Here Are Jerry Seinfeld's Greatest Observations About New York City
Born in Brooklyn, educated in Queens, and made famous on the Upper West Side (by way of Hollywood, but you get the picture), Jerry Seinfeld is as inextricably linked to New York City as any entertainer you're likely to find, past or present. Before becoming an icon in the Nineties with his eponymous sitcom — the self-professed “show about nothing,” which followed four eccentric Manhattanites as they kvetched about the mundanities of life in the five boroughs — the comic got his start as a stand-up in the late 1970s, testing out new material at storied New York comedy clubs like Catch a Rising Star on the Upper East Side.
Now, some eighteen years after Seinfeld finally went off the air — and just a week after interviewing President Barack Obama for his popular Web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee — the comedian will take the stage tonight for the first performance of a year-long residency at the Beacon Theatre on Broadway. Aptly titled “Jerry Seinfeld: The Homestand,” and inspired in part by Billy Joel’s ongoing residency at Madison Square Garden, the gig will indeed represent a homecoming of sorts for the 61-year-old entertainer, an opportunity to return to his uptown, working-comic roots one last time.
Compiled from decades of interviews, essays, episodes, and routines, here, in anticipation of his historic run at the Beacon, is a list of Seinfeld's most memorable observations about New York City. Behold: New York City, according to Jerry Seinfeld.
“People will kill each other for a parking space in New York because they think, ‘If I don’t get this one, I may never get a space. I’ll be searching for months until somebody goes out to the Hamptons.’ Because everybody in New York City knows there's way more cars than parking spaces. You see cars driving in New York all hours of the night. It’s like musical chairs, except everybody sat down around 1964.”
On New York TV Shows
"The older shows set in New York, That Girl, The Odd Couple, weren't scary. Now the city is quite scary. It's crazy. It's nuts out there. And most of the time that's the take of these TV shows. New York characters are generally a certain type. You spend a lot of time walking around, going to movies, and ordering Chinese food up."
On His Time at Queens College
"I spent several wonderful years here. The best [parking] spot I ever got was in my junior year. It was right out here on Kissena Boulevard near Melbourne Avenue. I didn't even have to parallel; I pulled right in. It was a beautiful spot."
On MTA Employees
“The subway change-booth guy. I feel for this person. He’s in a shark cage down there. It’s this little safety chamber just floating in the subway. They give him like 28 bucks in change, they seal him up inside this thing with bulletproof glass, closed in on all sides, it’s like some kind of Houdini torture tank of doom. How do you breathe in there? It looks like if you put your hand over the change slot, you could suffocate him in thirty seconds.”
On Cab Drivers
“I love how certain things about New York never change. They're always constant, they're always there for you. The cabbies and the b.o. What is with the b.o. and these guys? How long are these shifts? Can't we get this man a ten-minute break for a shower? You're in the back and it's coming through the glass.”
On the New York Mets
“I was eleven or twelve years old. We had a huge orange La-Z-Boy recliner downstairs in my house on Long Island, and I just started watching the Mets. I fell in love with them instantly. I never liked the American League. The Yankees weren't my kind of team. I loved the Mets, the players they had and the way they played. I still love them.”
On the Subway Series
“The fact is, you have to consider the Civil War to be the original Subway Series. Same basic idea, just take a bunch of guys we all like, put them in different uniforms, then stand back and watch the fireworks. And I bet Major League pitchers today probably throw about as hard as the little balls that came out of those muskets.”
On Vanishing New York
''A large part of my life is walking up and down Broadway and Columbus Avenue and trying to remember what store used to be where. Look at that place over there. That's a Madison Avenue boutique. What is it doing over here? I'll be interested to see how long that lasts. The people over here, they have the money, but they're not going to spend it. They're too cheap.''
On Brooklyn Hipsters
“If they were really hipsters, how could there be so many of them?”
On Coney Island
“So I take the subway down to Coney Island to go on the Cyclone. Here I am, I’m sitting on the D train for an hour and fifteen minutes, so I can go on a scary ride. How dumb is that? You know that first sharp drop on the Cyclone? I fell asleep. It was the least exciting part of my day.”
On the Black-and-White Cookie
"The key to eating a black-and-white cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite. Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate. And yet, still, somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie. All our problems would be solved."
"Ah, Zabar's. You cannot have comedy without Jewish people and whitefish."
On Being Recognized
“New York is a great place to be a celebrity. Most people, even the people who do have things to say, they’re usually fairly cool. They give you the head nod, or the ‘hey.’ They don’t get all goony about it. I can still go to a coffee shop at two or three in the morning, like I did a few weeks ago. I had dinner with a friend and we ended up sitting around pretty late. I like to go downtown, to the West Village — it’s kind of a zoo. And I like to go to the zoo.”
On the NYPD
“You see things in New York. I saw an arrest today. Right here on the street. And it always amazes me how when cops arrest somebody they beat him with the nightstick, they put him in the cuffs, they put the chokehold on him, but they always want their hand on the head as he goes into the back seat. 'Don't hurt yourself on that metal edge. That really hurts. That's really painful.' ”
On the Upper West Side
“Yes, I know You've Got Mail was shot on location exclusively on the Upper West Side. I have to live with that fact every day of my life. And when they changed the traffic pattern around Columbus Circle, many of us in the area thought it was going to be rerouted into an endless circle with no outlet. An attempt perhaps to try and just flush us back to where we came from. But I am here to tell you that Upper West Siders, stinking from smoked salmon and covered in grass stains from playing in the park, are not going away.”
On Living Downtown
“I always thought about living downtown. Whenever I had that thought I would think, ‘What would my grandparents think, who busted their whole lives to get out of there?’ I just couldn’t do it to them.”
On His Family Immigrating Through Ellis Island
“To me, these are scenes from Godfather II. They didn’t really come over on these boats and go to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It almost seems like a cliché. It’s theatrical imagery. You forget this really happened.”
On the Statue of Liberty
“One thing about living in New York is it’s every different type of person piled one on top of the other. I am for open immigration, but that sign we have in the front of the Statue of Liberty, ‘Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.’ Can’t we just say, ‘Hey, the door’s open. We’ll take whoever you got.’ Do we have to specify ‘The wretched refuse?’ Why not just say, ‘Give us the unhappy, the sad, the slow, the ugly, people that can’t drive, people that have trouble merging, if they can’t stay in their lane, if they don’t signal, they can’t parallel-park, if they’re sneezing, if they’re stuffed up, if they have bad penmanship, don’t return calls, if they have dandruff, food between their teeth, if they have bad credit, if they have no credit, missed a spot shaving.... In other words, any dysfunctional, defective slob that you can somehow cattle-prod onto a wagon, send them over. We want them.’ ”
On the Roosevelt Island Tramway
“Manhattan, as you know, is the site of the tramway. The tramway is this new thing that they have on Roosevelt Island. It's a cable car that goes back and forth between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island. I think that this is a terrific thing. The city's on the verge of bankruptcy; they're putting up rides for us. The next thing you know we'll have a roller coaster through the ghetto, which would be dynamite. I could see that, though. Roller coaster through the ghetto, sure. That'll be the first roller coaster where they scream on the flat part of the ride.”
On New York Humor
“Humor is really a New York invention, as far as I'm concerned. All humor emanates from New York. All people in New York are funny and get funnier as they get older, and everyone outside New York gets less funny.”
On His Residency at the Beacon Theatre
“New York is my whole comedic soul. I feel like I represent this attitude, with all its pluses and minuses. Cranky. Irritable. Impatient. I can’t stand something that is stupid. That is where a lot of comedy comes from.... This is something you learn over many years of performing. There are rooms that are just right. There are rooms that are horribly wrong. And most of them are in the middle. This is just perfect.”
Tickets for the entire run of Seinfeld's residency are sold out but are available on the secondary market.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in New York.