Great artists make their art look easy. But don’t kid yourself. Great art takes work.

In this short video, Jerry Seinfeld explains how it took him two years to write “The Pop Tart Joke.”

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39 thoughts on “Jerry Seinfeld on How to Write a Joke

  1. I know I’m in the minority, but he was never funny to me. That said, I enjoyed hearing him describe his creative process.

    • I completely agree, Wade. Seinfeld’s humour just doesn’t make me laugh – so we’re in a tiny minority.

      It was fascinating to see something of his creative process though, so thanks for sharing, Michael. (I just wish the cameraman had switched off the wandering autofocus!)

      On the other hand, to me, the Pop Tart video by Brian Regan that Tracy Hoots
      Hoexter posted here 2 weeks ago was hilarious.

      And here’s another professionally-shot video from 2 weeks ago. It’s funny but smart, which is pretty rare!
      http://remotepossibilities.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/funny-ad-uses-just-3-spoken-words/

  2. Fascinating.

    And now a commentary on society: this guy is a millionaire because our American society values his hard work to make us laugh. That’s upside down. I love laughing and joking, but it can distract from what real life is and should be. And there you go. Mostly we want to be distracted-from what? Reality. And what’s funny is he fully admits it in his own words: “It’s a long time to spend on something that means absolutely nothing.” I get the sarcasm and self deprecation, but it’s a true statement. Rant over.

    •  Most of the world wants to laugh not because they’re addicted to it, but because the world itself is broken and we need a break from it.  :)
      When he says “It’s a long time to spend on something that means absolutely nothing,” he doesn’t believe that and neither do most people who hear it.
      It’s not a true statement. :)
      We take ourselves too seriously most of the time and I am appreciative of the gift some people have to make me laugh at loud at the mundane.

    • It may be meaningless, and he may know and admit that’s it is meaningless, but so what?  He has every right to benefit if people want to give him their money.

    • Mike, laughter is not a distraction from real life. It is as essential to real life as breathing. In fact, many studies have shown the health benefits of laughter (here’s a link to one: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-relief/SR00034).

      I work in the entertainment industry producing improv and comedy festivals, so I do have a vested interest in this subject. What I have found in the real world is that when people are laughing, they are not fighting. Laughter in small groups increases cooperation and problem-solving ability. In the form of a festival, it provides a focal point of joy and pride for a community, building unity and boosting the local economy.

      You are a hospital chaplain, so I assume you have to deal with a lot of real life tragedy. It must be very difficult for you at times to find joy and humor. I’m guessing you don’t crack many jokes in your line of work. I wonder, though, where your people turn after shock, anger, and sadness wear off to get back to being themselves again. I bet it’s comedy. You get them when they are raw and broken, and we are the fortunate ones who get to put them back together.

      •  Yeah, sometimes I’ve wondered at the popularity of good comedy, and it is precisely as you state Becky-our brokenness is interrupted. A hospital stay is an interruption in the routine of life (for most of us). I will also say the majority of people I meet see it as just that-only a disruption. And a few others will have a total worldview change because of what they go through or witness. A sudden death for instance or a brush with death. The challenge I face is that for the most part I’m only at best spending a few short hours with people in this place. Their lives go on when leaving the hospital usually. I’ve met plenty of people who keep a wonderful sense of humor through an illness. Whether it’s a defense mechanism or genuine perspective is hard to tell sometimes.

        I hope (again) I’m not being misunderstood. I don’t undervalue how important laughter and humor are. My comments are about how we tend to value one at the expense of the other. Or where our priorities are. It’s kind of the same principle of “living for the weekend.” If that’s all life really is, working hard 5 or  6 days a week and always pining for the day off or the vacation, well that’s not life. I don’t doubt Sienfeld sees what he does as a lot of hard work in the form of art.

        Really, I have nothing against comedy! But life isn’t comedy. Are we that broken that we Americans will pay this much money to make us laugh? Apparently. The answer to our brokenness goes much deeper. I hope we don’t see entertainment as that answer. But if we follow the money it certainly would seem that’s the case.

    • Hope I’m not misunderstood. Laughter is good. Humor is good. We need those and can’t live without them. What I’m commenting on is society’s values reflected in someone like a Seinfeld who can market something and we buy it up. I also don’t want to come across as a hypocrite either. While I haven’t been to one of his shows, sure, I’ve watched few of the episodes too. I don’t doubt that he and coworkers and fellow artists worked very hard to create their art and we have rewarded him for it. He’s got the right to make his art and our economic system (which is the world’s best, ever I believe) allows for someone with the talent and worth ethic to achieve and get very rich. And the guy has the right to do whatever he wants with his earned money too.

      And I might add, I just finished reading The Hole In Our Gospel, which I had put off for two years as it stared at me from the bookshelf. I knew what it would do and it did. After reading about the amazing and unbelievable potential good America can do, but doesn’t, it’s hard to stay quiet. It’s likely I’m writing this because of my own issues to answer questions like, Have I done enough? Or, What does God expect of me?

      Yes we need more laughter and I try to not take myself very seriously either. But in serious times humanity tends to ignore what’s going on behind the scenes. In other words, to seek a distraction. And we will collectively pay a lot of money for it too. It doesn’t change realities around us though. That’s what I’m trying to communicate.

      • You are understood, Mike.  I read that book recently, so immediately understood where you were coming from, right now in your life.  Chapter 14 of Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan also lends itself to the same understanding. 

        Balance is certainly the key, and I hear you as you share your observation of our serious imbalance.  It’s sooo important to laugh, loud and often.  It’s also critically important to never lose sight of reality in that process.  Bless You!

  3. Legend has it he is responsible for the “don’t break the chain” philosophy of productivity.  If you want to achieve something, then do something towards it every single day.  That’s the chain…doing something, no matter how small, every day.  The goal is to not break the chain.  He alludes to it in this video, saying it took him two years to write the joke. 

  4. To this day, I still relate everyday situations that occur to an episode of Seinfeld. Perhaps it’s just me but, at times (not all the time) something will happen that will trigger a scene…to me that’s genus. 

  5. That was very well down and insightful. It was like watching the commentary of a good movie. Hearing the artist share nuances and details in making their art adds so much to the art itself. This is applicable to any field.

  6. Love how you highlight others..I really think that added to the platform you created and continue to expand.  

  7. Michael – There is some slight language in this clip, but I’ve always thought that this interview with Robin Williams exposes the absolute madness that must exist within Mr. William’s head.  As opposed to Seinfeld’s longhand method, Williams just goes.  And goes.  And goes.  If this doesn’t lend itself to the discussion, or if the language is too strong, please delete!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IL2Iv-kbc68

    • Hilarious! I love how each is funny in his own way. But each display the chain concept. Robin just keeps it going all the time. It’s almost like he never turns it off, although obviously he does. Each ties concepts together that have your mind synapses going off in different ways than usual. I think that is what makes each one funny…that and the timing.

      But don’t let Robin fool you. He works at it, just differently.

  8. Great find… Thanks for sharing.

    Love his focus just not on single words, but on even syllables.

  9. Oh how I love Jerry Seinfeld!  Nonsense …pure genius! LOL  Thanks for sharing!
    Blessings!

  10. As Wade said, I never found him especially funny … nor his show. In fact, the majority of the comics getting the most attention in recent years are, to me, overly profane to no benefit, and “underly” funny (and don’t get me started on Jay Leno … gee, can you tell me one more time, Jay, just to be sure I “got it”?) — and overly profane for no benefit. However, as Wade did, I found this video article very interesting.

  11. Well, I’ve taken a year to write a book. It’s not even that long. And it’s not done yet. 

    Killing me …

    Maybe I need to rethink the yellow pad. 

  12. This is great!  Kind of like working on a sermon or planning a speech.  Everyone has their own way of working things out in their heads and sorting through them until delivery!  Beautiful.     

  13. I am teaching a workshop on the creative process in March…

    …so I just clipped this to my evernote.

  14. This is a serious question- How do you find these delightful illustrative clips? Do you have a research team or volunteers? Time is valuable so this intrigues me.

    • No, I don’t have my team or even volunteers working on this stuff, though I probably should. It simply stuff I stumble across as I am reading on the web. I subscribe to about 200 blogs, so that helps.

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