Last night I listened to Alec Baldwin interview Jerry Seinfeld on Baldwin's surprisingly good podcast, Here's the Thing. Jerry Seinfeld says he doesn't watch much television but he does always watch Mad Men because when he was growing up, he wanted to be in advertising and write funny jokes for ads. Aspiring to be someone like Jack Benny, he said, was outlandish and beyond him so he set his dreams on the more modest goal of working for an agency, taking the Long Island Railroad into the city, carrying his own Samsonite briefcase. Two events changed him.
The first was seeing Andy Kauffman. Seinfeld heard there was this guy who'd book Carnegie Hall and get up on stage, lip synch to a record and cry. Jerry said to himself, I gotta see this. So he and a couple friends went to see Kauffman and they were blown away. From that point forward, he said, he wanted to be "one of those guys," a stand-up.
The second event came when Seinfeld was 19 and just getting started in stand-up. He had been performing for all of three weeks and was doing a show at a cabaret in mid-town Manhattan. Jackie Mason happened to be in the audience. After Seinfeld's set, Mason motioned him over for a drink at the bar. He told Seinfeld that he thought he was going to be hugely successful. He said it made him sick to think about how successful Seinfeld was going to be. Jerry was young, inexperienced and not sure he was going to make it. Hearing those words from that guy made Jerry Seinfeld believe for the first time he might actually have something real.