It’s been nearly two decades since Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s widely popular sitcom ‘Seinfeld’ last aired its final episode on network television. Since then, and following a brief comedic hiatus, Jerry Seinfeld has gone on to single-handedly reinvent the traditional late night talk show…and all while driving to get coffee with comedians.
Although the popularity of the internet-based series, ‘Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee‘, has captivated the attention of viewers all over the world, few realize the extent of what Seinfeld has achieved with his show.
Beginning with early variety shows pioneered by the likes of Ed Sullivan, Sid Caesar and Milton Berle and later popularized by Johnny Carson, the late-night talk show has been a staple of British and American television since the 1940s. For decades, millions of viewers scheduled time to sit down in front of their television sets to watch skillful comedians interview and take friendly jibes at popular celebrities, giving fans a brief glimpse into the lives and habits of Hollywood stars apart from their carefully crafted cinematic personas. Although the late-night talk show continues to thrive with a fresh list of comedians, including Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Seth Meyers, the genre is beginning to show its age during a time when fewer people around the world have the luxury of fixed schedules that permit regular viewing, not to mention a new generation of millenials who shun traditional viewing habits in favor of instant digital media consumption.
It would be inaccurate to say that Jerry Seinfeld simply took the late-night talk show online and shaped it into an alternative format. Certainly, pursuing a show distributed exclusively online was the right move, however, ‘Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee’ is not the first show run by a famous celebrity to do so. Plenty such shows and sitcoms exist like ‘Between Two Ferns‘, the ‘Tom Green Show‘ and a growing number of exclusive originals produced by streaming service giants Hulu and Netflix. In this, Jerry Seinfeld is simply following the obvious trend of online media distribution.
Although creating a web series is nothing new, the context of the show has enabled Jerry Seinfeld to completely revamp the nature of the interview-celebrity talk show format. Seinfeld claims that little to no prior preparation is taken other than scheduling his guests and designating their preferred location for the day, which can include any number of off-the-beaten-path diners and coffee shops. After introducing a classic sport-car at the beginning of each episode, Jerry Seinfeld simply picks up his featured guest and drives them to an informal location.
In the absence of a studio audience and set, the experience of watching Seinfeld interact with his guests is akin to experiences we’ve all had while driving in cars with trusted friends and family. The informal nature of the show creates a relaxed atmosphere that brings out the best in the celebrities and comedians Seinfeld interviews. Although it can be assumed that some of his guests spend their fair share of time choosing the right “casual” outfit to wear and may even try to anticipate topics for discussion, Seinfeld is clearly intent on spontaneity.
As an interviewer, Seinfeld’s background in comedy ensures he is ready to quip and retort with any guest at a moment’s notice. In an episode featuring Howard Stern, watching Seinfeld disarm and parry Howard Stern is both delightful and a perfect example of the comedian in full control over his craft. Despite Stern’s attempts at controlling the flow of the conversation, Seinfeld’s ability to dish out prompt retorts and comments quickly relaxes Stern.
Stern: It’s a little awkward talking to me, right? It’s a little uncomfortable…
Seinfeld: …Well, maybe if you didn’t have the little hairs in front of the lens of your glasses, you might be, you might seem a little more open.
“People ask me for five thousand dollars like it’s asking when the next bus is coming.”
-Chris Rock (from the episode “Kids Need Bullying”)
Seinfeld is also adept at facilitating almost any conversation. He is quick to assert wry sarcasm when needed, and he knows when to let his guests enjoy a moment of self-reflection. And these candid moments are often born of the lighthearted banter Seinfeld is so good at encouraging, resulting in any number of surprising revelations to come from his guests.
In contrast to the late-night talk show format, where audiences and viewers are forced to participate in a mock casual interview, there is no sense of pressure or artifice when watching ‘Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee’. Jerry Seinfeld helps his viewers see their favorite stars as normal people who were lucky enough to achieve great things. On his show, the armor of celebrity is stripped, and they become you and me driving in a car and sharing the insights, joys, and tragedies of life over a cup of Joe.