I watch Jerry Seinfeld’s web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee weekly. I love the behind-the-scenes banter of comedians talking about their personal histories. It’s a rare glimpse of show-person as real person.
This week’s guest was Garry Shandling, a long-time and close friend of Seinfeld’s. Shot in LA, they visited The Comedy Story where they first met in the mid 1970’s and the studio lot where they used to hang out together (Seinfeld and The Larry Sanders Show were shot next to each other on the same lot for years which I never realized).
At one point in the episode (9:35) they get to talking about the passing of David Brenner, a father of observational comedy and a big influence on both Shandling and Seinfeld. Seinfeld asks Shandling if he ever thinks about all the material that died with Brenner (a somewhat crass question only made slightly less crass when you understand Seinfeld’s workmanlike approach to joke construction). Shandling incredulously responds, “I’m sorry, I’m at a stage in my life when I actually care about the person [not just his material].” They go back and forth a bit more on the topic and end here:
Shandling – “[His] material and your material is purely a vehicle for you to express your spirit and your soul, and your being. And that’s why you’re fantastic.”
Seinfeld – “So, [material] doesn’t have any value beyond that?”
Shandling – “It doesn’t have any value beyond you expressing yourself spiritually…that’s why you’re on the planet. When you saw Robin Williams for the first time — you don’t remember everything he said. You remember his presence.”
For me, Shandling artfully captures the hidden value of driving towards excellence in anything. The work becomes a vehicle to express your spirit and soul.
It could be the comedian working her butt off to hone a joke over many months until it kills on stage. Or the writer throwing away page after page until the chapter reads just right. Or the leader walking the halls and listening to people day-in and day-out so that he can truly understand what’s on the everyone’s minds. We never remember every painstaking effort of these excellence-makers. But we do remember how they make us feel. Wowed. We feel their energy, love, and dedication and it inspires us.
It’s easy to forget that we all have the ability to deliver this sort of excellence. Caught up in our day-to-day routines we stop looking for the vehicles that let us dig down and express what’s in our souls. Sure, the price is an inordinate amount of hard work. But the payoff is worth it. When we do so, we touch people. We move the world.
See the full Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee episode here: