It’s another special edition of Notes From a Comedy Junkie as our own Sara Dahms flew down to Washington D.C. to cover the red carpet at The Kennedy Center as some of the funniest people in the world gathered to honor Julia Louis-Dreyfus and award her with our highest comedy honor- the Mark Twain Award. Sara is a comedy superfan who even goes so far as to call herself a comedy nerd, but now she’s becoming the queen of the comedy red carpet. Raised on National Lampoon, John Hughes, Gene Wilder, and Fairy Tale Theatre, her life changed after her older sister showed her Eddie Murphy’s Raw in 1988. Soon after, she foundAndrew Dice Clay and became a stand-up junkie for life. Two years ago, she took her first comedycation, and since then, she’s been traveling all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere, a confirmed comedy addict, and now she’s agreed to share her travels with us. Read all Sara’s write-ups here!
As a life-long comedy nerd and teenager of the 90’s, “Seinfeld” played an extremely major role within the culture of my home and was the one and only show that every single member of my family, including aunts, uncles and cousins would bond over. We played “Seinfeld” trivia board games at holiday parties, laughed at the most recent high jinx the crew had gotten themselves into and without fail, would come together around the television every Thursday night to watch the show as a family. For those 30 minutes every week, no matter what was going on in the world around us, we were together as a family and laughing.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus was honored by The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and given the highest honor in comedy there is, The Mark Twain Prize for humor. Not only did I have the opportunity to be there to celebrate her unparalleled talent and impressive career as she received the award, but I also had pleasure of getting to talk comedy with some of my heroes as they made their way down the red carpet. It was the experience of a lifetime and an evening I will never forget! I spoke with Jerry Seinfeld, Jack Johnson, Kumail Nanjiani, Tony Hale and the evening’s honoree herself, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Interrobang: I have been a fan of yours ever since I heard you on Pete Holmes’ very first episode of his podcast, “You Made it Weird.” I came up from Chicago for this event and just like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, that is where you also got your start before moving to New York and then L.A. When it comes to comedy, there have been many documented conversations about which one is better, L.A. vs New York. You have done it all. Tell us how Chicago fits into the conversation.
Kumail Nanjiani: For comedy, Chicago is the best place to start because there isn’t industry there and it’s really just about being good. It’s hard to make a living doing it in Chicago but that is where you get the experience and not be exposed to people who can ruin your career in the meantime.
Interrobang: So you would recommend honing your skills in Chicago and then figure out which coast to make your move to once you’re ready to go pro?
Kumail Nanjiani: Yes, and there’s not a lot of competition in terms of getting jobs there so it really is pure. It’s just about being good.
Interrobang: Congratulations on your movie, “The Big Sick.” How was the experience of working with Judd Apatow?
Kumail Nanjiani: I love working with Judd! It was life changing in so many ways and I hope we get to work together again.
Interrobang: My favorite episode of the series is the one that Julia’s husband Brad Hall directed called, “Cuntgate” and the biggest laugh I had last season was from you in the scene when you make the confession that it was you who called Selina the “c-word” when you called her an “old crone.” Your reaction to finding out what the “c-word” really stands for was pure genius!
Tony Hale: Let’s not forget that he thinks that Selina is pretty much Jesus so to call her that is like calling Jesus that. It was not a good day for Gary… but when does he ever really have a good day? Let’s be honest!
Interrobang: I know Julia had said that she didn’t really want to let it be known which Vice Presidents she consulted with when preparing for this role because she didn’t want people to think that Selina Meyer was a parody of anyone. Do you ever watch the news and wonder if the current administration is parodying you?!
Tony Hale: Well the crazy thing is, sometimes they’ll write stuff and it will come out and then in the news something similar will happen… and that has happened several times. That’s when we get a little freaked out and I think there might be a part of the writers that are like, “Let’s be careful what we write.” There’s a little anxiety there.
Interrobang: You seem to have the superhero power of being able to find the funny in just about anything. What premise or joke has been your greatest adversary and was the most difficult to crack the code and find the funny within?
Jerry Seinfeld: You know, comedy is mostly failure, so that literally happens every day. It happens a lot.
Interrobang: I think the work you’ve done after “Seinfeld” has been genius and you’ve really opened yourself up and put yourself out there.
Jerry Seinfeld: Thank you. I didn’t know that I was, but I think maybe I am now.
Interrobang: The episode you did with Garry Shandling was amazing and the most profoundly beautiful thing I ever heard Garry say about Comedy was to you in that car. It was in reference to a comedian’s material.
Jerry Seinfeld: Yes. Yes. Right.
Interrobang: He said that the material is an expression of your spirit and soul, which is why you do it and why you are here. That’s what the material was for Garry Shandling. What is the material to you?
Jerry Seinfeld: The material is the little paper planes that we fly on. That’s what it is to me. You make a paper plane, you fold it and throw it and sometimes it flies and sometimes it doesn’t. So when it flies it’s always exciting.
Interrobang: In Julia’s episode she said that she regrets not letting you guys go forward with the storyline of “Elaine gained weight” during her pregnancy. Is there a storyline you said “no” to but you wish you would have said “yes”?
Jerry Seinfeld: There was one. We were going to do a Claymation episode in secret. We had begun the process of doing it and I pulled the plug on it because someone said another show was doing some animation of some kind and I wish I had done it. I don’t know if we could have pulled it off but that was my one regret.
Interrobang: I put your characters Elaine Benes and Selina Meyer in the same category as Archie Bunker and Larry David who are pardon my French, assholes… and yet we LOVE them!
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Good!
Interrobang: What is your secret on how you’ve been able to do this not once with Elaine, but twice now with Selina Meyer? She’s an unlikely hero and you have made us all love her!
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: I’m not entirely sure except to say that maybe it’s about making the performances as truthful as possible and somehow in doing so there is a little bit of bizarre sympathy that you feel for them.
Interrobang: I was happy to see that Brian Husky’s character, “Leon West” will be joining Selina’s team as her new speech writer and am really looking forward to seeing the dynamic of how this one staffer, who seems to have his head on pretty straight, gets along with the rest of your crew who are more like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off as you make your bid at the presidency. Who is going to be your “Veep” during this presidential election this season?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: We are coming up on season 7 and I can’t tell you anything because we are in the middle of filming “Veep” as we speak.
Interrobang: Music is becoming more and more intertwined with comedy. What role will you and your music be playing in tonight’s ceremony as Julia Louis-Dreyfus receives this beautiful award?
Jack Johnson: I just want to help to honor an amazing person. She’s a good friend but I’m a huge fan of all of her work on screen and all of her activism as well. You know, her work with voter registration and getting people to be a part of our democracy and all of the work she does for the environment. I really look up to her in a lot of ways. I’m just really happy to be here to help honor her.
Interrobang: Yes! She has a solar powered home and drives an electric car. Are there any initiatives you’re taking to help reduce your carbon footprint?
Jack Johnson: Yes, as many as we can! At home we drive electric cars too and use solar power. There are things we choose to do because they are fun. We like to go “Swiss Family Robinson” style and me and my kids love building water catchment systems and working in our yard and garden. On tour, it’s really important to us because that’s the place where a lot of younger people are coming to the shows and seeing how we’re approaching the world and so on our tours we do as much as we can to reduce the negative impact of touring through the various greening efforts we have. Besides just mitigating the negative we also try to expand on the positive by working with a lot of non-profit groups. We try to work with around ten or so non-profit groups in every town we visit and so money from each show goes to those groups. We try to get people to sign up and be a part of that and we always have voter registration at the shows to try and get more young people to participate.
Interrobang: Speaking of putting out positivity, comedy and laughter are such beautifully positive things. Are there any comedians that you follow and are fans of besides Julia’s?
Jack Johnson: For me comedians and chefs are the true superstars. When we travel around and get to see someone doing their art on stage or in their kitchen, I think they are the geniuses of our time. I appreciate how comedians are able to take things that are sometimes pretty heavy subjects and then make us be able to laugh at the obscurity of it.