On the Couch with Josh Gondelman

Arielle Gordon

The subject appears to be almost too cheery upon our first meeting. In fact, we chat for almost ten minutes before I remember my task: to psychologically evaluate this patient, Modern Seinfeld co-creator Josh Gondelman. He responds to every question with an almost cartoonish air of happiness. The subject seems to place a firm argument against the idea that all comedians have to be morbidly depressed, and shies away from any darker meaning behind his Twitter-famous words. Could it be, a comedian who is truly satisfied with his place in life? While I still hold my suspicions, Gondelman’s indelible joy throughout my brief cognitive behavior analysis seems to suggest otherwise.

So I’m going to start with a few of your tweets because I think they might reveal something about you as a person. Recently: “Even the void won’t make eye contact with me anymore.”

Sincerely, I think one thing that might come up here is that I’m certainly not as depressive as Twitter makes me sound. I just think it’s a funny thing to think about. I think it’s almost intense meta-depression, to be like, “I can’t even be sad. It’s uncomfortable for me even to gaze into nothingness.” Which I think is true, I feel like that’s not a thing I’m an expert at, wallowing.

Okay, interesting. “Everyone has a long weekend right into a week full of work. That’s like seeing a rainbow end in a dumpster.” I have to ask: as someone who works ostensibly with comedians all day, how does your life feel like a dumpster?

It’s not at all, my life is amazing. I’m not even at work today, I’m with you. But I think that’s the wrong way to have a long weekend, right? To have a short week and then you go through the long weekend into a long week? You’ve gotta have a long weekend lead into the short week. That’s just my opinion.

Alright. “I’m young enough that I still think about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but old enough to be jealous they got successful in their teens.” Do you think you have a jealousy problem, Josh? Do you know where this comes from?

You know what? Maybe I do. I think that one thing that I’m jealous of is that I never got to be a phenom. I feel like I was never good enough at anything when I was young for people to be impressed by how young I was and also good at it. I have a little bit of like, “Oh man, they’re only 21 and they’re doing all of this stuff.” And it’s not jealousy like I feel competitive with them but me at 21 feels competitive with them at 21.

So you’re upset you were never a teen prodigy?

Yeah. One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen that is also emotionally resonant is my friend Liz, we were in high school at rehearsal for a school play we were both in. We’re in the band room in our high school and she sits down at the piano and just kind of mashes the keys for three or four seconds, and then looks at me and goes, “Well, I guess I’m not a prodigy,” and then walked out of the room. Like, she walked in the room just to do that.

So what do you think your parents would say about your Twitter success and your tweets? Do they read them?

They do. My mom reads them…not obsessively, but consistently. She is up to date. I don’t think they really worry about me because they know I’m fine, but certain things are not to their tastes.

Is there anything they’ve mentioned to you about your comedy that they’ve been worried about?

Not in a while. I think the fact that I’m making a living in comedy, I think they’re a little inclined to go easy because clearly I’m doing something right. I don’t know what that is. Something is turning out okay. I have health insurance, which they’re very pleased with.

You used to teach preschool. What was it like knowing you will molding young minds?

It was a lot of pressure. Sometimes I did it wrong, which is a problem, but like, it was very exciting. There were moments where it was really exciting because as long as you have their best interests at heart and are kind to them, then you’re not going to screw them up. But I remember very clearly this one little boy. He was a little younger and he didn’t take to literacy right away. He was a very physical kid and he didn’t love sitting for stories or practicing letters. But one day we did this big art project as a class and he was writing his name. And he hadn’t written his name before, he was just writing his initials. And then I saw him write the first letter, and then the second letter. And I remember the other kids complaining because he was the last one and they wanted to move on to the next activity, and I remember saying, hopefully gently enough, “Well let’s wait. Everyone gets their turn, so let’s wait for him to take his time.” And he wrote his whole name, and I remember that being kind of a nice moment to see for him, and also a lesson to the other kids that they have to be patient and wait for other people to move at their pace. It was really exciting and a lovely way to spend the day.

So what do you think are the biggest similarities and differences between your job as a comedian-slash-producer and your career as a preschool teacher.

I guess it’s finding the best way to communicate things and hold people’s attention. There are things you can do that will captivate people, and things that you do that will lose people really quickly. You want to hold them with you while you get across the idea you’re trying to get across.

You run the Modern Seinfeld Twitter account.

Co-author with Jack Moore, yup.

So, Josh, tell me: do you think you’re better than the real Seinfeld? What makes you think you can take on Seinfeld?

Oh, I don’t think any of that! I don’t think we’re better at all. If they were still making episodes of Seinfeld, it wouldn’t even be interesting to do that. Just the idea that there’s so much. Seinfeld – the show, not just the guy – did such a great job of naming these little things that are all around us and making them something we can talk about instead of talking around. There’s nothing that has done that as well since then. I think occasionally a great SNL sketch will do it. A very Seinfeld thing was the musical video…God, I’m such an old person. The music video, it was about having sex in your twin bed at your parents house during Thanksgiving. That’s a very specific thing that nobody had fully said like, “That’s a thing,” pointed to it, and then explored it from all sides.

If you could take any of the episodes that you’ve created with the Modern Seinfeld account, which one would you most like to see as an episode?

So, let me think of my favorite plots from the different characters. My favorite Elaine plot was the first one I ever did, so I’m very fond of it: Elaine sleeps with her upstairs neighbor who then makes his WiFi network name an insult against her, and she has to convince him to change it. My favorite George one is that he accidentally replies all to an email in an attempt to get fired from a job, but instead they promote him because they like his moxie. Maybe my favorite Jerry one, and this is co-authored between me and Jack, was that Jerry’s girlfriend dumps him because he forgets her birthday, which is September 11, which you’re not supposed to forget. A Kramer one that always jumps out at me is that Kramer makes money over the holidays by serving as a sherpa through Ikea for people who get lost.

So you’ve worked with Billy Eichner and John Oliver, two people known for being pretty feisty. How does it feel to work with angry people all of the time?

I found Billy to be wonderful, just very straight up in a way I think a great quality in a boss, especially a comedy boss, is the ability to say that an idea isn’t quite right and give a note on that without being like “you’re dumb and wrong for doing that.” And I think any boss, but specifically when you’re coming up with these wacky ideas and you don’t want to stifle them. I remember back in a meeting with Billy I was like, “How about this?” And he was like, “Cool, but that person won’t work for that bit because they’re not the kind of person who would do that, but let’s take this and see if we could spin it off in a different direction.” And that’s really helpful. Also, I don’t know if I would call Billy or John angry people, and Last Week Tonight is the best. That’s like the only important thing to say about it, is that it’s so much fun, that it’s wonderful to work there.

How would you say your career as a comedian has affected your mental health?

I’m very happy. I don’t have to do a lot of stuff that stinks, which is good. But then, you’re always striving for things, and that is sometimes difficult because you forget to work on what you’re working on, and that’s to me the most unhealthy thing, is what I forget to work on what I’m working on, and focus on the striving. And that’s super unproductive. It’s like, “I wish I were doing that thing as well.” Like, “I would like to accomplish this,” instead of focusing on what’s within your control, like writing more jokes or working on a packet, or doing a good job at my comedy day job. As long as you’re working on things that you’re proud of, which I am, and doing these things that I’m really psyched about. If I remember to focus on that, it’s much less stressful.

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