Takes One to Know One
Comedian David Steinberg continues in his role as earthat is, a sounding boardto some of the funniest people working today.
David Steinberg: Thank you for doing this.
Jerry Seinfeld: This is one of my favorite things. The greatest thing about being a comedian is knowing other comedians. And you get to talk to them. Its the most fun.
DS: I was watching Comedian, your documentary about going on the road. Did you enjoy doing that?
JS: When youre in comedy, people always come up and say, Oh, it must be so hard. It really isnt hard unless youre not good at it. If you can do it, its really kind of fun and easy.
DS: After Seinfeld, what surprised you most about being on the road?
JS: Well, after the show, the road was really a lot easier. Theres a much higher and broader intelligence level today.
DS: Theyre smarter.
JS: Everyones more aware of everything now.
DS: And theres nothing regional anymore.
JS: Not as much. My friend Spike has a theory that theres just too much of everything.
DS: I agree with that.
JS: Thats whats happening to us.
DS: Yeah, theres too muchyou see someone interesting on TV on Tuesday, and by Friday you hate that person.
JS: Youre tired of them. Dont you find youre tired of shows youve never seen? You hear of some shows farewell episode, and you go, Thank God theyre doneenough of that crap. And youve never seen one episode of it.
DS: Do people come up to you and say, Heres a joke.
JS: No, but what I get is people trying to be funny. I dont know why. I dont need you to be funny. I dont want to be entertained. Maybe they want to return the favor. You know, crankiness is at the essence of all comedy. My wife and I were discussing the different types of cranky. Theres entertaining cranky, annoying cranky, angry cranky.
DS: Do you ever get cranky and angry?
JS: Well, all comedy starts with anger. You get angry, and its never for a good reason, right? You know its not a good reason. And then you try and work it from there.
DS: Right. Im that way about the phone. I dont like it when people call me assuming I have nothing better to do than stop what Im doing and talk to them.
JS: The phone has become for some reason this thing we really want security around. Who needs to know whos callingstar 69 and caller ID and caller ID block? I mean, its like this war and anti-spy thing. There was a time the phone would ring, and people would say, Ill get it. Remember that?
DS: So, whats got your curiosity today?
JS: Nothing of any consequence.
DS: Nothing about life, death...
JS: Thats sort of interesting. A friend and I like to talk about these companies that work on thingslike paper-towel people, with the absorbency issue they have. Like were paying attention. Like any of us are saying, This one isnt quite that absorbent. And Im thinking, Get on to something else. Get on to eliminating the long piece on the bottom when you tear it off. Just move on.
DS: Does it bother you to hear the side effects of all the pharmaceuticals now?
JS: No, it doesnt.
DS: Im bothered when theres a new potato chip out and they tell you it has a side effect. Then they talk real fast so you wont hear it, but what theyre saying is, Theres a slight possibility of anal leakage. I mean, for a chip, would you really risk anal leakage?
JS: Not at all. And the fact is that possibility always exists.
DS: You have a lot of material about animals, I notice.
JS: I do, yeah.
DS: Why is that?
JS: Im good at making them speak in a very human voice.
DS: Oh, thats good.
JS: I had a great bit I dont do anymore, about how do they know so definitely the expiration date on milk? Do the cows tip them off? Do they look back and say, July 3? Im actually a good puppeteer as well.
DS: Oh, really?
JS: Yeah, my wife is always pushing us to go to these birthday parties. But the birthday party clown always wants to talk to me about his comedy career and why he cant get to the next level. And I say to him, Believe me, I completely understand the difficulty of going from entertaining four-year-olds to getting your own show. Because I went from having my own show to these four-year-olds birthday parties myself. I know the route.
DS: How many kids do you have?
JS: I have three kidsgirl, boy, boy.
DS: Boys will give you no trouble. The girls gonna drive you crazy. I have two, and they were teenagers at the same time. And its just not right. Every boy who comes to the door is the worst version of you.
JS: Right. I cant even imagine. Youre upsetting me just talking this way.
DS: Yes, its upsetting, because when the boys knock on the door, they could say, Hi, Mr. Steinberg. No matter what they say, I hear, Were here to have sex with your daughter. But I dont have boys. Boys are dumber.
JS: Yes, right from the beginning. They really think their head is a helmet. You can see how the skull evolved when you have kids. They use it like a hammer. I love being a dad.I just love it. I got married at 45. Obviously, I had some issues.
DS: You dont talk that much about your family. Your father was a sign painter?
JS: He had a sign shop. He was a very, very funny guy, extremely funny. I would always kind of watch himand sometimes, I swear, I can feel myself physically doing him or taking on a physical position that he would. I was never, ever funny around my family. Out with my friends Id be funny, but around the family I was embarrassed. I thought it was somehow undignified. I graduated college because I knew I had to do that to make them happy. And they said, Have you had any thoughts about what you want to do? and I said, I think I want to be a stand-up comedian. I was 22 years old. I had never said anything funny around them. And they just went, Okay. And then when they came to see me, oh God, that was just a nightmare.
DS: Do you remember your first Tonight Show appearance?
JS: Oh, sure. I was 26. Id been doing comedy about three and a half years, so I was pretty green.
DS: Thats very young.
JS: Yeah, it is. I thought I was pretty good, but I had never performed for an audience bigger than maybe 150 people.
JS: And so you go on The Tonight Showjust the studio audience was 500 peopleand then, of course, your entire career was on the line, too. It was scary. You get scared, and you just scream. You do your act as loud as you can when you get scared. I screamed, The wanted posters in the post office...! Why didnt they hold on to this guy when they were taking his picture? Yeah, that was my joke.
DS: Thats a good joke. Your approach is very Talmudic. Youre always asking questions: But why this, and why that, and how does this work?
JS: Yes, I figured that out pretty quick.
DS: And you started out as a comedian by doing someone else, right? Doing anyones jokes that you heard.
JS: I used to do you.
JS: Yeah, its the reason Im doing this interviewI told you, David, I dont need this, but I felt so indebted to you, because back when I was just thinking about comedy, you were already doing it, and you were such an idol of mine. You and Bob Klein and Bill Cosby and George Carlin. You were like a constellation to me, you four guys. You had quality balls, you really did.
DS: Thank you for that. So, youre going along doing your stand-up, and then you get the show Benson?
JS: I had a part on Bensonthree episodes.
DS: You were excited to get it?
JS: I was so excited. And then I got fired. But the part was so small, and I was so irrelevant to the show, they didnt even bother to tell me. Nobobynot even the director. It was just, Get out of here, kid.
DS: So humiliating.
JS: That was actually one of my great experiences, because it made me so angry that they had the power to just take this away from me. I valued my stand-up career in a different way for the first time after that. Then I started really focusing and writing and working hard and saying, Im gonna be a comedian, cause they cant take that away. From then on, it was just stand-up, stand-up, stand-up. I was doing The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and I was doing Letterman. And then when it came around to NBC being interested in me to do something, I had my own career that I was very comfortable in. And so I said, Well, you know, this is the way its gonna be, or the hell with it. I dont care.
DS: I read that your influence for Seinfeldyours and Larry Davidswas The Abbott and Costello Show.
JS: Yeah, that show was about comedy. There was no explanation of anyones life. Nothing made sense. There were always a lot of inexplicably evil people on that show, and we took that right on to ours: The garage attendant who tells you, We cant get your car out. We just cant.
DS: Its simple.
JS: And that was the law of the showthat comedy is boss.
DS: What else did you like about Abbott and Costello?
JS: I love to play straight. Bud Abbott is really funnier to me than Lou Costello, because a really good straight man keeps bringing the logic back. In stand-up, its all about this rigorous logic. Like when George and Kramer teach people to make their own pizzas in their own ovens, you have to have somebody going, Well, you cant have people sticking their arms in 500-degree ovens. Thats the funny part of the scene.
DS: Have you ever thought of going back to TV?
JS: No, I have not. That was nine years...I gave it everything I had, and I couldnt have had a better ride. I had it all. I did the show I wanted with the people I wanted. And I had all the fun. I could only do it worse. And theres no point in that.
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