jerry seinfeld and larry david -- 1/18/16

Today's selection -- from The Comedians by Kliph Nesteroff. The early comedy careers of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David:

"[Jerry] Seinfeld was part of the New York scene in the late 1970s, emcee­ing at the Comic Strip, the final comedy club to open in New York that decade. Catch a Rising Star's nouveau chic made stand-up feel like rock 'n' roll. The Comic Strip felt suburban, as if your mom managed it. 'Catch was the cool place,' said Seinfeld. 'The Comic Strip was lame.'

"Those who consider Jerry Seinfeld the epitome of clean comedy would probably find one account of his early act rather surprising. Comedian Paul Provenza remembers, 'Jerry used the word 'f**k' so liberally in the early days. He would say, "What's the f**king deal? What the f**k is up with that?" He used it all the time and then one day he just stopped. He said it was a challenge to stop using it.' Cleaned up, his observational powers shone. Jackie Mason caught his act and told him, 'You're gonna be so big it makes me sick.'

"Seinfeld's future collaborator was spending time at the original Improv. Larry David leaned on the bar and watched comedians like Richard Lewis bring down the house, thinking he could do the same. ...

"Larry David tried stand-up as a last resort. 'I didn't know what I wanted to do,' he said. 'I had a series of jobs. Cab driver, paralegal, private chauffeur, stuff like that and I'm lost. I'm a lost soul. Parents beside themselves, I would overhear conversations that were heart­breaking, terrible. "Oh, what are we going to do?" They sent me to a psychiatrist. Then, I don't know how or why I thought of this, I decided to take an acting class. This one time I had to speak in front of the class as myself and there were laughs. That was the moment for me. I knew somebody who was doing it [stand-up] and I had coffee with him. He said, "Here's what you have to do. You have to write some material and you can go on here, you can go on here, you can go on there." He gave me a list of places and I started.' ...

"Jerry Seinfeld said David was very fragile onstage and that any sign of disapproval could set him off. Comedian Kevin Nealon saw Larry David chase a heckler 'right out in to the street and slug it out with him.' He was just as contemptuous of an audience that was too supportive. 'One night he did his set and the audience was screaming and applauding,' says comic Mike Rowe. 'He was crossing into the bar and I said, "Larry, they're still applauding!" He said, "Yeah ... but listen to how they're applauding."'

" 'He would storm off the stage after only a minute,' says Rich­ard Lewis. 'He would do that even if The Tonight Show people were there. He didn't care. He was a purist. If people were ordering, [he would yell] "How dare you!" ' The next comic always had to stand by, knowing that David could bail at any moment. 'You'd hear plunk­-pluh-plunk-plunk-plunk,' says comedian Rick Overton. 'That was him dropping the mic.'

"David did the occasional road gig, but remembers it as a night­mare. 'Occasionally I would do some of those terrible Jersey clubs. The Gong Show was on at the time. So when people would come to comedy clubs they would gong you. They'd just yell it out, "Gong!" I didn't quite have an act that was going to work on the road.'

"Despite the many stories, David killed quite often and became a cult favorite. In 1977 a makeshift organization called the Association of Comedy Artists named Richard Belzer the city's Best Emcee and awarded Larry David the title of Most Promising Comic."


Kliph Nesteroff


The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy


Grove Press


Copyright 2015 Kliph Nesteroff


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