“When comedian Jerry Seinfeld got out of Queens College and started making jokes for a living 11 years ago, the Roosevelt Island Tramway had just been built.
‘The city’s going bankrupt, and they’re putting up rides,’ Seinfeld thought, amazed. ‘Well, why not build a roller coaster in the South Bronx? It would be the first coaster where people would scream on the flat part of the ride.’
Using material like that at the beginning of his professional career, the easygoing Seinfeld was already on his way to big laughs in the big time. Now, at 33, it looks like he’s poised to break through.
‘Jerry Seinfeld — Stand-Up Confidential,’ a one-hour HBO special, will air Saturday at 10 p.m. and be repeated four times in September. It’s Seinfeld first solo TV outing.
At the same time he’s on cable, Seinfeld will be appearing at Governor’s Comedy Shop in Levittown, L.I., doing two shows a night Friday through Sunday.
Working in Levittown will be almost like a homecoming for the wiry comic, who was born in Brooklyn but reared in nearby Massapequa. He graduated from Massapequa High in 1972.
‘Last time I played Governor’s, I did my routine about being a Cub Scout,’ Seinfeld recalls. ‘A woman got up and said, ‘I was your den mother.”
Seinfeld eases back on the couch in his Manhattan studio apartment, the same five-story West Story walkup he moved into when he first arrived in New York.
Starkly furnished with a couch, a couple of chairs, a desk, and a giant color photo of Manhattan, the room, he says, reflects his personality.
‘I’m a very simple guy,’ Seinfeld insists, showing a visitor the short stack of books that make up his library. ‘Zen, jokes, zen,’ he says, describing the subject matter of each. There’s also a book on baseball and a baseball cap. ‘I live and die with the Mets,’ Seinfeld says.
Other than having an interest in zen and his grueling hour-and-a-half daily ritual of yoga, he claims he is ‘basically a normal guy.’ And he does look and act like one. He wouldn’t seem out of place clutching a briefcase and wearing a business suit, racing for the 5:35 out of Penn Station.
But Seinfeld’s zen outlook and simplified life apparently leave his mind clear for comedy. It consists mostly of witty, whimsical observations on the things that make up modern life, and he has offered them in his low-key, friendly style in numerous appearances on both Johnny Carson’s ‘Tonight’ show and on ‘Late Night With David Letterman.’
For example, Seinfeld marvels at McDonald’s insatiable need to count every hamburger they’ve ever served. ‘What’s their ultimate goal?’ Seinfeld asks, wide eyed. ‘Do they want cows surrendering voluntarily?’ He suggests the company put up new signs: ‘McDonalds — We’re Doing Very Well.’
Seinfeld also does a lot of what he calls ‘human cartooning,’ putting thoughts in the heads of animals and inanimate objects. He’s lately been doing a routine about horseback riding — from the horse’s point of view. ‘Just chill out, Hopalong,’ says Seinfeld the steed to his spur-happy rider, ‘I know the trail.’
Seinfeld says he decided to become a comedian in college. ‘I didn’t care what I had to go through,’ he remembers. Except for a very brief stint as a waiter, he got work almost immediately, emceeing at Good Times, a now defunct Manhattan club, and then the better-known Comic Strip and Catch a Rising Star.
‘I worked basically for free,’ he says. But he lived basically for free, too, paying $200 a month rent, eating hamburgers on the job and dressing in the T-shirts that were sold at the clubs. In 1980, he went to Los Angeles.
Within a year Seinfeld did ‘Tonight,’ and more and better paying gigs followed. Now in L.A., he has an apartment, a girl friend, Stacy, and a black Porsche 944 Turbo. ‘That’s it,’ he says.
Seinfeld thinks most young comics want to be Johnny Carson, or a sitcom star like Ted Dawson of ‘Cheers,’ or a movie star, like Tom Hanks. But not Seinfeld. So what’s the story, Jerry?
‘I aspire to improving as a stand-up comic,’ he says. ‘No one has ever been too good at it.'”