We’re looking back on some of our favourite big reads from TimeOut this year. Today, we revisit Karl Puschmann's interview with Jerry Seinfeld.

"Oh, it's easy," Jerry Seinfeld says in his famously glib manner. "So many places it's easy not to go. Just don't go."

He's explaining why he's never visited New Zealand before - either professionally or personally - despite years of gigging internationally and the fact he owns his own jet plane.

The closest he got was back in 1998 when he toured his I'm Telling You for the Last Time show around Australia.

He'd just put the kibosh on his groundbreaking and wildly popular sitcom Seinfeld, ending it at its height, and announced that after the tour he'd retire all of his painstakingly crafted and finely honed material

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When the show didn't make it across the Ditch it was, for this hardcore Seinfan at least, bitterly disappointing.

"Hopefully we'll remedy that," he says in a moment of sincerity. "I thought, 'gee I missed New Zealand last time, let's make sure we go this time'. I've heard so many great things about it."

That he's finally playing here is the biggest comedy news, well, ever. There's still a bit of a wait, the gig at Auckland's Vector Arena isn't until Saturday August 12 next year, with tickets going on sale on November 14.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld performs onstage. Photo supplied by TEG Dainty for use in TimeOut (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Baby Buggy)
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld performs onstage. Photo supplied by TEG Dainty for use in TimeOut (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Baby Buggy)

The big trend in comedy these days is to tour all new material every year. Seinfeld doesn't do that. Instead, he takes the same material out, show after show, gig after gig, year after year.

What changes is the nuance, the subtlety. A word here, an extended emphasis here, as he strives to tighten a gag up and distil it to its purest essence.

It's fitting for someone who mines comedy gold from observing the mundane, and drawing bemused attention to the little things in life that make life, well, life.

He's studied and examined the behaviour of people for decades, extracting the funny from the tiniest and most irrelevant of details.

"Yes," he agrees.

This, I say, makes him uniquely qualified to answer this question: What's the deal with people?

"What's the deal with people?" he repeats softly to himself, which now allows me to forever claim, albeit completely spuriously, that I once wrote material for Seinfeld...

"They're ridiculous," he concludes after a moment. "They're completely ridiculous. The answer to most questions about people and their problems is, 'to alleviate boredom'.

"Most crime, the entire entertainment industry, every hobby in the world, every sport, playing, watching, everything falls under the heading of, 'to alleviate boredom'.

"What people didn't realise is that having food, shelter and safety isn't gonna be nearly enough to get through this life."

How so?

"It's just unbearably boring," he says, with emphasis on the boring. "So we get involved in lots of other things. Some good, some bad."

The cast of Seinfeld (L to R): Michael Richards as Kramer, Jason Alexander as George, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine and Jerry Seinfeld as Jerry
The cast of Seinfeld (L to R): Michael Richards as Kramer, Jason Alexander as George, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine and Jerry Seinfeld as Jerry

After ditching his routine in 98, Seinfeld dropped off the radar. The success of

Seinfeld

had made him unimaginably wealthy, so it was easy to think he'd also retired himself.

I guess after a while he just got unbearably bored. His unheralded return to stand-up is charted in Comedian, a 2002 documentary that follows him as he struggles to put together a new set, sneaking into dive clubs to try out each five-minute "bit" he writes.

"The excitement of finding that new thing that's funny and hearing a new laugh that never existed in the world before. That's what it's about," he says of the creative drive that keeps him performing. "That thrill for me is as fresh as it was on day one."

Famously Seinfeld works clean. His routine features no swears or filth. It focuses on the ridiculous of our collective minutiae. It's as uncontroversial as you can get.

So while comedians like Amy Schumer and Jim Jefferies routinely court scandal for things they say onstage, Seinfeld's flipped it, finding himself dragged into outrage for things he says off it.

Comments about the inherently effete nature of smartphone use, a refusal to play Universities because of their overly "politically correct" attitude and a strong opinion on YouTube creators have caused a lot of people to get very angry and upset with him.

"Yeah, but it's fake upset," he says, sounding every bit like TV Jerry ruminating over the acceptable degrees of upset.

"They're not really upset. Nobody really cares about anything anybody says. They just yell out what they think on the internet. It all neutralises itself."

That's other people taken care of, but what, I ask, is currently bugging him?

His answer is immediate and, really there's no other word to use here, a brilliantly Seinfeldian breakdown of telephone etiquette.


"What bugs me is when I pick up the phone and say, 'Hello'. If the other person says, 'hello', I just hang up because they're not ready."

His rhythm and delivery is so familiar that I can almost hear the famous clicks, pops and slap-bass of the Seinfeld theme slipping around his words.

"In between my phone ringing and picking it up, I got ready for that phone call. I'm ready. There is only one answerer. One person says 'hello', the other person says what the hell they want.

"That," he concludes, as the theme playing in my head winds up in a flurry of slapping bass and vocal pops, "is how phone calling should work".


Jerry Seinfeld plays Auckland Vector Arena, Saturday, 12 August. Tickets go on sale 10am, Monday 14 November through Ticketmaster.