Jerry Seinfeld says movies are over. Here’s why he made one anyway

April 28, 2024

The billionaire comedian could be doing anything with his time and talent, so why did he direct a movie about Pop-Tarts? In a candid conversation, Seinfeld explains all that — as well as his role in making that instantly-legendary Curb finale, and his sense that people misunderstood his own show’s notorious ending.

Jerry Seinfeld says movies are over. Here’s why he made one anyway


f all the things one might associate with Jerry Seinfeld, excited senti-mentality might be the last. But remembering the day he shot the recent finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm, his voice approaches something danger-ously close to swelling. “As I drove home that night, my scalp was just tingling. I thought what we had done was just the coolest, wildest, most remarkable thing,” he says of his surprise (though much guessed at) appearance. It was, he says, the callback to end all callbacks, a comedian’s dream. “What you have there is a joke that was set up 25 years ago and then paid off 25 years later! How do you even describe something like that?”

“It was so much fun,” says Larry David, who admits that he once swore that he would never, ever attempt something like the original Seinfeld finale. “What changed is that we started with this premise of Larry getting arrested for giving water to somebody on line to vote and it was like, ‘Where are we taking this thing?’ That’s when [executive producer and director] Jeff Schaffer had the idea. I said, ‘Okay, sure, let’s do the same terrible thing again.’ People hate it! Jerry loved the idea. He was game immediately.”

“We all got very excited: ‘Let’s talk about the finale in the finale!’” Seinfeld says of the scene’s final line. “It was absolutely one of the highlights of my professional life.” After a small bit of prodding, David also admits to feeling a small bit of closure and peace.

Jerry Seinfeld says movies are over. Here’s why he made one anyway

On this bright day, Seinfeld is sitting in a conference room high above Manhattan, the view stretching out toward the Upper West Side, a domain over which Seinfeld remains the undisputed master, if you will. Curb’s callback only put a finer point on how firmly entrenched in the culture Seinfeld, the show, still is—a guest that checked out a quarter century ago, but never really left the premises. Of course, the version of New York he made famous is long gone, as lost a world as the 1960s in which his new movie, Unfrosted, is set. Seinfeld is philosophical about it. “Every world is lost. It’s all lost,” he says. “Whatever you rem-ember, it’s gone. Forget it. One of people’s great foolishnesses is thinking, This is the way it is.”

One of the earliest bits that Seinfeld performed in a stand-up career now entering its sixth decade was about cereal—“Where in the world do you get to call a breakfast cereal LIFE?”—and his attention has never waned. According to David, the legendary moment in which he and Seinfeld met in the aisle of a New York supermarket and conceived of a show about nothing, the two were talking about… you guessed it. “That’s what we were discussing in that grocery store, when I said, ‘This is the show.’”

Seinfeld has never made a mystery of what interests him and what doesn’t. The one regular gig he’s had since Seinfeld laid it out plainly: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is as concise a portfolio as you’re likely to get—even in the correct order. There is no shortage of comedians ready and willing to heroicize stand-up, but nobody has been more insistently single-minded in their devotion to the art, craft, and performance of that medium than Seinfeld. Even during the run of Seinfeld, you got the feeling he viewed the show as an unfortunate diversion from his real work. Since the show ended, he has barely done any other kind of work. Watching him onstage, you notice that his elbow falls naturally into the precise bend for holding a microphone up to one’s mouth, as though he evolved for this and only this: Homo come-dius.

Jerry Seinfeld says movies are over. Here’s why he made one anyway

It’s surprising then that, on the verge of 70, he is trying something completely new: making his directorial debut with Unfrosted, which is both a story of the creation of the Pop-Tart, and a kind of lunatic apotheosis of Seinfeld’s breakfast obsession. The film is set in cereal Valhalla, Battle Creek, Michigan, in the early 1960s, an era that has long fascinated Seinfeld and from which, it sometimes seems, he leapt directly into the 1980s. The story, the brainchild of Seinfeld writer Spike Feresten, centers on the warring cereal giants Kellogg’s and Post, and the race between their two heads (played by Jim Gaffigan and Amy Schumer) to invent a new breakfast category. It is the movie equivalent of the Seinfeldian stand-up method of working a concept from every possible angle, milking every possible joke about the most important meal of the day until there isn’t a drop left in the bowl.

What is so funny about breakfast?

Everything! I love the great dumbness of life.

There’s dumbness every-where. Why do you keep ret-urning to this corner of it?

There’s dumbness every-where. But I really do love cereal. I love the wetness and the crunchiness. I love spoons. I love bowls. When I was single, in my kitchen, I would keep a bowl with the spoon in it and my friends would laugh. Why take it out of the bowl? That’s where it’s going!

Larry David told me that it was because there’s a k in breakfast. He says that every-body knows k is the funniest letter.

Oh, yes. Everybody knows. K or c. It’s the sound. When you’re trying to get people’s attention in a crowded nightclub, they can hear k.

You’ve made the point that we all know you could be doing anything you want. So why this movie?

Because they wouldn’t put me in Mad Men. I love that kind of comedy. I love office comedies. I love stupid people in suits. And it was Covid. I had nothing to do. So I got talked into it. It wasn’t my idea. Seinfeld wasn’t my idea either. I keep getting dragged into things and surrounded by the most amazing people. These movie people are unbelievable. They’re insane. Like we had a prop master, Trish Gallaher Glenn. She had a room and it was floor-to-ceiling toys and bikes and clothes, everything from that era. Everybody does their job 150 percent. It is weird.

It’s sort of amazing that this was new to you, this late in your career.

It was totally new to me. I thought I had done some cool stuff, but it was nothing like the way these people work. They’re so dead serious! They don’t have any idea that the movie business is over. They have no idea.

Film doesn’t occupy the pinnacle in the social, cultural hierarchy that it did for most of our lives. When a movie came out, if it was good, we all went to see it. We all discussed it. We quoted lines and scenes we liked. Now we’re walking through a fire hose of water, just trying to see.

Did you tell them?

I did not tell them that. But film doesn’t occupy the pinnacle in the social, cultural hierarchy that it did for most of our lives. When a movie came out, if it was good, we all went to see it. We all discussed it. We quoted lines and scenes we liked. Now we’re walking through a fire hose of water, just trying to see.

What do you think has replaced film?

Depression? Malaise? I would say confusion. Disorientation rep-laced the movie business. Every-one I know in show business, every day, is going, What’s going on? How do you do this? What are we supposed to do now?

Do you feel the same way, or are you grandfathered in?

I’ve done enough stuff that I have my own thing, which is more valuable than it’s ever been. Stand-up is like you’re a cabinetmaker, and everybody needs a guy who’s good with wood.

Break down that metaphor for me.

There’s trees everywhere, but to make a nice table, it’s not so easy. So, the metaphor is that if you have good craft and craftsmanship, you’re kind of impervious to the whims of the industry. Audiences are now flocking to stand-up because it’s something you can’t fake. It’s like platform diving. You could say you’re a platform diver, but in two seconds we can see if you are or you aren’t. That’s what people like about stand-up. They can trust it. Everything else is fake.

You’ve talked about how stand-up is about power: stan-ding onstage, alone, deman-ding that people listen and have a physical reaction. How did the power of being a director compare?

Being a director feels like running a ranch in the West. It’s kind of a mess. You’ve got horses and cattle and chickens and broken fences and filth. You’ve got a lot of people and a lot of physical things. Stand-up is this very pure experience. This is why I’m so addicted to it. The only other thing in life that I truly idolize is surfing. I watch a lot of Instagram surfing videos, and when somebody catches a great wave and they’re just sliding down it, it just hypnotizes me. That’s how it feels when you’re having a good set—like you’ve caught this gigantic energy and are just sliding down it. There’s nothing pure in making a movie. There’s no flow. It’s highly complex and messy.

Do you surf yourself?

No, I tried. I did it for about a week, 20 years ago. You have to dedicate yourself to these great things. And I don’t believe in being good at a lot of things—or even more than one. But I love to watch it. I think if I get a chance to be human again, I would do just that. You wake up in the morning and you paddle out. You make whatever little money you need to survive. That seems like the greatest life to me.

Or you could become very wealthy in early middle-age, stop doing the hard stuff, and go off and become a surfer.

No, no. You want to be broke. You want it to be all you’ve got. That’s when life is great. People are always trying to add more stuff to life. Reduce it to simpler, pure moments. That’s the golden way of living, I think.

The other thing about this movie is how Midwestern it is. When you started going out on the road, after being raised on Long Island and living in New York, places like Battle Creek must have seemed like Mars. What was the Midwest like to you?

Hilarious. John Updike had the greatest line: “New Yorkers think anyone who doesn’t live in New York is in some sense kidding.” That was me. I felt like, Let me go to this place and show them what we are like, and they will pay to see that. I still feel like that’s what I do: Let me show you what a New Yorker is like. I think you’ll find it interesting.

This is what I think of as the Seinfeld paradox: It’s so specifically New York and so specifically Jewish, and yet there’s a station where I live, in New Orleans, that as far as I can tell plays only Seinfeld 24/7. I’m sure there’s also one in Omaha and Louisville and everywhere else. This has always seemed mysterious.

Well, let me solve the mystery for you. It is Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards. Those three people transformed this very small, idiosyncratic thing, which should have always been small and niche.

They made this unrelatable material accessible. There’s no other way it would have happ-ened.

You don’t feel like you were a part of it?

I was part of it. But I wasn’t on their level. I did what I could to help.

Had the Seinfeld finale bothered you all these years?

A little bit, yeah. I don’t believe in regret. I think it’s arrogant to think you could have done some-thing different. You couldn’t. That’s why you did what you did. But me and Jeff Schaffer and Larry were standing around, talking about TV finales and which we thought were great. I feel Mad Men was the greatest. A lot of people like the Bob Newhart one. Mary Tyler Moore was okay. I think Mad Men was the greatest final moment of a series I’ve ever seen.

So satisfying. So funny. And they said that they had sat and watched the Seinfeld finale, trying to figure out what went wrong. And it was obviously about the final scene, leaving them in the jail cell…

– Courtesy: GQ

Jerry Seinfeld says movies are over. Here’s why he made one anyway