In 2012, in a video on one of the thousands of streaming services I have already forgotten ever existed, Jerry Seinfeld picked up a friend and drove them to a cafe. Thus launched Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, an Emmy-nominated series which would go on to span 84 episodes, offering insight into the art and craft of humor while answering the question, “How many stand-up comedians made famous by a show on NBC who are obsessed with old-timey cars can there possibly be?” (Two, that we know of.) Over 11 seasons, Seinfeld interviewed comedy luminaries like Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Norm Macdonald, Tina Fey, and Barack Obama (though it’s not exactly clear how the latter qualifies as a comedian, despite his recent pivot to lifestyle content). Now, to mark the show’s tenth anniversary, Seinfeld is releasing a companion book, The Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee Book.
It’s a big old gorgeous coffee table book. (“Why didn’t he call it The Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee TABLE Book?” I jotted down, because I am an investigative journalist.) The book features stills from the production, an introduction by Seinfeld, and an oral history of the show from the perspective of crew, executives, and guests. But the majority of The Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee Book consists of excerpted conversations from the show, grouped into categories. Since each short episode was whittled down from hours of conversation, some of these excerpts are never-before seen.
Though I will confess to skipping over Seinfeld’s conversations with an admitted non-consensual masturbator and also with Bill Maher, the book overall is both funny and genuinely informative. Simon & Schuster positions Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee as “arguably the most important historical archive about the art of comedy ever amassed,” and it does contain invaluable thoughts from some of America’s most famous comedians about not only the lifestyle and dedication needed to make it in comedy, but about the craft itself. I found myself nodding along to Seinfeld’s descriptions of comedy as a machine. But even more enjoyable—and the raison d’etre of the show, according to Seinfeld’s introduction—is the banter of comedians hanging out. They talk about other people’s routines; they tell each other jokes. There’s an incredible bit where Seinfeld remarks that if he got Captain Phillips’d while doing standup, he wouldn’t quit being a comedian. Todd Barry responds, “Yeah, I’d probably say that was a fluke thing. I won’t work that club again, I think.” And then, “I would tell the club, ‘You’ve got to hire at least two more bouncers.”
The Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee Book is heavy on comedy and includes an index of all the cars featured throughout the series, but honestly—I could have used some more coffee talk. Seinfeld writes in the introduction that “90 percent of my existence revolves around the wondrous brown-gold liquid, and I’ve never been happier,” but throughout the book, he talks about coffee roughly as often as he talks about the 2013 film Gravity. So I took my questions to the man himself. We spoke via Zoom as he sipped a coffee and I, a huge fan, dissociated.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Esquire: I love the book.
Jerry Seinfeld: Thank you.
I thought it was so beautiful and I learned so much about the movie Gravity that I did not expect to learn. And I wanted to speak with you about one specific area, which is the coffee in the book. So, my first question is, you write in the book that you didn’t start to drink coffee until later in life. What made you decide to take up a new addiction as an adult?
I didn’t have time to have meals with people. My whole single life, every day it’s, who am I going to have lunch with? And it would take two hours. It didn’t matter, I had no family, I had no place to go. You’re just waiting ‘til whatever time you’re going on stage that night. So the meal was how you killed the day, but then when you have a wife and kids, it’s a little different.
So you were like, “Coffee’s the way to go”?
I guess. “Let me try, see what this Starbucks, let’s see what this is. I don’t know what this is.” And I sat down with somebody and I’m drinking this coffee and the conversation’s really getting animated, and I’m thinking, “There’s something going on here. I have to explore this.”
Do you feel like drinking coffee has changed your comedy writing? Has it made it more punchline-heavy or easy to flow?
I think I wrote in the book that cars and coffee are two objects that when I’m with them, I never feel alone. And when you’re writing, for me, I’m almost always alone and the coffee’s like a warm friend. I like that it’s not so easy to get or not so easy to make. It’s like a person.
You also say in the book, I think it’s in an excerpt with Joel Hodgson, that you could drink coffee until your eyeballs are in front of your glasses and that you could drink six in one sitting. How do your doctors feel about that amount of coffee consumption?
I could care less. I remember a funny exchange with Ellen DeGeneres. I was drinking so much coffee and she says, “Doesn’t it affect you to drink that much coffee?” I said, “Of course it does.”
Are you able to sleep at night?
No, not too well.
You write in the book that you pitched the show to Starbucks and they were like, “Yeah, we don’t really see the connection.”
I think Howard Schultz is a fantastic guy, a perfect guy, and it’s a brilliant company and I’m drinking the product right now. [Holds up a red Starbucks holiday cup.] I love the product.
[The 500 questions I had planned to ask about whether he’s happy Starbucks passed so he didn’t have to spend 11 seasons drinking coffee that tastes like ass all flash before my eyes.] Oh, wow. Do you have—
And I don’t want Howard to be embarrassed by this story, but it is true, I did speak with him and he did say, “I don’t see the connection.”
[Throwing out all my questions about how he feels about Starbucks workers unionizing.] So do you feel like you’re not a coffee snob? Any coffee is good for you?
I am a coffee snob and I will also drink any coffee I can get my hands on.
Black or with milk, sugar?
Depends on the time of day and the kind of coffee it is.
Are you a decaf person, like you’ll do it just for the taste?
No, never. Never ever.
Do you think that you can spot other comedians who like coffee? Is a caffeinated comedian different from a non-caffeinated comedian?
Are you a coffee-obsessed person?
I am. I got to a point in college where I was drinking 10 cups a day, and I was like, “Maybe this is too many cups of coffee a day.”
No, I can’t tell if someone drinks coffee or not, but almost everyone does.
Do you think that comedians are more fun to talk to when they are caffeinated as well?
Everyone’s more fun to talk to when they’re caffeinated. They take shorter pauses.
[laughing] Yeah, true. How do you feel about fancy coffee drinks? Do you drink Frappuccinos?
I don’t like any of that pumpkin crap—none of that maple crap. Why would you not want the flavor of coffee? That’s the best flavor.
Yeah, I agree.
If I want pumpkin, I get a piece of pumpkin pie with a cup of coffee.
You have a line in the book about the sensation of drinking the first sip of coffee in the morning and just sighing with pleasure, and I thought that was just so true and so beautiful, and not funny at all, but just really captured the human condition. So, thank you.
This is kind of an out of left field question, but there was a report in The New York Times that coffee is actually a hydrating beverage and not a dehydrating beverage, and I wanted to know your take on that.
I think you can find any piece of data about coffee that you want to be true. It’s not hard. I saw just a thing, what was it? Kidneys. It was one of those click-bait YouTube videos, —how does coffee affect your kidneys? And I really didn’t want to click on it because I don’t want to watch ten more of these, but I pressed on it and like the first ten seconds I see, it’s all a list of fantastic things that coffee does, and I didn’t watch it. I don’t want to know anything about it. It’s over. I’m doing it.
Is there anything that doctors could find out about the effect of coffee on the human body that would make you stop drinking coffee?
It would have to be lethal. One cup is lethal.
[laughing] Fair. Let’s see, I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I do have a very, very stupid question for you. The Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Book, did you ever consider calling this book—
Don’t. No, don’t. Don’t, stop. No, don’t. Stop.
The Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Table Book.
Obviously I thought of that. And chose not to, yes.
Blythe Roberson is a contributor to The New Yorker and The Onion—her book, How to Date Men When You Hate Men was released in January 2019.
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