Jerry Seinfeld on Meditation and His Life of Sacrifice

Jerry Seinfeld was devouring old comedians by the time he was 10 years old. He originally thought he was going to be a copywriter in Manhattan, but his dreams turned to standup after high school. By 19, he was performing at local restaurants while attending college in upstate New York. It was around this time that he also got into Transcendental Meditation, a practice he continues to this day. Getting a taste of improv and meeting heroes like Richard Pryor as well as George Carlin, Seinfeld knew that this was what he wanted to do. Years of working on his routine all culminated in his first appearance on HBO in 1981, the same year he debuted on the Johnny Carson show. He was 27 years old.

In a conversation with Alec Baldwin on his podcast, Here’s The Thing, Jerry covers different subjects such as meditation, the difference between Seinfeld and other TV shows, and the early stages of his career.


Determination plays a big part

“Most of the people we see in the arts are there not because they had the most to offer, but because they wanted to be there the most.”

Focus and sacrifice

“To me, this life, my life, what I would call my life in comedy is a life of sacrifice that I’m only too happy to make. All my relationships, I got married at 45, all my relationships were as exposable as a dixie cup. Excuse me. I got to work, you’re gone. ‘Well if you’re going to be on the road so much than we can’t be together.’ Goodbye. Goodbye. I have had a sense of mission.”

Why Seinfeld was so good

“Let me tell you why my TV series in the 90’s was so good besides an inordinate amount of pure good fortune. In most TV series, 50% of the time is spent on working on the show, 50% of the time is spent dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something. We spent 99% of our time writing. Me and Larry. The door was closed. Somebody calls? We’re not taking the call. We’re going to make this scene funny. That’s why the show was good.”

“My first dream”

“I really love Mad Men because that was my dream growing up on Long Island. It was to get a Samsonite brief case and go on the Long Island rail road. I was going to go into the city and I was going to work at a big ad agency and write funny ads. That was my first dream. Because standup comedy, that I was seeing on the Sullivan show, that was too far out. These were some genius alien people. I could never be one of those people. But maybe I could be a copywriter or something in the ad game.”

[…]

JS: So Mad Men was my fantasy.

AB: When did you crossover and say, I could do the other thing?

JS: It was in college, Queens College.

AB: What’d you study there?

JS: Theatre, communications, film, all of that stuff. I was circling the field going how do I, how could I, I wonder if I could, and then Andy Kaufman happened. There’s this guy in New York who goes up onstage, he plays the bongos and starts weeping. He’s crazy. So we all ran into see Andy Kaufman at the Improv. As soon as I walked in that room and saw what was going on in there..

AB: I got to get in on this.

JS: Yeah, I want to be one of those guys.

On Seinfeld’s daily habit of meditation

JS: Transcendental meditation, that’s what I do, TM.

AB: How long have you been doing it?

JS: Since ’72.

AB: So when did that come into your life? You saw a billboard..

JS: At Oswego State University where I was enrolled because I couldn’t take senior year anymore so I left high school 6 months early, got into college, and left in the middle of senior year. Now, I know you didn’t do that, because you were handsome and the girls were hanging off of you and senior year was fantastic for you. That’s what I know.

AB: It was a vending machine of women.

JS: I know. Well, it wasn’t like that for me, buddy boy. So I thought, I need to get out of here and start a new life with people that don’t know me. So I went to Oswego and while I was there, now remember this was still in the flora and fauna of 60’s experimentalism, Transcendental Meditation, somebody told me about it I don’t remember who, I thought let me see what’s that about. I went to this thing and learned the technique. It cleared up my acne immediately. I had this great energy and focus and I’ve been doing it the rest of my life.

[…]

JS: This is a nice energy, really nice. Here’s how I’ll describe it to you. You know how three times a year you wake up and you go, boy that was a really good sleep.

AB: Yes!

JS: Imagine feeling like that every day. That’s what it is.