6 Reasons Jerry Seinfeld Should Be Every Creative’s Role Model
If all you get from this article is to splash your face with cold water, you’re doing great. Of course, there’s more you can take away from it like saving and recycling ideas, reaching out to peers, or having a strong work ethic, but the splash-in-the-face has benefits that will turn you into a cold water junky.
When he started stand-up in the late ’70s, there had never been a comedian like Jerry Seinfeld. Most Americans had never heard of him before his sitcom was a hit. Those of us who had remember when The Seinfeld Chronicles debuted. I was so excited to see what it would be because I had seen him on the Tonight Show and HBO. I’ve been a fan of stand-up comedy since I was 8 years old sneaking out of bed to watch my parents watching George Carlin or Richard Pryor, stifling my laughter from the top of the stairs.
Here are 6 reasons all creatives should look to Seinfeld for inspiration.
1. Keep Your Ideas
What makes Jerry Seinfeld different than most comics is the methodical way he approaches his material. He is a comedy scientist. In his recent Netflix special he shows his legal pad collection of material spread out on a Manhattan street (I’m guessing he got permission from the Mayor to close that street just to take the photo) and it’s quite impressive. Not that other comedians don’t write stuff down, but he holds on to his ideas forever and has a filing system to easily find them later.
2. Review and Re-review Your Old Ideas
Like the late architect Zaha Hadid who famously saved her childhood sketchbooks and drew on them for inspiration as an adult, Seinfeld keeps his ideas for future use. He files them, revisits them, revives them, and reuses them. When we follow this example, we never have to sit around and wait for inspiration; we have a filing cabinet full of it. Something we thought was interesting 5 years ago but didn’t know quite what to do with, could look completely different and obvious to our eyes today.
3. Keep Practicing
Can you imagine being an up-and-coming comedian waiting to go on at a club and in walks Jerry Seinfeld to try out some material? He doesn’t need to do that. I mean, financially speaking he doesn’t need to do anything, but with regards to his craft, that’s exactly what he needs to do and he does this all the time. This shows a dedication to the craft that we should all seek to emulate.
I think most of us have a tendency to get to a point in our development when we think we have it together and we don’t have to practice as hard and get comfortable. But if we can keep that flame of curiosity alive we see that it’s endless. It reminds me of something I heard guitarist Bill Frisell say on a podcast recently “No matter how far you’ve gone, it’s still infinite out in front of you what you haven’t done. It always feels like that, like I’m just starting at the beginning every day.”
4. Reach Out to Your Peers
No man is an island, although comedians are notoriously awkward socially. Seinfeld once said “I can talk to all of you. But I can’t talk to any of you.” Comedians will often seek each other out at parties as they feel most comfortable with their own species… or so I’ve heard.
Jerry has breakfast with comedian Colin Quinn several times a week where they bounce ideas off each other. He credits this as an invaluable part of his creative process, but it’s also just a good thing to do because creative work is often very lonely. We need that sense of community every once in a while. We need to connect face to face with someone who gets us on that level.
I’m quite fortunate to have a wife who fits that bill for me, but I should really reach out to more drummers and composers. It would be surprising if I was the only one who felt like this, but I feel a bit of anxiety hanging out with people who play my instrument. Maybe it’s imposter syndrome, but I’m a little scared they’ll realize I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. If I could get over that, it would probably help me improve in ways I’d never imagined. Maybe I should start a show called Drummers in Cars Getting Coffee.
5. Don’t Break Your Streak
A big part of being a successful creative is figuring out how to keep showing up even when we don’t feel inspired. To combat this Seinfeld put a big yearly calendar on his wall and started putting red X’s over the days when he wrote something. “After a few days you’ll have a chain,” he said of the habit. “Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
Writing every day when you’ve got years of ideas filed away like Jerry, is maybe not as daunting as it sounds. If you’re not feeling inspired you can randomly pull out a piece of paper and try to work with that.
But you don’t actually need a calendar on your wall. These days we have an app for that. You can use a calendar app or I like Habit Tracker a lot which is free on the Apple App Store.
I first heard about this in an interview with British comedian James Acaster. This is the cold water on the face trick Jerry learned from Paul Newman. It really works. If you’re having a hard time focusing or are getting worn out, splashing cold water on your face is like hitting the reset button. My wife would have you believe it’s better to submerge your body in a vat of ice-cold water for several minutes, but that sounds like a bit much to me. We’ll stick with the splashing.
Of course, we can hit the reset button with other methods. Taking a walk will get you far, depending on how far you walk. You can get deep with some meditation or yoga. Jerry does transcendental meditation every day, but whatever method you choose, it’s good to have some way to refresh, reset and recenter yourself.
So that’s splash, rinse, repeat. Right. If only it were that simple. Looking to creatives outside of our given field is a great way to find inspiration and potentially help you stand out from the pack. You don’t need to be a comedian to learn from the example of Jerry Seinfeld. Heck, you don’t even have to like his stuff. Even if you don’t think he’s that funny, you can’t deny what he has accomplished and the work ethic he embodies, his process of documenting his thoughts, reviewing and reusing material, and looking to his contemporaries for help and inspiration.
We could all benefit from being a little more like Jerry.
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