Jerry Seinfeld is a comic giant. His TV show, Seinfeld, ruled the air waves for nine years, and achieved cult like status in the American pantheon of popular culture. Seinfeld lives in a posh Manhattan penthouse with a view of Central Park. He has three kids, a wife who is a best-selling cook book author, a fleet of cars, and more money in the bank than he could spend in ten lifetimes.
And yet, at 58, an age when many comics loose their edge and begin to think about retiring, Seinfeld goes to his office early everyday and works at writing jokes. Moreover, in a recent interview in the New York Times Magazine, Seinfeld revealed that since 2000 he has done, on average, two stand-up shows a week. Some of these shows are in front of 14 to 20 people at a local Manhattan or Long Island club, some to 3000 people at a Midwest casino, and recently he performed for 20,000 in London.
So, the obvious question is— why is he still working? Why this need to perform? Well, the answer can be found in the words of another performer and comic from my youth, Jimmy Durante (1893-1980). During an engagement in Las Vegas, at the age of 85, Durante was asked why he continued to do his act at his advanced age. His rationale and answer was the same one, I think, that applies to Seinfeld: “I don’t need the money, I need the work!”
By his own admission, Seinfeld has been doing comedy since he was in third grade. And, he’s very quick to point out that he "plans to do stand-up into my 80s and beyond.” He considers himself a stand-up comic above all else. Yes, he says he loves his family and friends, but when he can’t perform - for even a week - he says “I completely lose who I am and what I do for a living.”
For Seinfeld creating jokes, telling jokes is an antidote to the trials and tribulations of life. Jokes, says Seinfeld, are a gift and a necessary medicine.
“People…tell jokes by the score because what else are you going to do to maintain [your] sanity?” Being a “stand-up is part of Seinfeld’s hard wiring.” In fact, it is not just part of who he is, it’s his very identity! Being a stand-up comic, says Seinfeld, is “my best way of functioning” and my “favorite type of intimate relationship.”
Al Gini is a Professor of Business Ethics and Chairman of the Management Department in the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago.