Jerry Seinfeld on missing audiences, comedy before smartphones, and Zoom backgrounds

In conversation: Jerry Seinfeld
In conversation: Jerry Seinfeld 06:12

After years of watching Jerry Seinfeld on TV, it felt kind of strange to correspondent Tracy Smith to have him watching her. "Tracy, Hi, your house looks very nice," he said during a Zoom call.

Of her Zoom background, he said, "I know those two lamps there and everything was done very carefully, but I have to tell you it's a very pleasant place to be."

"It's so weird being able to see inside people's houses this way, isn't it?" asked Smith.

"I know.  Most of them are quite sad. You realize, 'Oh, they're not special people, they're just people.'"

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld sits down with (in a manner of speaking) correspondent Tracy Smith.  CBS News

And to him, people are still the most fertile ground for funny.

"Human beings like to be close together, because it makes it easier for us to judge and criticize," he says in his new Netflix special, "23 Hours to Kill," in which Seinfeld is back doing what he loves, among the people he loves.

But only to a point.

In the special, recorded on stage at New York's Beacon Theatre, Seinfeld said, "This could be my favorite spot in the entire world. Right here, right now. Could be. This is in fact my favorite type of intimate relationship: I love you, you love me, and we will never meet."

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld in his new Netflix special, "23 Hours to Kill." Netflix

Smith said, "It struck me, watching '23 Hours to Kill,' that even though it had clearly taped before the world shut down, it was somehow amazingly on-point. And I'm wondering if, for you, watching it now, you felt that way?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"There were some lines in there; one was when you were talking about your relationship with the audience. I love you, you love me, and we'll never meet."

"Oh yeah.  Yes! Oh, right, yeah, that does kinda fit this moment, doesn't it? We're together, but we're really not."

"Even though your life does pretty much suck, and I know that because everyone's life sucks.  Your life sucks, my life sucks, too … perhaps not quite as much."

"The whole idea that everyone's life sucks actually seems pretty appropriate right now," said Smith.

"Yes. But it's also great that you're alive," Seinfeld said. "You can get excited about a bowl of cereal now that you really couldn't before this. If it's, like, 12 o'clock and you kinda wanna eat something before bed, and you go and look, there's frosted flakes in the cupboard, it's like so great!

"What is the idea of the buffet?  Well, things are bad, how can we make it worse?  Why don't we put people that are already struggling with portion control into some kind of debauched, Caligula-food-orgy of unlimited human consumption?"

"I know you love going out and testing out material in clubs," said Smith. "How are you testing material now?"

"I'm not, I'm not," he replied. "I have no idea what's funny right now. No idea!"

At the moment, his audience is usually his wife, Jessica, and their three children. He admits to testing out material with his family.

Smith asked, "Are your teenagers willing listeners if you try material on them?"

"Yeah, they'll listen. But they're not easy. 'Cause there's nothing better than to look at your dad and go, 'Ehh, I don't know about that one.'"

Seinfeld's hoping to take his new show on the road soon, but for now, that other show is finding a new audience.

"'Seinfeld' the series has been on a zillion lists of the thing to quaran-stream or, you know, to binge watch right now," Smith said.

"Oh, 'quaran-stream,' that's a new one! I didn't know that one!"

He says "Seinfeld" is timeless in part because it came out before smartphones.

"So, maybe that's part of it, that 'Seinfeld' was set in the '90s?" asked Smith. "Do you think there's a little something more to it that people are reaching for that now? Is it kind of comfort food, in a way?"

"Yeah, well, it's funny. It's funny. But no phones is a nice thing. There's always texting now in every story they tell you, and it's nice to have just people and faces."

And talk about timeless:  the great Jerry Stiller passed away just a few days after Smith talked with Seinfeld.  In a tweet, Jerry said that Stiller's comedy would live forever.

Of course, Seinfeld's new show is funny, too, but what really makes it special isn't just the jokes: It's the sight of the audience laughing together, shoulder-to-shoulder.

Smith said, "The other thing that struck me, I also felt a little sentimental seeing the crowd there together, people enjoying a laugh in a crowded theater. And I wonder, do you worry that that's gone forever?"

"No. It won't be gone forever," Seinfeld replied. "This can't last forever, any more than we could last forever. This is a virus that's, you know, I think in show business terms, it got a lucky break. So, it's having its good moment now. But it's gonna be tired, it's gonna get over. And pretty soon people are gonna go, 'You know what? You've had your time. Move on.'"

To watch a trailer for "23 Hours to Kill" click on the video player below:

Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill | Official Trailer | Netflix by Netflix on YouTube

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Story produced by John D'Amelio. Editor: Mike Levine.