendous contemplation over, ‘What is going to be my school pen?’ Most kids, they go, ‘Lend me a pen, can I borrow your pen?’ The idea of ‘Can I borrow your pen’ was so offensive to me — I’m not borrowing anyone’s pen, I want my own pen. And I tried every pen. Every Papermate, every Bic, every Flair, felt-tips, roller-balls — I had to sift through. And then once I decide something’s my favorite, it’s my favorite.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Yr new book documents yr life as a stand-up — since the 1970s, you’ve needed to be in rooms with people, figuring out how to make them laugh, in order to feel fully yourself. How’s it been for you this year, when you can’t be in those rooms?
Jerry Seinfeld: “It’s been fine, actually. Because it’s a species-wide experience. If it was just me, that would be extremely difficult. But when they shut everyone and everything down — you can’t do what you do, the people who sell shoes can’t do what they do — you feel a sense of community. We’re all doing the same thing.
“And I’m working on a project that I don’t want to say more about, and I’ve been working on a whole new set, so I’m very occupied.”
Blackbird Spyplane: How aware are you that photos of you from the ‘90s have become iconic style touchstones?
Jerry Seinfeld: “Zero. What are you talking about?”
Blackbird Spyplane: Like if you go on Instagram, you’ll see style-focused accounts posting photos of your outfits from Seinfeld and on red carpets and at airports, with captions praising what you’re wearing.
Jerry Seinfeld: “Ha ha! I don’t think that’s true. That’s hilarious.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Sneakerheads have been obsessed with you for years because of all the grail-tier Nikes you wore on the show. But I think you once told me you didn’t hold on to any of those sneakers, and they probably wound up in dumpsters…?!
Jerry Seinfeld: “Yeah. Same thing happened to them that happened to your old sneakers. They’d have value, you think?”
Blackbird Spyplane: Unquestionably.
Jerry Seinfeld: “Never crossed my mind. I did save a bunch of stuff, but nothing like that. That reminds me, I had a friend at the time, still one of my best friends, who badgered me with the most brilliantly inspired idea, and I never gave it a moment’s consideration — while I was making the show, he said, ‘Make one episode and put it away somewhere, and in 20 years come out with the Lost Episode and it’ll be worth a fortune.’ He was 1000% right. But it costs a lot of money to make an episode: Who’s paying for an episode and not getting money right away? I probably could have pulled it off — it would have taken a lot of arm twisting and signing some very inventive contracts. Wouldn’t that have been something else?”
Blackbird Spyplane: So out of all the objects you own & love, you chose a ‘62 Volkswagen Beetle to talk about. What’s the deal?
Seinfeld: “I just got it in May, but it’s already one of my all-time favorite objects I’ve ever owned. The Beetle is one of the most original and inventive creations in mechanical history. No one ever looks at it that way, because of its ubiquity.
“It’s a tool of freedom and exploration — you can explore the world in a Beetle, you can’t explore the world in a Ferrari — and that’s my main interest in cars, as tools for exploring the world. The Beetle defines that concept more than any other car.
“I also like how it was invented by Germans, Porsche helped design it, but the idea of it was celebrated by Americans — Americans elevated it to iconic status, because they realized what it was: a cheap car that’s anything but cheap. Something of the highest possible quality for the dollars you’re spending: What a thing that is to achieve. An iPhone might be a good comparison in terms of the amount of dollars it costs, relative to the quality of what they’re giving you. That’s what the Beetle was, and it’s a car I responded to as a child: the simplicity of it, and how it seemed so much more fun than everything else.
“I’ve been in love with Beetles my whole life. You know, to get that little engine in the back? The whole design of it —Hitler had all these people submitting their ideas for this ‘People’s Car,’ and Porsche was known as one of the brightest, most inventive people, but also a completely impossible human being. As brilliant as he was, he was fired by every company he worked for. Because he was a madman, as many geniuses are.
“Then you have this engineer, Heinrich Nordhoff, who decides to make the most flawless cheap object ever made, and they just focus on that, for decade after decade, and they change nothing unless it makes it work better or break less. And it goes from this thing that makes Hitler smile to a surfer car in California — it’s an astounding journey for an object.”
Blackbird Spyplane: The marketing was such a huge part of what made the car iconic, too…
Jerry Seinfeld: “Yeah, I love the story of Bill Bernbach, the ad executive — this young Jewish guy from Brooklyn, who in 1949, four years after the end of WWII and concentration camps and the Holocaust, he gets on a plane to Germany from New York. He visits the factory, which is still half rubble, and sees that this car is how the Germans are going to survive as a people, because it means industry, employment, jobs, money. It was, ‘This is our lifeline out of the darkness. Our lives depend on it.’ Things weren’t like that at Ford and Chevy.
“So Bernbach sees the care they take — if something isn’t perfect, they throw it out, won’t let it leave the factory. That’s a level of quality control that didn’t exist at that price point. Not for a $1500 car. So he realizes, ‘Wow, they’re not trying to dazzle you or get away with anything, it’s a completely honest car, we have to sell it in an honest way,’ and they come up with the famous campaign with the white seamless and the self-deprecating taglines.”
Blackbird Spyplane: What’s special about this particular Beetle?
Jerry Seinfeld: “I probably have 5 or 6 different Bugs and a couple vans, but my favorite era of VW is ‘62 to ‘64. The main difference from ‘65 is they enlarged the windows by 15% — that’s why there’s a little cuteness missing.
“This one has 20,000 miles on it, it’s this amazing color called TURKIS GREEN — turkis is German for turquoise — and it was sitting in the back of a shop of a Porsche 911 mechanic I use. What I love is that this car hasn’t had its life-experience erased by a restoration: it’s never been restored, never been painted. That’s the ne plus ultra of the collector-car world: the unrestored original. Every bit of this car is original. The smell, the condition, the horsehair, the glue, it becomes this time machine.”
Blackbird Spyplane: That’s wild, this s**t looks pristine !!
Seinfeld: “We want our possessions to charm us — if you have a relationship with an object that works, it always works. If you have a relationship with a human, it works as long as you can keep it working [laughs] but it’s always a bit of a rope bridge in the wind. But an inanimate object that you fall in love with and it does what you want it to do? You want that relationship.
“So this car takes me to all the different aspects of the story: Bernbach in Brooklyn, the Jewish thing, the Nazis, California, the sunshine, the simplicity, the inventiveness, Porsche thinking of this car. All of that is in this for me.”
Blackbird Spyplane: What did you pay for it?
Seinfeld: “It cost me 25 grand, which is a lot for a Beetle but I thought it was worth it. Right now it’s in Santa Monica, at my building there. Eventually I’ll bring it here to New York, but I actually haven’t been with this car yet. I haven’t smelled it — but I can imagine it.”
-U can buy Is This Anything? from yr local book store or Bookshop.org, here
-Read our conversations about rare gems with such LUMINARIES OF THE ARTS & JAWN SCIENCES as André 3000, Ezra Koenig, Nathan Fielder, Rashida Jones, Yung Jake and Emily Bode at the full “Blackbird Spyplane Interview” Archive.
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