Seinfeld’s in Pittsburgh: Major moments in the evolution of his career
Love him or hate him, you gotta admit that Jerry Seinfeld is an important figure in the world of comedy.
And with the comedian headed to Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center on Friday, we figured we would step back and look at the key moments that brought Jerry to the 65th most populous city in the United States. (We’re gaining on ya, Henderson, Nev.)
So, let’s dive in to the history of Jerry Seinfeld.
Summer 1976: First stand-up gig
We’re skipping Jerry’s birth (April 29, 1954, in Brooklyn, by the way) because that’s just something that happens to everyone. Instead, we’re kicking it off with the first time he stepped to the mic in front of a crowd. It was in the summer of 1976 at The Comic Strip in Manhattan.
1977: First TV appearance
Jerry managed to get himself on “Celebrity Cabaret,” a nationally syndicated TV show filmed in New York. The show, hosted by Richard Hall, had established stars introducing stars of “tomorrow.” Jerry was introduced by singer-actress Julie Budd. We’re not sure what’s funnier here: Jerry’s stand-up bit or his huge Harold Ramis glasses. (Oh, and check out those graphics.)
1980: Plays Frankie on ‘Benson’
You didn’t know? Yep, the great Jerry Seinfeld had a regular role in the ABC sitcom “Benson.” He played a messenger who kept trying to pitch jokes to the governor. It was significant for Jerry only in that he had such a horrible experience (fired after just his third episode) that he pretty much had resigned himself to never being on another sitcom again. We all know how that turned out.
— Seincast – A Seinfeld Podcast (@seincast) March 16, 2017
May 6, 1981: First ‘Tonight Show’ appearance
By 1981, Johnny Carson was the undisputed king of late-night TV. If a comedian could do his stand-up routine on the show and get an acknowledgement from Carson, a career was made. Jerry nailed it his first time out, earning an “OK” from the host. George Shapiro, Jerry’s manager, says the comic calls the appearance the “most important and most significant in his career.”
1981: First HBO appearance
Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, HBO was known for its “Young Comedian” specials. Many future comedians got their first taste of national exposure here: Richard Lewis, Paula Poundstone, Harry Anderson, Howie Mandel, Carol Leifer, Steven Wright, Bill Maher, and many more. In 1981, Dick and Tom Smothers hosted the 6th annual special and introduced Jerry as “Jerry Steinfeld.” Perfect.
July 27, 198?: Jerry does Larry David’s material
OK, so the actual year is not really clear, but we’re thinking it happened sometime in the ’80s that Larry David, the other half of the creative genius behind “Seinfeld,” entered Jerry’s creative world. According to comedian Carol Leifer, it was at her birthday party that Larry David gifted her with two pages of jokes. However, being too drunk to do the material, Carol handed it off to Jerry, who got great laughs with it. A team was born.
Sept. 5, 1987: His first special
In 1987, Jerry got his first solo comedy special, “Jerry Seinfield’s Stand-up Confidential.” The HBO show featured the comic doing his stand-up mixed with various skits — all set around some notion of “life as seen through a comic’s x-ray specs.” We don’t get it, either. But it was important in that it showed Jerry could do more than just stand up and tell jokes.
Aug. 31, 1988: The pitch
George, Larry’s agent, pens a letter to the NBC brass saying, “Call me a crazy guy, but I feel that Jerry Seinfeld will soon be doing a series on NBC.” The move was done without Jerry knowing about it. “I had kinda decided I was just gonna be a comedian,” Jerry said in the 2004 documentary “Seinfeld: How it Began.” Even though George had been sending letters like this for years, “this time it triggered a meeting,” George said. The rest is television history.
July 5, 1989: ‘The Seinfeld Chronicles’ debuts
The show about “nothing” got it start on NBC as a summer replacement. Originally planned as a 90-minute special about how a comic gets his material, Larry and Jerry decided a 30-minute version actually suited the material better. In the pilot episode, Jerry is trying to interpret the signals of a woman he just met. He confides in his friend George (Jason Alexander) and his oddball neighbor Kessler (Michael Richards). Yep, it was Kessler then and not Kramer (that change came later).
May 23, 1991: ‘The Chinese Restaurant’ episode
It wasn’t until Season 2, episode 11 that “Seinfeld” found it’s true hilarious voice. The whole episode was Jerry, George and Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant. That’s it. But it was one of the funniest (and has become one of the most beloved) episodes in the series. In only nine seasons, “Seinfeld” achieved a level of success that few shows reach. The final episode aired May 14, 1998.
Sept. 12, 1993: ‘SeinLanguage’ released
Jerry becomes an author, as his first book hits the shelves — and The New York Times best-seller list. The Bantam book was, according to an Amazon review, “a collection of Jerry’s musings on everything from relationships to shushing in movie theatres.”
July 19, 2012: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
Jerry combined his passion for classic cars with his wit and a laid-back interview style to create what’s probably the first talk show on the road. Literally. Each episode pairs a vintage car with a fellow comedian. The two hit the road for coffee and humorous banter. Fittingly the pilot episode had Larry David as Jerry’s guest. Other guests have included Carl Reiner, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, and — most notably — Barack Obama. The series is still running, it its 10th season, now on Netflix.
Thankfully, Jerry is still making important dates. Here’s hoping that Friday’s event in Pittsburgh has a special meaning.
Chris Pastrick is a Tribune-Review digital producer. You can contact Chris at 412-320-7898, [email protected] or via Twitter .