Jerry Seinfeld — A Comedy Legend’s Systems, Routines, and Methods for Success (#485)

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Pain is knowledge rushing in to fill a void with great speed.

— Jerry Seinfeld

Entertainment icon Jerry Seinfeld’s (@jerryseinfeld) comedy career took off after his first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1981. Eight years later, he teamed up with fellow comedian Larry David to create what was to become the most successful comedy series in the history of television: Seinfeld. The show ran on NBC for nine seasons, winning numerous Emmy, Golden Globe, and People’s Choice awards, and was named the greatest television show of all time in 2009 by TV Guide and in 2012 was identified as the best sitcom ever in a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll.

Seinfeld made his Netflix debut with the original stand-up special Jerry Before Seinfeld along with his Emmy-nominated and critically acclaimed web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which has garnered over 100 million views and which The New York Times describes as “impressively complex and artful” and Variety calls “a game-changer.” His latest stand-up special, 23 Hours To Kill, was released by Netflix earlier this year.

He is also the author of Is This Anything?, which features his best work across five decades in comedy.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#485: Jerry Seinfeld — A Comedy Legend’s Systems, Routines, and Methods for Success
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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear another episode with a comedian who embraces the “just work” philosophy? Check out my conversation with Jerrod Carmichael, in which we discuss the benefits of being a creature of habit, common comedian mistakes, good versus great comedians, achieving zero fear, overcoming writer’s block, the wisdom of cliches, and much more.

#222: Jerrod Carmichael — Uber-Productivity and Dangerous Comedy
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SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Jerry Seinfeld:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

SHOW NOTES

  • How did the book The Last Laugh: The World of Stand-Up Comics by Phil Berger enter Jerry’s life, and what made it so influential to him as a high-schooler who didn’t do much reading outside of comic books and magazines like Esquire? [07:35]
  • How is Jerry’s writing technique similar to that of fiction writer and past guest Neil Gaiman, and how has it changed over time? What did Jerry learn very early on about the importance of writing in his chosen career as a stand-up comedian? [11:41]
  • What’s the real wellspring of ideas that Jerry spins into comedy gold, what is typically the enemy of this wellspring, and what lifestyle choice did he make that almost ensures the well never runs dry? [18:42]
  • To understand Jerry’s micromanagement approach to steering Seinfeld for nine seasons on network television (and why this turned out to be his limit), imagine it as a boat. [21:05]
  • Did Jerry look toward any role models when deciding to step away from this massively successful creative endeavor on a high note? [24:51]
  • Is the irritability Jerry credits as a wellspring of material actual dissatisfaction, or just more of a sensitivity to notice what others might overlook in the moment? [26:01]
  • Jerry says there was a lack of discord among the cast of Seinfeld, which seems to be a rarity — especially for a comedy ensemble that lasts nine years together. To what does he attribute this lack of discord? [28:23]
  • Why Jerry considers “systemize” a valuable part of his personal operating system, and how he’s trying to instill it in his own kids to apply it to their own projects. [32:17]
  • What are the main lessons Jerry would try to convey if he taught a class on writing, and how does this tie in with the methods he used to get back in shape later in life? [36:23]
  • On feedback and why Jerry never shares what he’s written for at least 24 hours. [38:43]
  • Does Jerry solicit feedback from fellow comics when he’s finished a stand-up set? [41:23]
  • If a reward is crucial for a writing session, does Jerry have a self-reward for completing a stand-up set? [42:29]
  • As a beginning comedian, did Jerry have a long-term career plan? [43:17]
  • What kind of audience feedback from a set would, for Jerry, beat the reward of an ice cream sundae? [44:23]
  • Aside from writing sessions, what other routines does Jerry consider imperative to his well-being, and how often–and for what kind of duration–are they followed? [47:49]
  • How learning to nurture your creative self is akin to parenting, and why Jerry believes that “pain is really knowledge rushing in to fill a void at great speed.” [52:27]
  • Aside from his aforementioned daily routines, is there anything else that helps Jerry stave off or mitigate depressive episodes? Would he agree with other comics who fear seeking help for depression because it might rob them of the mechanism that gives them their best material? [53:56]
  • Does Jerry have any favorite failures that set him up for later success? [56:24]
  • What happened when Jerry went from writing three days a week to seven? [1:01:14]
  • How many times did Jerry rehearse his set before appearing on The Tonight Show for the very first time? [1:03:00]
  • Why does Jerry think Mitzi Shore, The Comedy Store owner, gave him such a hard time? [1:03:13]
  • On self-sufficiency as a seemingly rare commodity in the world of comedy (except among those who are in it for the long haul), and how Jerry has maintained his constitution beyond his years through gamification. [1:06:40]
  • Has Jerry applied this gamification to creative or professional projects? [1:11:14]
  • Who comes to mind when Jerry hears the word “successful?” Maybe survival is the new success. [1:14:22]
  • What would Jerry’s billboard say? [1:20:21]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:21:51]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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15 Replies to “Jerry Seinfeld — A Comedy Legend’s Systems, Routines, and Methods for Success (#485)”

  1. Long drive today, but started the drive contemplating the difference between engaging in the grind and persistent effort. Seinfeld has clearly mastered the grind with following a disciplined approach for the doggy mind. This approach seems to be pushing the brain to follow the mind. I then started listening to the Jim Collins interview, in which the two of you discussed pursuit of knowledge as pushing and the learning about beauty (among elegance, grace, etc.) as pulling. Could we not conclude that beauty is the method of learning, i.e. the game of chess, soccer, mastery? Have you ever engaged in something beautiful for which you were pushed into? I try to smell a flower/plant every day, despite whether flowering or not just to appreciate and observe the complexity of nature. As of this writing, I observe the two learning methods as forced versus the patience of appreciation through experience as the means to knowledge, but only one leads to beauty. Is this not what M. Csikszentmihalyi had been advocating in flow in controlled production of neurotransmitters to enhance learning? Is beauty just how described in Zen and the art of MC Maintenance … depth of committed immersion? As I try to define beauty and how to pursue it, I appreciate all thoughts … respectfully, dw

  2. This is the best interview with Seinfeld I’ve heard. Solid, useful advice. Love how he says not to make your writing day open-ended. Have an end-point so you can reward yourself. And “The mind is infinite in its wisdom while the brain is a stupid little dog that is easily trained.” Genius.

  3. Great interview. Have to say I’m surprised learning Jerry has such a structured process. It was fascinating to hear. Loved how meticulous and how much thought went into how it works for his profession.

  4. Really appreciated this podcast too. Used to watch Seinfeld regularly… the soup nazi was a favorite… his soups were even being sold at Publix at one point. There was the episode with the lady whose name was Mulva(?)… can’t remember… but that was funny. Then the episode with some lady who said her name was ” just [something]”. That’s where I got the idea for my personal e-mail. Back when a/s/l was a common question and having the name Lawrence. Ended up with justLauren….

    So there’s been a link this whole time. Very cool that he did the podcast episode and agree that your podcast is amazing. Thanks for the years of laughter when I used to watch TV.

    Just work!

  5. As a person who is very creative, I find myself in creative roadblocks. I love Jerry’s insight for writing. Also, this interview reminds me of the book I am currently reading “Built to last” by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. A lot of the “genius” is just being persistent and do more of the things that work.

    1. Hi Tim,

      Maybe you had already had such an episode. I wonder if you can share links and interviews to other authors and their creativity tips on writing and coming up with innovative ideas?

      I would love to listen to one compilation with the best piece of advice!

      Kind Regards,
      Aleks

  6. I loved this episode for many reasons. Thank you. You both use TM as part of your health scaffolding. I’m wondering if you can recommend a trusted platform to learn TM online, while we are all trying to stay home. I feel the need to emerge from all of this with something I can keep going forward- so far it’s been mostly bad habits. I am one of thousands of unemployed theatre professionals- so…. cost is a concern, but wanted to get info. from a trusted source.

    1. This podcast had bizzare personal meaning to me. Feeling quite confused in life but certain that gamification is the wrong path for me. I am totally lost in life at the moment and its extreemly stressful.

  7. The ear surgery Jerry talks about is a Stapedectomy. The prosthetic replaces the stapes and transfers sound vibration from outer eat to inner ear. It is true that once done certain sounds become extremely loud and the brain has to get used to all these sounds.

  8. I am the 1% when it comes to listening, critiquing, editing interviews. With over 25 years doing it on average 5 hours a day 7 days a week that’s a shit ton of hours. Not to pound on my chest like King Kong but to let you know this is my arena.

    My guess is I’m also the only one that has listened to all #486 of your episodes.

    When you first launched I was on the fence of how this would go.

    1. A circle jerk with your tech friends
    2. Wherever your set your compass, you become the best

    Love Kevin Rose but those pods don’t need to happen.

    Your growth. Wow

    Constructive feedback.

    You have mentioned as of late you are putting in more time to the pod. I cant tell.

    The one thing I’ve struggled with over the years is tone. It can be sleepy. But that’s ok because you are finding your timing.

    Example. Listen to the intro of your commercial read where you open up: This podcast is brought to you by pornhub. Yes you are kidding but amazing energy. How can you apply some of that energy to the overall interviews?

    Your hardest interview was SIA. She is elite in her own way but you know what happens with elite people, other things suffer. Stay out of that lane.

    Let’s talk about Seinfeld. Flawless.
    Timing, energy, belonging, flow.
    That’s the new norm.

    I’m a nobody that wants to be the best positive teammate.

    Love the show

    Scott

  9. I have always been inspired whenever I hear Jerry Seinfeld interviewed. Working at DreamWorks Animation back in about 2004, I was lucky enough to meet him once when I was working as a Production Supervisor. He was so kind to me and asked me about myself. Just a stellar man. I love the Tim Ferriss Podcast. My goal is to have listened to all of the past interviews up to now within the next few months.

  10. I wasn’t expecting to be remotely interested in that, but as so often happens with this podcast, it was fascinating.
    Unlike almost all the rest of the people on this planet, I’m not really a Seinfeld fan.
    But, as is so often the case, so many skills of high performers travel through different professions.
    His comedy may not be my thing, but I will certainly keep an ear out for his wisdom from now on.

  11. Well done Tim, a special one with Seinfeld that streamed conscious creativity and self management, and, as you referenced encored Hugh Jackman

  12. Hi Tim,

    I definitely saved this quote: It’s like you’ve got to treat your brain like a dog you just got. The mind is infinite in wisdom. The brain is a stupid, little dog that is easily trained. Do not confuse the mind with the brain. The brain is so easy to master. You just have to confine it. You confine it. And it’s done through repetition and systematization.

    Bernie