They may be masters of very different domains, but there’s a certain logic in President Obama agreeing to appear on an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s online series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
Both men recognize the value of using informal settings, from the campaign trail to comedy clubs, to connect with audiences. And for both the outgoing head of state and an elder statesman of humor, taking turns circling the White House’s South Lawn in a 1963 Corvette Stingray Split Window Coupe marks an opportunity for a victory lap.
The java-and-drive session, which begins streaming on Crackle Dec. 30, will help Obama seal his status as the pop culture president as he heads into his final year of a job that’s even tougher than working for George Steinbrenner. He’s made more entertainment appearances – ranging from the late night comedy circuit to “Running Wild With Bear Grylls” to Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns” to “Mythbusters” – than any sitting chief executive. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (even if some Obama critics might say otherwise).
Seinfeld busted his own myths with his title-says-it-all Web series in which comics share jokes as they deconstruct comedy – humanizing them, while sparking additional admiration for their dedication to their craft.
The modest “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” also allows Seinfeld to stay linked to fans while consciously trying not to top his classic NBC show, which ended in 1998. But the presidential coup, which follows news of the comic’s upcoming residence at New York’s Beacon Theatre, is – as “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David might say – pretty, pretty, pretty good for a guy whose biggest sitcom guest star was Keith Hernandez.
It’s unclear whether Obama, a student at Harvard Law School when “Seinfeld” debuted in 1989, was a big fan of the show, which spurred nearly as many catch phrases as laughs over nine seasons. But he was said to have frequented Tom’s Restaurant (whose façade was used for the fictional Monk’s on “Seinfeld”) as a Columbia University undergrad in the early 1980s – no doubt drinking coffee and contributing his share of yada, yada, yada.
Seinfeld is clearly thrilled to have been deemed Obama-worthy: “How did I get here? Is this really happening?” he said in a press release issued Monday, just two days before Festivus. Once the segment goes live next week, it can be regifted over and over, thanks to the miracle of the Internet.
Whether the Obama-Seinfeld summit lives up to the hype might prove the ultimate test of a comedy career built on “nothing.” In the meantime, check out a preview of the upcoming season of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” in which Seinfeld, like any good comedian, saves the punch line for last.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.