A candid conversation with Jerry Seinfeld, TV’s top-rated comic, about the important things: sneakers, masturbation, dating teenagers and making a hit show about nothing
This is the introduction to the Playboy Interview, the part you read before you get to the questions and answers. It’s an important part. Just read what this month’s subject, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, says about it.
“I think the introduction is one of the best parts of the interview. I also like where they go ‘[laughs]’ and ‘[smiles].’ But to tell you the truth, in the introduction you always pick up some juicy little personal tidbit, like the subject just came back from t’ai chi. You also get the thing about when the interviewer drove up to the house and what the guy was wearing, what he drank. You find he does some little thing you didn’t know about, like eating potato chips through the whole interview. I remember someone once ate french fries. I thought, Wow. He eats french fries. That’s what I’m interested in.
“Plus, when something is in italics it calls a great deal of attention to itself. A ward in italics almost seems to vibrate on the page. And this is a whole page of italics.”
Five years ago, Jerry Seinfeld was a thin, single, mild-mannered, obsessively neat comedian working the stand-up circuit, making a name for himself as a bright and funny guy. Today, he’s a thin, single, mild-mannered, obsessively neat comedian and TV star whose hit sitcom, “Seinfeld,” has garnered amazing media coverage and critical acclaim—especially for a show that is admittedly about nothing.
“Nothing” fits Seinfeld’s particular brand of comedy—some call it observational or deconstructionist—like a glove. Seinfeld plays Jerry Seinfeld, who, of course, is a 39-year-old, thin, single and obsessively neat comedian living in an Upper West Side New York apartment. He has three friends: Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the ex-girlfriend, now platonic gal pal; George (Jason Alexander), the balding and unemployed paragon of low self-esteem; and Kramer (Michael Richards), the eccentric neighbor who proves you can get by in life no matter how unusual your hairstyle. When they’re not gathered in Seinfeld’s apartment or sharing a booth at a local coffee shop, they’re living life at its most mundane and uneventful, asking questions such as “Why do I get bananas? They’re good for one day,” confronting what “Entertainment Weekly” called “the little adjustments of daily urban life that no network in its right mind would turn into a sitcom.”
In the wrong hands this would not be particularly funny. It would possibly even be boring. After all, how funny can an entire show about waiting for a table in a Chinese restaurant be?
Pretty funny, according to Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales, who wrote that “Seinfeld” can be “painfully amusing and amusingly painful.” In one show, the four characters lose their car in a mall parking garage. In another they ride the subway. Recently, Jerry’s car had a horrible odor he couldn’t get rid of.
“Seinfeld” specializes in unusual topics: masturbation and who can go the longest without it, breast implants, pooper scoopers and the perils of trying to make friends as an adult. Other shows wouldn’t touch these subjects with a 13-episode commitment, unless there were a few hugs and a life-affirming moral attached. “Seinfeld” eschews hugs. And morals. And anything that smacks of neatly summing up life in 22 minutes.
When it debuted, “Seinfeld” was a critical hit and a cult favorite. Cult favorites, of course, don’t impress network executives unless the cult starts to grow—and the “Seinfeld” cult did. TV Guide said: “The yen for ‘Seinfeld’s’ idiosyncratic hipness is on the upswing,” and went on to describe the sitcom as “resolutely minor crises played out with excruciatingly wry precision that has distinguished the show as ‘thirtysomething,’ comic style.” Eventually, “Seinfeld” was holding its own on Wednesday nights on NBC—until ABC’s “Home Improvement” moved in next door. The more mainstream “Home Improvement” clobbered “Seinfeld” in the ratings, so NBC moved “Seinfeld” to Thursday, following “Cheers.” The viewership expanded instantly, and NBC turned to Jerry in much the same way it turned to Bill Cosby ten years ago—to anchor its all-important Thursday-night lineup.
Despite his youthful appearance, Seinfeld is no overnight sensation. The middle-class kid from Massapequa, Long Island had an uneventful childhood. He wasn’t popular, he wasn’t unpopular. He wasn’t part of the in crowd, he wasn’t a ladies’ man. He had ambition, but it was largely unattainable: to be Superman. Instead, he decided to become a comedian. His first funny venture was taping interviews with his parakeet.
Seinfeld’s late father, Kalman, was a salesman and a funny guy, but the son never considered trying to out-funny his father. And when Seinfeld graduated from Queens College, started doing stand-up and then decided on a career making people pay to laugh, his folks supported his decision.
There were a few odd jobs along the way: selling light bulbs over the phone, peddling jewelry on the sidewalks of Manhattan. Seinfeld got two nights and 70 bucks a week emceeing at the Comic Strip, and he knew he was on his way. He simply didn’t realize what a slow trip it would be.
Other comics seemed to make it overnight. Garry Shandling, who first appeared on “The Tonight Show” about the same time as Seinfeld, became a big name, a Carson substitute and the star of a cable series, while Seinfeld continued playing small clubs and flying in coach. Shortly after being cast as the governor’s joke writer on “Benson” for a few episodes, he showed up for work to discover he’d lost his job. No one had bothered to tell him. So Seinfeld went back to the comedy circuit, traveling 300 days a year, hitting the talk shows and doing a fairly lackluster cable special.
Slowly but steadily his success grew. Clubs turned into arenas, sold-out signs began appearing on box offices and TV producers saw him as the next Bob Newhart.
And then one day, after he and comedian pal Larry David finished performing at Catch a Rising Star, they came up with the idea for “Seinfeld.” Originally, it was just about two guys talking, dissecting the world—something comedians tend to do offstage with other comedians. NBC ordered a pilot.
Working on “Seinfeld,” says Seinfeld, is like being in a submarine. The hours are long and constant, and the responsibilities are shared among a small group, with little network interference. Seinfeld, Larry David and a tight inner circle come up with the ideas and write the scripts. Seinfeld also has to come up with a couple of minutes of material every week for the onstage monolog that winds through the show.
Although there’s time for little else but work during the TV season, all the work has paid off. “Seinfeld” is solidly in the Nielsen top ten and was nominated for 11 Emmys. Seinfeld himself is a media rage. There’s a line of greeting cards, and the cast can be seen on boxes of Kellogg’s low-fat granola. He even has a book out of observations on life called “SeinLanguage.” This is what he told the press at a New York comedy club when he announced the publishing deal: “I’m not really an author. I’ve been writing for 17 years. I’m just presenting it differently. I’m numbering the pages.”
Here’s the point in the introduction that Seinfeld likes so much—where we tell you that we asked Contributing Editor David Rensin to meet with Seinfeld and have him expand on all the stuff we just told you. Rensin had this to say about his experience:
“I met Jerry on the set. He looked just like he does on TV. Who says the camera adds 15 pounds? He gave me a Polaroid camera and asked if I would take a picture of him and his baby to put on the makeup-trailer wall next to everyone else’s ‘with baby’ pictures. Seinfeld’s baby turned out to be a 1958 baby-blue Porsche Speedster.
“During our first session, at Jerry’s newly remodeled, largely unfurnished, 6,500-square-foot Hollywood Hills home, he offered me a glass of water. There were no tables so I set it on the carpet next to the couch. I had my legs up, trying to keep my shoes off the couch (with middling success). When we were done, Jerry hopped up and snatched my glass off the carpet before I could bus it myself. He wasn’t taking any chances of a spill.
“Frankly, interviewing a guy who is supposed to be just like his TV character makes one wonder what to talk about. What was I going to ask him? Why do you like cereal so much? Does the TV Jerry own as many pairs of sneakers as you do? Why are you so neat? Actually, I did have a few questions designed to get at the man behind the man whom everyone thinks they know so well. But before I could ask even one, Jerry posed a question of his own.”
Seinfeld: When are we going to get to the sex part?
Playboy: The sex part?
Seinfeld: Yeah. I think people want to know what I’m doing sexually and what my experiences have been, what kind of sexual prowess or power I may have because of my position. What instructions were you given as far as “Find out about his sex life”?
Playboy: OK. Do you have sex?
Seinfeld: Yes, I do.
Playboy: Good. And now—
Seinfeld: Is that it? Is it over?
Playboy: What’s your hurry?
Seinfeld: You’re such a tease.
Playboy: Stick around.
Seinfeld: There’s something else besides sex I want to talk about. I would like to blow the lid off the three quotes under the three pictures. I wasn’t saying any of these things when the three pictures were taken. They are the three best pictures and the three best quotes, but they’re completely unrelated to one another. In fact, if any of this is under the pictures, I’m telling you right now that there’s no camera here.
Playboy: What if we let you choose the quotes?
Seinfeld: Great. So put “This is not what I was saying when these pictures were taken. In fact, if any of this is under the pictures, I’m telling you right now that there’s no camera here” under the first. And “When are we going to get to the sex part?” under the second. I’ll think of a third as we go along.
Playboy: Fine. There’s one last thing to clear up. Are we talking to the real Jerry or the TV Jerry?
Seinfeld: What do you mean?
Playboy: One of your TV show’s conceits is that the real Jerry and the TV Jerry are supposed to be the same guy.
Seinfeld: They’re not that different. But I’m the real Jerry.
Playboy: Can you prove it?
Seinfeld: I have no script. [holds up his hands]
Playboy: That must take away all your image worries.
Seinfeld: I found an acceptable image that was really pretty much me, and that’s how I’ve done everything. That’s why I was able to do the show and why I’ve succeeded as a comedian. I don’t have the energy to maintain an image.
Playboy: So, people who stop you on the street must really think they know you.
Seinfeld: They know me better than they know Dan Rather. You couldn’t predict what Dan Rather would do in most situations, but I think you could with me. I wouldn’t mind an “Excuse me” before a total stranger starts talking to me. That’s the most amusing and most bizarre thing about celebrity. I’m walking down the street, someone walks up alongside of me and says, “So, how come Elaine and you got together only that one time?” They don’t say, “Excuse me, could I talk to you for one second?” Nothing. We’re just talking as if we’ve been talking for blocks. This happens all the time.
Playboy: By the way, how was sex with Elaine?
Seinfeld: Well, you can see that she’s very expressive. The way she moves, she has a physical fluidity. You can see that just by watching her talk. It’s not a big leap for someone with imagination.
Playboy: Which our readers—
Seinfeld: Probably don’t have.
Playboy: Why do you say that?
Seinfeld: If you have a good imagination, you usually don’t need visual aids. I don’t mean to offend, but who’s going to get this deep into the interview anyway? They’re probably at the centerfold by now.
Playboy: They might have turned to it first.
Seinfeld: That’s right. [laughs] And now they’re falling asleep.
Playboy: Whom would you stop on the street just to meet?
Seinfeld: Abraham Lincoln. I’d say, “I’m sorry, I’m sure you get this all the time, but I just think you’re fantastic.”
Playboy: Seriously, are strangers so taken with Seinfeld that they insist their lives are perfect material for the show?
Seinfeld: That’s a compliment. I’m doing something that seems so taken from their own lives they can’t help but assume that everything in their lives must be funny.
Playboy: Are they right or wrong?
Seinfeld: They’re wrong. They may be funny enough to get them through that moment at the water cooler, but they’re not funny enough to be on television in front of millions of people and have them buy a Geo Prizm as a result. I take it as a comment on my skill as a comedian. It seems like nothing. It should seem like something anyone could do.
Playboy: What are the levels of comedy?
Seinfeld: Making your friends laugh, making strangers laugh, making strangers laugh for money and making people act like you.
Playboy: Do civilians always try to make you laugh?
Seinfeld: Could you explain that to me, please? What the hell is that phenomenon? If I meet singers, I don’t go, “Hey, what do you think of this?” and sing. Why would you invite that humiliation by trying to be funny around a comedian? To make a comedian laugh, you have to be funnier than you are when you make your friends laugh. Funnier than you’ve ever been in your life. What are the odds that you’re going to succeed? Why do you try?
Playboy: Are you kind to amateurs?
Seinfeld: I’m very kind. Everyone has a few fake laughs they use to get through life. The snort, the snort-chuckle, the nod-smile, the “That’s good!” But they’re all just nice ways of saying “Stop. Please stop.”
Playboy: So the constant attention of strangers—
Seinfeld: I’m annoyed. But if you’re not cranky and annoyed, you can’t be a comedian. Any good comedian is, by definition, highly irritable. Even I, though I may not seem to be, am constantly irritated.
Playboy: What irritates you?
Seinfeld: Everything. I just hate everything and everybody. And that’s why I’m so funny. If I didn’t have all these sensitivities, I’d have nothing to talk about.
Playboy: Do you owe your public?
Seinfeld: That’s where the money’s coming from, isn’t it?
Playboy: That’s an elegant way of looking at it.
Seinfeld: That’s my job: to understand what’s going on in life, to figure it out. The news, books, magazines and films cover a certain portion of what’s going on. But there’s a lot of stuff that’s not touched on, and that’s my job. To tell you the truth, 75 percent of the world is not touched on except by comedians.
Playboy: Which you do in your TV show—
Seinfeld: Wait. What about the sex part?
Playboy: First the TV show.
Seinfeld: Oh, Seinfeld. Yes, I’ve seen it. It’s quite a charming little piece of work, isn’t it?
Playboy: Especially for a show that’s supposed to be about nothing. What exactly does that mean?
Seinfeld: It’s actually about details. We joke that it’s about nothing because there’s no concept behind the show, there’s nothing intrinsically funny in the situation. It’s just about four people. There’s no thread. No high concept.
Playboy: But isn’t Hollywood built on concept?
Seinfeld: That is the concept: no concept.
Playboy: Which, as we’ve already mentioned, fuels the perception that your real life is just as it’s portrayed on the show.
Seinfeld: I play myself as I was before I got the show. I understand that people would like to think that they’re looking into my actual life. It would be fun if that were true. People want to get to know people they see on TV. That’s why they read interviews. That’s why they watch talk shows. Other cultures accept performers as they view them. Americans see performers whom they like and they want to know, “Hey, what’s behind that? How did they get to be that way? How do they come up with their ideas?”
Playboy: What do you think is behind this obsession?
Seinfeld: I guess Americans are just nosy. They want a little bit more. It’s the same concept behind extra-strength pain relievers. What the hell is extra strength? We don’t know how much strength they were giving us, and we don’t know how much more “extra” is. But we’re giving you extra, and Americans like that idea. We’ll throw in the floor mats when you buy a new car. It’s that little something. Then, when they’ve found out enough about a person, they start to hate him. Then they move on to the next person.
Playboy: Thanks. You’ve just explained the entire—
Seinfeld: Cycle of celebrity.
Playboy: Can you deconstruct anything?
Seinfeld: Deconstruction. That’s a very good word for what I do. I have a friend who’s not a comedian, he’s a computer analyst. He’s always going, “See, there’s something funny about this saltshaker, but I can’t see it. You could see it.” And it frustrates him. He’s looking at the saltshaker and I’m looking at the saltshaker, and he knows there’s a joke there. He can’t find it.
Playboy: Have you found anything you can’t deconstruct?
Seinfeld: Yeah, sure. I can’t crack most things. You don’t realize that the joke is the diamond. The joke is the fleck of gold after going through a ton of rock. And you’re saying to me, “What’s rock?” The whole world is rock. I’ve found this little lump of gold—my comedy material—and I’ve made it into an act.
Playboy: Do you enjoy your job?
Seinfeld: I am my job. Everything else in life pales by comparison to the interpretive experience: seeing something, interpreting it, shaping it, communicating it and being affirmed for it. Every time something funny is discovered, it’s an absolute miracle. And the most amazing thing is when I have only three minutes to think of something funny. We shot a show recently where George borrows his father’s car and it gets destroyed by a gang—it’s actually more complicated than that. We’re in this scene where I’m standing next to George and his father’s car. The door is ripped off, the engine’s destroyed, the windows are all smashed. We’re shooting, it’s late, it’s cold, we need a line. What can I say? I love that.
Playboy: What did you come up with?
Seinfeld: I said to him: “You know, a lot of these scratches will buff right out.”
Playboy: Why do you come to a scene like that without a line?
Seinfeld: Because—I knew you were going to ask that, by the way—we were going to try to make the joke with a camera shot. But once we were all standing by the car, it needed what they call a button.
Playboy: So this is the thrill of comedy.
Seinfeld: I’ve learned that when I really need to think of something funny, I’m often able to do it. I never knew I could do that. I always thought it took hours. But I found out that sometimes the mind can work faster when it’s under pressure, even comically.
Playboy: Were you this quick when you were younger? Or were you quick but not funny?
Seinfeld: We have ourselves a nice little setup here, haven’t we? It’s worked very well. I probably was quick when I was younger, but I didn’t know it, so it’s the same as not being quick. Here’s what it comes down to: You need talent, you need brains and you need confidence. Those are the three things you need to do virtually anything. Confidence is a fascinating commodity. There’s no upper limit on the usefulness of it, as long as it doesn’t bleed into arrogance. You need as much of it as you can get.
Playboy: Considering your current popularity, you must be overflowing with the stuff.
Seinfeld: That’s what I’ve gained from this show. And that’s what I wanted from day one. I didn’t want a successful TV series, I didn’t want money, fame—any of the things any normal person would want. I wanted the confidence I would have if I could do it.
Playboy: How do you know when it becomes arrogance?
Seinfeld: When you’re losing. When you start making bets that you’re not winning. I’ve always had a lot of confidence. But I wanted more. As a comedian you’re never as good as you want to be. To me that means being strong enough to take your time with an audience. Young comedians—most comedians—work onstage at a breathless pace, and that’s out of fear. I do it, too. It keeps it going. But when you can slow down and hold people, that’s being good enough. I love seeing Bill Cosby tell a story slowly. Comedy strength is slowness. Jack Benny is a perfect example. He would come out onstage, wouldn’t say anything. He would just stand there and the people would start to laugh. I mean, that is comic strength. But to wait for the laugh, that’s balls. And I say balls only because it’s Playboy.
Playboy: Can you apply this to other things?
Seinfeld: It applies to everything. Of course it applies to life. The good things in life, the most interesting things in life, are the things that distill life—like comedy, like baseball and art. Whatever takes the experience and kind of crushes it down into something you can grab. That’s why you go to a movie. That’s why you read a book. That’s why everybody likes epigrams and aphorisms. You feel, like, if you go to a movie, maybe you’ll experience more of life in that two hours than you would in just your own life. That’s what a lot of entertainment is: a condensed life experience.
Playboy: Let’s get back to Seinfeld. Is it true that all the cast members hate one another?
Seinfeld: Yes. We’re at one another’s throats constantly. [laughs]
Playboy: How are you dealing with Kramer’s transformation into a pop-culture superstar?
Seinfeld: I think he’s bigger than I am. Michael Richards has a unique talent, which needed to find a place. Before this show, nobody was using him properly. He’s like this engine, just running and running. It’s not in gear, it’s not driving anything. And if you don’t hook it up with something, it’s going to turn on you. Having a talent is a kill-or-be-killed thing. Especially comedic talent. It has to be focused on other people, or it turns on you in the most vicious way.
Playboy: And then what happens?
Seinfeld: You become self-destructive. Or you have to leave the country. I know a guy who had to leave the country.
Playboy: Isn’t he just killing himself in some other country?
Seinfeld: No, he’s forgotten about it. He’s away from it. He doesn’t have to see all his friends on TV and know that he’s funnier than they are but he’s not doing anything.
Playboy: How are you taking your own transformation into an icon?
Seinfeld: Great. Unfortunately, right now I’m out of control.
Playboy: If you’re talking about the line of Seinfeld greeting cards, that does seem over the top.
Seinfeld: Yeah, I wasn’t too happy with the greeting cards. It seemed like a good idea then. We were approached by a reputable merchandiser, and at the time we weren’t doing well against Home Improvement. We needed every bit of promo we could get. By the time the stuff came out, the landscape had changed. It’s not really right for us anymore.
Playboy: Is that what you mean by being out of control?
Seinfeld: No. For 98 percent of my career I was completely at the wheel. All my performances, my level, my workload—it was all under control. Now I’m just hanging on to this thing. My career has now developed a life and a power of its own, and I am just a passenger. I don’t like peaks. I always wanted to have a plateau kind of career. I shudder when I see these people skyrocket and then flame out in a second. I wouldn’t want Madonna’s kind of career, where you constantly have to make battleships disappear. I’m more into watchmaking. I’m most interested in having a body of work, to say that I created all this material and I did these shows.
Playboy: So you’re in this for the long haul?
Seinfeld: I will have longevity. I’d like to play the London Palladium when I’m 100, just like George Burns. No, make that 110. But I still can’t believe it can go on the way it has for much longer. I mean, I’m almost out of things to say. No, I’m just kidding.
Playboy: Enough about you. Why is Seinfeld a hit?
Seinfeld: It has an urban flavor. It’s about single life. Everyone is single at some point. But mostly it’s about being offbeat. Almost everything we do is offbeat. Even ordinary things somehow come out offbeat. We don’t want to do stuff we’ve seen. We try to step into real life. When Roseanne does a show about teenage abortion, that’s real, too. But our field of expertise seems to be more minute.
Playboy: Who’s the audience?
Seinfeld: The bored, the disaffected, the disenfranchised. The tired, the huddled masses. I did a bit about that on the show. “Must we specifically request the worst people in the world? Why don’t we just say our doors are open and we’ll take whatever you’ve got? Do we have to say, ‘Give us your tired, your poor’? Do they have to be tired? People who don’t return calls—anybody who can’t do something—send them over.” You have to expose yourself to the show for a while, develop a taste for the characters, the situations, the jokes, the stories. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Playboy: It wasn’t when it was on Wednesday nights.
Seinfeld: Home Improvement was killing us. It has a broader appeal.
Playboy: Why are you doing better on Thursdays?
Seinfeld: I don’t know.
Playboy: Your co-creator, Larry David, said that if people didn’t watch on Wednesdays he didn’t want them to watch on Thursdays.
Seinfeld: I never agreed with that. I wanted people to watch it. The show is funny. There’s not much good comedy on TV, period. Funny is hard. It’s like Michelangelo’s David. I was just in Florence. I saw the David. I also saw some of the other statues littered around the city—the legs were too thick, the proportions off—and it was clear Mike knew what he was doing. Sitcoms are hard because there are so many people involved, and good comedy is always specific. Our show is basically run by Larry David and me without any interference. That’s one reason the material is good. We’re not trying to please anybody but ourselves. It’s not homogenized, it’s not run through the system.
Playboy: And how would that change things?
Seinfeld: We did this line in the show a couple weeks ago where an ex-boyfriend of Elaine’s was being operated on. Kramer wanted to watch and wanted somebody to go with him. He says, “C’mon, c’mon. Go with me.” We’re sitting in the coffee shop and I go, “All right, all right, I’ll go with you. Let me just finish this coffee and we’ll go watch them slice this fat bastard up.” That is not the type of thing that lead characters in successful sitcoms say. It’s not what you would call likable, at least not in the traditional network sense. But that’s what’s great about the show. We’re at the point where people understand the characters as human beings and they’ll accept that. What makes it fun for me is being that honest—because that’s what I would say in real life—without hurting my likability.
Playboy: You’ve said that after five seasons you’re gone. Time magazine recently posited that your show might be around for ten.
Seinfeld: I can guarantee you we won’t do ten. I don’t want to be in people’s faces. This show is going to be off way sooner than anyone would believe.
Playboy: So do you worry about being overexposed?
Seinfeld: Yes, I do. There are certain movies where the promotion is so well-coordinated and so pervasive that, before the movie comes out, I hate it, just because they’re so good at telling me about it. They’ve done such a complete job of selling that it breeds resentment.
Playboy: And yet you’ve been everywhere lately.
Seinfeld: I was working yesterday with a magazine photographer, and the wardrobe woman and I were talking about this. They wanted to do a cover line on me—America Loves Jerry Seinfeld or something like that. I said, “That’s not good. That’s going to make people hate me. If you say that about someone, It defines a relationship with the public and then propels it to end badly. A love affair is a relationship, and that has to end badly.” And she said, “It’s going to end badly anyway, no matter what.” That’s true: It ends badly anyway. So you might as well experience the peak of passion with whatever relationship we’re talking about, whether it’s with a person or, in this case, a professional relationship with the public. It’s going to end badly. Everything ends.
Playboy: How does a Seinfeld evolve?
Seinfeld: Somebody comes up with an idea for a show—it could be just one line. And just hearing that one line makes you laugh. “Jerry picks up his car from the valet and there’s a smell that won’t come out.” “Jerry and Kramer go to watch an operation, and a Junior Mint falls into the body.” Virtually every show that we’ve done can be boiled down that way. It’s not like “Jerry’s nephew comes to visit for a week.” That doesn’t make you laugh.
Playboy: What’s the one-liner for “The Contest”?
Seinfeld: Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine decide to see who can go the longest without masturbation and who can remain master of their domain.
Playboy: How would you do a one-liner for a show about this interview?
Seinfeld: We already did that. It’s “The Outing.” A reporter overhears Jerry and George joking around and then writes that they’re gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. [pauses] You know, I was thinking about that show this morning. My friend Mario was in the kitchen, because he’s staying here. I was thinking, Gee, I wonder if this guy from Playboy thinks there’s something going on.
Playboy: Frankly, that did immediately come to mind.
Seinfeld: Oh, really? That’s so funny!
Playboy: Also, “Hey, he’s a damn good-looking guy.”
Seinfeld: [Laughs] Oh, that’s funny. Too bad we’ve already done the show. No, Mario’s just a comedian friend of mine.
Playboy: But you’ve heard the rumors?
Seinfeld: Many. Somebody told me the other day that he heard I had special phone numbers for different levels of women. I don’t know what the hell that meant. And obviously I’ve heard that I’m gay. I’ve been told that everybody at NBC in New York thinks I’m gay.
Playboy: Now’s your opportunity to state unequivocally that—
Seinfeld: I’m not gay.
Playboy: When you’re in the heat of passion—
Seinfeld: Do I think of men? No.
Playboy: Do you fold your clothes before you have sex?
Seinfeld: No. I generally don’t wear clothes during sex. Wait a second, wait a second! Are we up to the sex part?
Playboy: We’re getting closer.
Seinfeld: All right!
Playboy: Has a guy ever approached you?
Seinfeld: Once, in Rome. I decided to take a trip to Europe on my own, to see if I could meet people. This was a complete miscalculation of my personality. I don’t talk to anyone. I spent ten days there without having one conversation, except with this guy. I was so thrilled to have someone to talk to, and I didn’t realize that he was hitting on me. But then it became obvious.
Playboy: Is this misperception part of the reason that you did “The Outing” episode?
Seinfeld: No. That was actually Larry Charles’ idea. He’s our supervising producer. And when I heard it, not only did I think it was a great idea on its own but I also thought, perfect! It’s not something I’m uncomfortable with. I used to be. When you’re younger, if someone thinks you’re gay you get really upset about it. But now I just laugh. It means people are thinking too much about you.
Playboy: Why do you take on topics like masturbation, nipples on Christmas cards and bad smells when other shows don’t?
Seinfeld: If I may be so immodest, it takes some pretty skillful writing to do these things and make them comfortable for people to watch on a mass level. Anybody can write a funny show about masturbation. But can you do it in an artful way that offends no one and, in fact, is even funnier than if you had come right out and talked about it? It takes skill. And when we re-ran that show last May we got our highest rating ever.
Playboy: It’s a classic show. Right up there with the birth of Little Ricky.
Seinfeld: And, of course, the first time Little Ricky jerked off.
Playboy: Why did you think you could pull it off?
Seinfeld: I’ll ignore your choice of phrase there. If it’s something no one else has done before, it’s challenging.
Playboy: Were you just trying to see if you could get it past the censors?
Seinfeld: We’re not trying to get away with anything. That’s a completely different sensibility. I want to see if I can do what I want to do without pushing people’s moral envelope, or whatever. And if we can’t, then we don’t do it. We wanted to do a show in which Elaine would be stuck in a subway and miss her stop, and be on her way to Harlem. Kind of explore her fear of having to get off the subway in Harlem. We couldn’t find a way to do it without people getting the wrong impression. It was coming off racist. It was too small a needle to thread, so we abandoned it.
Playboy: How did you hook up with the show’s co-creator, Larry David?
Seinfeld: We’ve known each other since about 1976, 1977. We were both doing stand-up. But stand-up isn’t his form. It’s too crass for what he does. Larry has a brilliant flair for staging and direction. There is no show without him. He has, more than me, created this enterprise. My skill has been to help him interpret his ideas. He filters things through me. I contribute lines and jokes.
Playboy: Do you wish you could have done it all by yourself?
Seinfeld: No. I have stand-up for that. I’m not out for the credit. I’m just glad to be doing something that’s not bad TV.
Playboy: What do you watch on TV?
Seinfeld: I could never watch sitcoms before I started doing one. But now they’re really interesting because I see what they’re trying to do, where they’re succeeding, where they’re failing. It used to be only The Honeymooners, sports, news, animal shows.
Playboy: The Discovery Channel?
Seinfeld: Yeah. Shark Week. I always love how one animal is the star each week. And you want him to kill whatever he’s trying to kill because you’re on his side. If it’s the lion, you want him to get that boar. The next week it’s about boars. Now you’re hoping that the boar gets away from the lion. Your loyalty is so fickle with these animal shows.
Playboy: What did you watch as a kid?
Seinfeld: Rocky and Bullwinkle, Jonny Quest, Spider-Man, Batman. Flipper was a big favorite. Comedywise, Ed Sullivan, Red Skelton, Jonathan Winters, the Smothers Brothers.
Playboy: Was yours a happy childhood?
Seinfeld: I had a lot of fun. I rode my bike a lot, went swimming. I was a Cub Scout. I had a Schwinn Sting Ray, blue metallic with, of course, the banana seat. The first one in Harbor Green to have one. The other kids went nuts. I was very proud of that.
Playboy: What did you want as a kid that you couldn’t get?
Seinfeld: The Schwinn Sting Ray. And once I got it, I was very happy. It’s pretty much the same with the Porsche. At about 13, I realized I wanted a Porsche, and I was unhappy until I got it. Now I have it and I’m happy.
Playboy: What’s next?
Seinfeld: Nothing. I’m set.
Playboy: How were you with girls?
Seinfeld: Uneventful. I kind of withdrew from a lot of social activity. I didn’t like group mentality and group behavior. I wanted to focus in on one person. I wanted to tell that person what I think about nuances and details and substructures. And you don’t do that in groups.
Playboy: Not when you’re just eight years old.
Seinfeld: And even now you don’t. You go to parties and it’s all breezy bullshitting, chitchatting. I like that up to a point, but then I’m bored by it. I want to sit with somebody and get down to the nuts and bolts.
Playboy: When you’re at a party, where do you stand?
Seinfeld: I’ll tell you what happens when I go to a party. I’ll open the door and I’ll walk in. And I’ll keep walking—and it usually won’t be far—until I hit a spot where someone stops me or I see someone I know and I start talking. That is the spot I will stay in for the entire party. I sometimes wonder: Why can’t I get deeper into the room?
Playboy: Any clue?
Seinfeld: I guess it’s because I immediately try to make the best of the situation I’m in. I think that’s a key component of my personality. I’m not as interested in changing my situation as I am in improving the one I have, which I think is good. I mean, I always do the best I can with what I have.
Playboy: Is that your philosophy of life?
Seinfeld: No, it just occurred to me. But I’d like to change that. I would like to walk through more of the room and be at four or five different places by the end of the party. [looks down at his new sneakers] The tongue on this shoe is really short. And you know what? That makes or breaks a shoe in my book. Look at how short that is. That is no goddamn good. This will never be one of my favorites.
Playboy: You’ve said that small talk is excruciating for you. Do you give the impression that you don’t want to talk to people?
Seinfeld: I generally don’t want to. Most people are not equipped to discuss the things I want to discuss, which is sneaker tongues and things like that. They haven’t thought about it, they have no ideas about it. That’s why Larry David and I just go on forever. He’s equipped to discuss anything.
Playboy: Would you talk about sneaker tongues if somebody else brought it up?
Seinfeld: Yeah, I love it. I light up when somebody else brings it up. I go, “OK, now I have a player here. Let’s talk.”
Playboy: You’re always buying and wearing new pairs of sneakers. Do you have a sneaker fetish?
Seinfeld: I’ve always liked sneakers—that was something I responded to even at six years old. I drove my mother crazy about getting me sneakers. She wouldn’t let me wear them in the winter. She would set a day when I was allowed to start wearing sneakers again.
Playboy: What kind did you wear?
Seinfeld: Keds. My favorite ones were the dark-blue kind that you could get only in the city. On Long Island they had only black. I’ve got a picture of me wearing them in my first grade class. Every other kid in the picture has regular shoes on. I’m in high tops.
Playboy: Apparently this runs deeper than anyone suspected.
Seinfeld: All comedians have an obsession about their feet. If I see a comedian during the day with a pair of shoes on, I stop him, grab him and go, “What is going on?” You just never see it. Comedians hate shoes.
Seinfeld: Comedians like to be comfortable. But more than that, it’s clinging to your youthful mood. I always wanted to be ready to play ball if anyone suggested it. I didn’t want to have to go home and change. Your shoes are important because they define your relationship to the earth. I like to have something playful on my feet.
Playboy: We hear that you don’t keep them if they get as much as a tiny scuff.
Seinfeld: Another media-driven scandal. Not true. But I do give old pairs away to the less fortunate—who at this point are pretty much everybody.
Playboy: How many pairs do you have?
Seinfeld: Right now I’m a little low. Probably 15 or 20. I really need to get some more.
Playboy: Let’s investigate a couple of your other notable quirks. What about your love of flossing?
Seinfeld: More bullshit. I flossed after lunch one day at the show, and a magazine writer decided that meant I’m obsessed with flossing. I floss twice a day. That’s what my dentist told me to do, so I do it.
Playboy: What about your involvement with Scientology?
Seinfeld: I took a couple courses a number of years ago that I thought were fabulous. I learned a lot and I had a good experience with it.
Playboy: You’re not an unwitting dupe of the church?
Seinfeld: No, I’ve always had the skill of extracting the essence of any subject I study, be it meditation, yoga, Scientology, Judaism, Zen. Whatever it is, I go in to get what I need. To me, these are supermarkets. I go in to get my supplies, then I leave.
Playboy: Most of your friends are comics. Why is that?
Seinfeld: I love funny people.
Playboy: We hear time and time again that most comics are venal, self-centered and not nice.
Seinfeld: There are guys driving bread trucks who fit the same description. I feel comfortable with comics. We understand one another. Here’s a good question for you the next time you interview a comic: If you had to be stuck in a room for the rest of your life with one person, and either you would be funny or that person would be funny, which would you prefer? That’s a good one, isn’t it?
Playboy: What’s the answer?
Seinfeld: I would prefer that the other person be funny. To not laugh is worse than to not be funny.
Playboy: Many comics might choose the other option.
Seinfeld: Not the good ones. If you’re up there for yourself, you’re not as good as if you’re up there for them. That’s how I break them down. That’s how I cut the comedy community in half. For whose benefit are you onstage?
Playboy: Is that why you’ve said there should be no stars in comedy?
Seinfeld: Yes. Stars can succeed by concealing who they are. Comedians can’t.
Playboy: But you’ve become a star.
Seinfeld: Well, not in my mind—and that’s the one we’re talking about. Do I look like a star to you?
Playboy: Nope, just a regular guy. How have the experiences of your friends who have become famous prepared you for the change in your life?
Seinfeld: They haven’t. Jay Leno is really the only one I knew well, and I watched him take off. But you have no idea how you’re going to respond to it. Jay and I are very different. Jay’s the ultimate public-service guy. I mean, when he gets 30 calls about a joke that was offensive, he calls every one of those people and finds out why or apologizes. I don’t respond to the public that way. This is my thing, take it or leave it.
Playboy: Is it true that you and Jay sit around and critique comics just for fun?
Seinfeld: All comedians do it. Comedians gossip endlessly. They love to bullshit their lives away; that’s why they became comedians.
Playboy: Weren’t you once considered as the guest host for David Letterman?
Seinfeld: He said that one time in an interview. I don’t think that was ever at a serious stage. He mentioned me as a fill-in if he were on vacation or something.
Playboy: Are you interested in being a talk-show host?
Seinfeld: No. I could never maintain the illusion that I really give a damn about when this person’s movie is coming out, or show any interest in the person. The brilliance of Letterman, the genius of Letterman, is that he can conduct an interview with someone he does not respect without compromising himself and, at the same time, he lets us know how he feels. I’m amazed by that. I could never play that edge the way he does.
Playboy: Explain the differences between Jay and Dave.
Seinfeld: Jay reads the books. Every day they screen the movie of the guest who’s coming on the next day. Leno does incredible research. He is like John Riggins of the Washington Redskins. He was the kind of guy to whom you would give the ball and he would plow into that line over and over again.
Playboy: What about Dave?
Seinfeld: Letterman’s a little more offbeat. Letterman is like Crazy Legs Hirsch.
Playboy: Since both Letterman and Leno are your pals, how did you feel about their jockeying for position before Dave decided to go with CBS?
Seinfeld: It was as uncomfortable for me as it was for them. But they were cool about it. They understand the inherent brutality of show business, and that was just one of those episodes. Two wildebeests are walking down the street and the lion’s in the bushes. Somebody’s going to get eaten. But it seems to have worked out well for both.
Playboy: Did you talk to Dave and Jay during the battle?
Seinfeld: Yeah. They both felt it was terrible that it had to be like that. But friends compete in sports all the time. Look at Jordan and Barkley. There is no acrimony. Luckily, they’re two professional guys who are fairly secure.
Playboy: Is it difficult to choose which show you’re going to appear on?
Seinfeld: No. Being on Carson was like being on your dad’s show. Being on Letterman or with Leno is like being on your friend’s show. I kind of miss the fear. I don’t feel out of place anymore. I miss putting together the suit and tie, very conservative so as not to offend.
Playboy: Now you don’t depend on talk-show appearances for a living.
Seinfeld: Now who gives a shit?
Playboy: There are some who are afraid to go on Dave’s show.
Seinfeld: But that’s just a matter of being funny. With the Carson show there were all these other points of protocol that you worried about: the OK finger versus the not-OK finger at the end of your set, the suit and the idea of “What if I went on without a tie? Oh my God!” It was like throwing a Molotov cocktail. I don’t think about things like that now.
Playboy: How many times were you on with Carson?
Playboy: Did he wave you over to the couch the first time?
Seinfeld: No, it was like the fourth or fifth.
Playboy: Was it devastating?
Seinfeld: No, I knew this was the process. I wasn’t one of these phenoms where the guy gets called over his first time, hits a home run in his first at-bat. I always did well, but they have to warm up to you. They tell you, “Mr. Carson thought you were very funny.” That type of thing.
Playboy: And no one inspires that kind of fear now?
Seinfeld: I can’t put myself in the position of just starting out anymore. Now, if I did The Tonight Show and they said, “Mr. Leno didn’t feel that your material was strong enough,” I’d say, “I didn’t think he was so funny, either.”
Playboy: What about you and Howard Stern?
Seinfeld: We have a lot of fun.
Playboy: You have a lot of fun with a guy who recently said he wishes your house would fall off the mountain, that you would get cancer and die?
Seinfeld: Yeah, he’s funny. People don’t understand the Howard Stern character. We were laughing our asses off.
Playboy: Wait. Supposedly, his feelings were really hurt because of something you said about him in an interview.
Seinfeld: He was offended. He’s a sensitive guy, if you can believe that. I called him an amusing jerk. So I went on his show and told him that I stand by my comment. We had this really hostile exchange. Then, as soon as he’d go to a commercial, we’d both be laughing. That show is all playacting.
Playboy: Was that all set up from the beginning?
Seinfeld: It’s just kind of understood. He makes fun of me, I make fun of him. It’s friends ragging on each other for the fun of it. Hey, if I really thought he didn’t like me, why would I give a damn about him and go on his show?
Playboy: What does Howard want to know that you won’t tell him?
Seinfeld: He’s always asking me about dates and women.
Playboy: How did you feel when he grilled your ex-girlfriend, comic Carol Leifer, about your sex life?
Seinfeld: I was a little embarrassed about that, especially since we broke up 17 years ago.
Playboy: She said you were good.
Seinfeld: Yeah, she was just being sweet. Nobody remembers.
Playboy: And he grilled her not only about your sex life but also about your penis size.
Seinfeld: Hey, that’s kind of personal. Come to think of it, I like Don Imus better. And I mention that because I know it will really irritate Howard, which is always gratifying to me.
Playboy: This might be the perfect time to interject a guest question from a young woman—and fan—who watched “The Contest” and wanted to know if in fact you are the master of your domain.
Seinfeld: No. My empire has crumbled.
Playboy: She wanted specifics on frequency. And when—in the morning? In the evening?
Seinfeld: I’ll need her home number.
Playboy: Creams? Oils?
Seinfeld: Well, we’re definitely into it now. Tell her that the show, while being lifelike and entertaining, is basically an exercise in fiction. I’ll tell you something interesting about me. It’s probably my biggest secret, the biggest skeleton in my closet. I didn’t discover masturbation until after I lost my virginity. I don’t understand how everybody else knew about it and I didn’t. Nobody told me about it. I don’t know how they found out about it. I didn’t know this technique was available to me. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I was absent that day. And when I discovered it, I thought, Well, that’s the end of that. I’m never going to get upset about a woman ever again!
Playboy: How soon after your first sexual encounter did you learn—
Seinfeld: Right after. Nah, just kidding.
Playboy: So who told you?
Seinfeld: It was my college roommate. We were talking one day, and he told me.
Playboy: Were you embarrassed?
Seinfeld: Are you kidding? I would love to tell people about this. What a tremendous gift to give another human being, to tell them, “You know, here’s what you can do..…”
Playboy: Is that basically how it happened?
Seinfeld: That’s a funny version of it.
Playboy: Which parent told you about sex, and what did he or she tell you?
Seinfeld: I don’t really remember how I learned. They said they showed me a book or played me a record or something. They swore they told me all about it, but I don’t recall it. I think I learned from that book, the David Reuben book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). I found a copy when I was in high school, and that was helpful.
Playboy: Don’t get excited. This isn’t the sex part, but since you brought it up, when did you lose your virginity?
Seinfeld: I’m not sure whether I was 19 or 20.
Playboy: Not sure?
Seinfeld: I’m not positive, to tell you the truth. I remember the place. I remember whom. I was in a relationship, so it wasn’t a seduction.
Playboy: A lot of men lose their virginity at a much younger age.
Seinfeld: I’m not pushy. I remember being upset about it having taken so long. Might have been 20. I should probably call it a “technical” at 19, but the red light—sorry about the metaphor—came on when I was 20. So I’m willing now to admit that as a teenager I never had sex. And I was the master of my domain. And I’ll tell you this: At the age of 39, I’ve almost caught up with everybody else. I think I’m even.
Playboy: Why so late?
Seinfeld: I hated the idea of upsetting a woman in any way, so the slightest amount of resistance would deter me. I had no persistence at all. Still don’t, really. If she is at all reticent, I’m out of there. It kills the mood for me. I don’t want to sell anybody anything. It’s one area of my life where I’m extremely—
Seinfeld: Yeah. Still very shy about it. I’m not pushy.
Playboy: Of course, now you don’t have to be.
Seinfeld: No, I still have to be.
Playboy: How much has fame changed the equation?
Seinfeld: It’s changed it, but it hasn’t really improved it. In some ways, women are put off by it. They think I’m dating millions of women, they think they won’t be special. They think I’ll take them for granted.
Playboy: Are you willing to make the first move now?
Seinfeld: Yes, I am. I feel confident enough to do that now. [gets up and goes into the kitchen] Do you mind if I do these dishes?
Playboy: You like doing dishes?
Seinfeld: I like the water and I like the soap. [soaps some glasses and plates]
Playboy: Do you like to iron?
Seinfeld: No. I like vacuuming, though. I like the way the carpet looks after I’m done. I like those lines the wheels make.
Playboy: While we’re in the kitchen, maybe we should mention your fascination with cereal. The Seinfeld kitchen is jammed with cereal boxes. You have stashes in your Los Angeles and New York homes. Why?
Seinfeld: It’s the first thing I could make when I was a kid. I was proud of it. I love milk.
Playboy: So cereal is just a means to an end?
Seinfeld: I think so. I really like anything with milk.
Playboy: Your face will soon be on a box of cereal, right?
Seinfeld: Yeah. Kellogg’s low-fat granola. [takes a small package from the cereal box] I love things like this: They put the raisins in a special packet. I guess it keeps them moist and juicy.
Playboy: What’s your favorite cereal?
Seinfeld: I constantly change my allegiances. Right now I’m in this Cheerios mode. I’m sure the Kellogg’s people won’t be happy to hear that. [scrambling] Cornflakes, though—you really can’t beat cornflakes. If you had to have one cereal the rest of your life, it would have to be cornflakes.
Playboy: Let’s turn to your cereal days as a comic. When did you know you had made it?
Seinfeld: When I turned in my waiter’s apron in September of 1976. I was working at Brew and Burger on Third and 53rd. Ten to two—lunch. I got a gig emceeing at the Comic Strip. I already had one night, then I got another night, and it was like 35 bucks a night. I thought I could make it on 70 bucks a week. So I turned in the apron. I went out to visit my parents. I remember standing on the platform of the Long Island Railroad in Massapequa. That was the highest moment of my career. I was a comedian. I had made it.
Playboy: Has anything compared to that since then?
Seinfeld: No. That was the transition from man to superman.
Playboy: You’ve always said your dad was a funny guy. Did he think you had a shot at a career in comedy?
Seinfeld: Oh, yeah. He was extremely encouraging about it. He was a salesman, and that’s a similar type of life. You’re really not doing any legitimate kind of work, you’re just making a living talking people into things. That isn’t too much different from what a comedian does.
Playboy: What did he sell?
Playboy: Signs? Seinfeld?
Seinfeld: A coincidence. Anyway, I had been doing comedy for a few months by then. My parents were fine with it. They weren’t quite sure what I was doing. They really didn’t know how serious I was about it. But they always took everything in stride. Their life didn’t revolve around me. If I was happy, they were happy.
Playboy: Whom did their lives revolve around?
Seinfeld: Everybody did what they wanted to do. We were all just kind of roommates. My parents never really had families. My mom grew up in an orphanage and my father left home when he was young. They got married late in life—they were both in their mid-to-late 30s. They were independent people.
Playboy: Would you call yours an intimate family?
Seinfeld: No. We went on vacations together and we always had dinner together, but it wasn’t that kind of cloying, got-to-talk-every-day thing. My mother doesn’t call me every day. There was plenty of breathing room in the family. It was a healthy atmosphere.
Playboy: What is your definition of intimacy?
Seinfeld: There are certain families in which people are all over one another. They look like newborn puppies. It’s too much.
Playboy: Would you describe yourself as an intimate person?
Seinfeld: It’s hard to be intimate all by yourself. But I’m comfortable with intimacy, if that’s what you’re asking. I just haven’t been involved with anyone seriously in quite a while. I have had a number of legitimate relationships, but the past few years I haven’t. I’ve been too busy and it’s been too difficult. And sometimes I wonder if I’ve lost the knack of it. Of course, I’m minimizing the whole experience by using the word knack. But I don’t think so. No human being is immune to love and how it can change you.
Playboy: Ever been in love?
Seinfeld: Yeah, a few times.
Playboy: What’s the shortest amount of time it’s taken you to say “I love you”?
Seinfeld: A month.
Playboy: Were you holding out?
Seinfeld: No, it seemed about right. I’m into timing.
Playboy: Speaking of timing, you’re 39, straight, never been married. What’s going on?
Seinfeld: I’ve been busy.
Playboy: Well, maybe this will make things easier. We have some phone numbers we’ve been asked to pass along.
Seinfeld: [Looks at slips of paper] What is this? Where’d you get these?
Playboy: This one is from a woman who said, “Tell Jerry I’m a nice Jewish girl.” And this is from a woman who—
Seinfeld: What do these women think? Why would I call someone like this? I don’t know who they are. [flustered] I mean, this is really quite mind-boggling. I find this astounding. I don’t know them, they know me. Do they understand that TV works only one way? They get to see me, but I don’t get to see them. This basic fact of electronics seems to get past a lot of people. It’s beyond me. I don’t know, maybe some people are that indiscriminate. I’m extremely careful about who I spend my time with.
Playboy: The tabloids had a field day with one of your recent dates—with a 17-year-old.
Seinfeld: I was in a tabloid rocket to the moon. I’m telling you, that was too fun. That was so much fun. That was just absolutely hilarious to me.
Playboy: Excuse us. We need to get a pan to catch the dripping sarcasm.
Seinfeld: [Laughs] I guess I haven’t quite adjusted to celebrityhood because it’s still hard for me to believe that anyone gives a damn who the hell I go out with or what I do.
So anyway, I met this girl, Shoshanna. She’s a very sweet girl and she’s very pretty. I didn’t know how old she was. I knew she wasn’t 40. I took her to a basketball game and that was the whole thing.
Playboy: Did you meet her in the park like they say?
Seinfeld: Yeah, but the rest of it is all—
Playboy: Is she 18?
Seinfeld: She’s 18 now.
Playboy: When did she tell you her age?
Seinfeld: When the article came out.
Playboy: You took her to the basketball game and now the tabloids are calling you a cradle snatcher.
Seinfeld: Cradle snatcher! It was a wonderful article. I couldn’t believe how nice they were about it.
Seinfeld: Everybody was saying, “I don’t see anything wrong with it. If they like each other.…” My manager couldn’t believe it. He said I’m bulletproof even in the tabloids. They had every chance really to stick the knife in and they didn’t do it. They could have said anything: I’m taking advantage of her, she doesn’t know what’s going on, her parents are upset, my mother wanted to disown me. They could have made up anything.
Playboy: How did Shoshanna feel about all the attention?
Seinfeld: Didn’t bother her a bit.
Playboy: Kids today.
Seinfeld: The great thing is you can go out on a date and pick up a little babysitting money on the side. That pays for the pizza. She’s a very nice girl.
Playboy: What have your friends said about this?
Seinfeld: It’s really strange. The reactions ran the absolute gamut from horrified to just busting buttons with pride that they know me. Guys I hadn’t heard from in years called to say, “Congratulations! Good for you.” Women I know wouldn’t even call me back. My assistant punched me. She saw me and literally punched me, she was so mad. It was reviled by women in their 30s and by Jay Leno.
Seinfeld: Leno was just terrified. To him any potential public-relations imbroglio, any appearance of impropriety, is the most terrifying thing in the world. He was scared for me, just out of concern as a friend.
Playboy: Did he do anything in the monolog?
Seinfeld: No, he would never do anything like that. But my mother was thrilled because Shoshanna is Jewish and Syrian. My mother’s Syrian. And all my aunts and uncles on the Syrian side, this is what they expect. They figure 15, 16 is the right age [for a woman] for me, because that’s the way they do it in Syria. So they’re going, “Eighteen? She’s a little over the hill, but if you like her.…”
My women friends, some of them were really hostile about it. They didn’t like it. First of all, they think I look for this. Like this was an ambition of mine. But the fact is, I don’t meet that many women I like, period. So when I like someone, I don’t care about her race, creed or national origin. If I like her, I don’t care. I don’t discriminate. If she’s 18, if she’s intelligent, that’s fine.
Playboy: So, is it love?
Seinfeld: No, no, it was just a couple cups of coffee.
Playboy: And a basketball game.
Seinfeld: I’m also dating a woman who’s 39. I’m trying to pander to whatever personal prejudice people have. See, the thing is, my own age isn’t really real to me. I look in the mirror and I just don’t feel 39. I don’t feel any different than I was when I was 23. And I don’t look that much different. So it’s weird. Look, I don’t have impossible qualifications. All that I want in a woman is sweet, smart and sexy.
Playboy: Frankly, we’re surprised you weren’t more careful about going out in public with Shoshanna. The walls have cameras.
Seinfeld: Can you believe it? Can you believe how naive I can be?
Playboy: What’s your idea of a fun date?
Seinfeld: To me the ultimate date is dinner and a movie. My fantasies are all of normalcy, because I don’t get to do a lot of these things. As you know, I’m a great fan of the mundane anyway. So, to me, dinner and a movie—I can’t imagine a more fabulous evening than to have enough time to do that and to have scheduled that so it works. And then you have coffee later. That’s just orgasmic for me.
Playboy: Having gone from a successful stand-up career to this saturation in the media, how has your popularity, on a percentage basis, increased the number of female opportunities available to you?
Seinfeld: [Laughs] We’re getting there! I feel it coming now. The sex part! Yeah! The sex part! You can’t keep it from me any longer. You can’t hide. This is the sex part. [laughs] No, the percentage is the same: It’s all women, 100 percent. A percentage increase in the number of female opportunities? Hard to believe we’re not in a Citibank board meeting here. I know you want an answer to this question, but here’s the problem: Along with the saturation there’s a price. And that price is the enemy of all living things: time. I can go out on a date maybe two or three times a month, ten months out of the year. That’s a maximum. It’s a funny situation. You get yourself to this point in life where you have a nice job, a nice car, a nice place to live, you know where the good restaurants are—and you can’t go.
Playboy: Is that a problem for you?
Seinfeld: No, it’s a problem for my dates. That’s why I’m not involved—the kind of woman who would put up with that is not the kind of woman I want.
You know, I never imagined being at this particular point in show business. Currently, I can do almost anything I want. I can meet almost anybody I want. I’m what they call “hot” right now, this second. Come back tomorrow, it could all be different. I have to manage that. It’s a good word, heat, because it has a destructive quality to it. I’m careful about it. The fire heats the home and can also burn it down, as my father used to love to say. But as long as I’m at this apex, I want to experience it to the maximum and make the most of it.
Playboy: Does this mean you’ll be a lonely guy for a while longer?
Seinfeld: No. I’m never lonely. Even when I’m alone I’m not lonely. That’s another reason I’m a good comic: A lot of time alone never bothered me.
By the way, I would like to meet all the women I’m in this issue with. It seems like I should. I think when people read an issue they assume that all the people in the magazine know one another. Like they were all there that day. One guy’s getting interviewed, the Playmate’s getting photographed, someone else is doing a wine ad and there’re a bunch of football players in some other room getting their picture taken. And they’re all at the Mansion. I think that’s the Playboy image.
Playboy: Maybe we should have a party in your honor and invite everyone in the issue. Will you come?
Seinfeld: Absolutely. Besides, I’ve never been to the Mansion. And I really think you owe me that.
Playboy: And something else, as well.
Seinfeld: Yeah, the sex question. Have we done it? I think everyone is looking forward to the sex question.
Playboy: We’re sorry, but we have run out of time.
Source: Playboy USA, October 1993