ComediansInCarsRickyGervais

In the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, Jerry Seinfeld wrote an insightful piece on his new award-winning online talk show—Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. If you’re not familiar with the show, I’m not too surprised. As Seinfeld says in EW, “Our initial philosophy was to counter-promote [the show] when it came out. We didn’t even tell anybody about the first 10 [episodes].” Comedians premiered its first season on Crackle last summer, and its second season started a couple of weeks ago. Basically, in each episode (about 10-minutes long), Seinfeld hangs out with a fellow comedian or two in some interesting or vintage car, taking them out for coffee, which is his venue for a very informal and spontaneous form of talk show.

Admittedly, I found the first season to be somewhat hit or miss. For me, the first four episodes were hilarious, but then the show took a nosedive until an amazing episode with former Seinfeld co-star, Michael Richards (Cosmo Kramer)—an episode I plan to cover in a follow-up post to this one. Season two is off to a good start though. Sometimes I find Sarah Silverman alienating, but I appreciated her edginess and honesty with Seinfeld in the first episode of the season, and David Letterman was delightful in the second episode—his featured Volvo was novel, too.

I am taking an interest in Comedians since I’ve had my feelers out for good comedy lately. What might we, as people trying to communicate the Good News (or any important message for that matter), learn from these exceptional communicators? So I was glad to read Seinfeld’s commentary in EW. He had a lot to say about passing on the comedy torch to young or budding comedians, which I found fascinating given my current interest. What he says about comedy could also be applied to so many more forms of communication such as preaching, teaching, art, or even politics (perhaps?) to name a few:

Comedians_in_Cars_originalMaybe in some small way I feel like the only way to pass the art of comedy on to the next generation is to talk about it. Young people need these things. If you’re an aspiring comedian, you could do worse than to watch Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. …

There’s a running engine of crankiness inside every good comedian. It’s nonstop. One of the things that I found doing this show is I have a gift of getting into it with them. Whatever is irritating that person, I can jump right in with them and say, ‘Yes, let’s get irritated.’ I Too Am Irritated would be another good title for this show. That’s what comedy is about. It’s the oyster that takes the irritating grain of sand and turns it into a pearl.

To me, the show is a very personal thing for a very small subset of comedy fans who want to see another aspect of the comedic mentality. I don’t know any comedians who don’t thrive in this environment: You’re with another comedian and you have nothing to do, so let’s go get coffee. That is an oxygen tank in the comedy world. Comedians never fail to get to this subject of ‘How do you do this?’ or ‘What’s it like for you?’ That question is in almost every episode of the show. …

I do very much want to pass on to young comics what can be passed on, but I don’t think there’s much. I don’t think it’s possible to teach being a comedian, so what can you do to help them?

Everyone sucks at it.But that’s really what comedy is: that initial realization that this is almost impossible. Almost. So you realize that and you go, ‘But I still want to do it.’ So then your next step is ‘What’s it going to take?’ That’s another torturous discovery—that it’s going to take probably more than I have. Then you go, ‘But I’m still going to do it.’

The 17th Annual Webby Awards - Show

I find what Seinfeld has to say both about irritation and about the near impossibility of great comedy to be particularly interesting. Like comedians, perhaps there is a non-stop sense of crankiness—i.e., suffering—in every good communicator/preacher/artist/etc. Such people, as Seinfeld says, seem to have an ability to jump into the suffering and say, “I too am irritated.” Jumping in can strike a deep chord with listeners, but simply commiserating is not enough since just about anyone can gripe or gossip. But the comedian who stands out like Seinfeld is a craftsman taking an irritation of life and turning it into a beautiful pearl worth beholding—it can even be healing. For instance, the Gospel should have a lot to say about the things that make us cranky, and it is a preacher’s job to say so in uniquely comforting and beautiful ways.

But being the oyster who makes a pearl out of an irritating grain of sand is extremely difficult, nearly unachievable. In other words, comedy like any art requires grace. When one realizes that our words constantly fall short and we are in need of some outside help, only then can we begin to stand out as someone who has something exceptional to offer. This is humility. I personally regard Jerry Seinfeld as one of—perhaps the—greatest comedians (i.e., communicators) alive today, so we could do much worse than to listen to his insights on the subject and then perhaps integrate them into our own contexts. Most of the well known comedians on his show might be worth listening to as well.

Crackle releases a new episode of Comedians Thursdays at 12 noon, Eastern. Watch them all here. The next episode, which came out today, features Gad Elmaleh, the French comedian who voiced Barry B. Benson in the French version of Seinfeld’s film Bee Movie. (The French Jerry Seinfeld perhaps?) Here is a preview: