For the first time in 25 years, Jerry Seinfeld is out with a new book. "Is This Anything" features some of his best work across five decades in comedy.
The stand-up comedian, who first shared his work in an audition in 1975, says the question, "Is this anything?" is what every comedian says to another comedian about any new bit they want to try.
For 45 years, Seinfeld has saved all the material he's ever written for stand-up comedy by writing it down on big yellow legal pads -- and now, he's compiled all his notes to make his new book.
"A lot of people ask me, ‘Why would you save these jokes?,’ and to that I would say, ‘Why would I save anything else?,'" Seinfeld said Monday on "Good Morning America," adding it took him about one year to assemble his notes into the book. "This is the only thing to me that has great value that I have."
Read an excerpt from "Is This Anything?" below.
"Is this anything?" is what every comedian says to every other comedian about any new bit.
Ideas that come from nowhere and mean nothing.
But in the world of stand-up comedy, literal bars of gold.
You see that same comedian later and you will be asked,
"Did it get anything?"
All comedians are slightly amazed when anything works.
Picture me in the mid-1960s, living room floor, legs crossed, bowl of cereal,
one foot from our twenty-five-inch Zenith measured diagonally, jeans, horizontal-stripe T-shirt,
white, low-top US Keds, staring at a comedian in a dark suit and tie on
The Ed Sullivan Show.
I could say something funny once in a while but everything out of this guy's mouth is hilarious.
"How are they able to talk like that?"
I was so mystified and fascinated by them.
But I never, ever imagined I could be one of them.
They were like astronauts or Olympic athletes to me.
Some different, other breed of humans.
Not even really part of the world.
I grew up on Long Island and remember, sometime in the early seventies, hearing my friend Chris Misiano's older brother, Vince, say that there was a place in New York City where young people were getting onstage and doing a new kind of stand-up comedy.
That there was a guy who would tell a story while playing a conga drum, and then he started crying and playing the drum in rhythm to the crying!
That sounded so crazy and hilarious to us.
We thought, "We have to see this guy!"
So we started going into the city, which was incredibly fun and exciting anyway, to see these new comedians at the Improv and Catch a Rising Star.
That comedian, of course, was Andy Kaufman.
And there were lots of other amazing comedians there too.
Like Ed Bluestone, Elayne Boosler, Richard Lewis, Bob Shaw, and Bobby Kelton.
We even saw big stars performing at these places, like Rodney Dangerfield and David Brenner.
Hearing live laughs burst out of these crowds in these packed little rooms was almost a scary sound.
How did the comedians know that what they said would get such huge laughs from a crowd of total strangers?
I could not figure it out.
Then in 1974, two things happened that tripped my head out of whatever thick, suburban haze I was in and off into a whole different realm of life.
I read a book called The Last Laugh and saw a movie called Lenny.
The Last Laugh by Phil Berger was the first book completely about the world of stand-up comedy.
Lenny was a Dustin Hoffman movie about the life of Lenny Bruce.
The poster for Lenny showed him in a smoky nightclub hunched over a microphone.
There's a scene in the movie where Lenny Bruce is having dinner late at night in a cafeteria after a show that did not go well.
Tie undone, still in his suit, he pushes his tray along and meets a stripper, Hot Honey Harlowe.
I think that was the scene that did it.
The absolute lack of glamour and/or normalcy drove me wild.
What a completely offbeat, nonsensical existence.
Comedians seemed to hurtle through space and time untethered to anything but the sound of a laugh.
I thought, "Oh my god.
I want to do that.
What if I can't?
What if I'm not funny?"
I remember thinking,
"Well, but I wouldn't have to be that funny anyway.
I would just have to be funny enough to buy a loaf of Wonder bread and a jar of Skippy peanut butter a week."
I could easily survive on that.
It was all I ate in my parents' house, anyway.
And even if that's all I had, it would be a better life than any other I could envision.
I was more than happy to accept being a not-that-funny comedian over any other conceivable option.
Without realizing it, of course, this attitude is the exact right way to start out in the world of comedy.
Expect nothing. Accept anything.
I had only ever tried to make my friends laugh.
That wasn't that easy.
How in the world do you make people that don't even know you laugh?
In The Last Laugh I read about a joke Jimmie Walker did at Catch a Rising Star one night.
How great is that name for a nightclub of new comedians, by the way?
Still the best name I've ever heard.
And still the coolest club I ever walked into.
I love that it's the very first place I ever stepped on a stage to try and do comedy.
Anyway, Jimmie Walker's joke was that it was raining so hard in New York that night he "just saw Superman getting into a cab."
I thought that joke was so simple but so funny.
How do you think of something like that?
It just seemed like a miracle to me.
I still don't know exactly for sure where jokes come from.
I think it's from some emotional cocktail of boredom, aggression, intense visual acuity and a kind of Silly Putty of the mind that enables you to re-form what you see into what you want it to be.
I was a very, very nervous performer when I first began going onstage.
But I was encouraged by my Queens College friends Jesse Michnik, Joe Bacino and Mike Costanza.
I am still grateful to those guys.
I was not a naturally outgoing person or really even attention seeking in my normal personality.
My favorite thing was to whisper something funny in class to the kid next to me and crack him up so he got in trouble.
I tried being in a couple plays in high school and college but unless the part was all comedy I couldn't stay interested in the scenes.
I was also reprimanded several times for trying to make a part funny that wasn't supposed to be.
Loved doing that.
Even in the early years of Seinfeld I had difficulty focusing on the story aspects of the show.
I would only perk up when Larry and I got to writing the dialogue and we needed funny lines for the characters to say.
I got better at story structure as the years went on but still find that kind of work a bit dreary.
But at twenty years old, when I walked into the Manhattan comedy clubs for the first time, every neuron in my little brain just lit up.
I felt like I had finally found my home on planet Earth.
And it wasn't just that I could now immerse myself in the art of comedy, it was also the world of comedians I was suddenly in.
I have many great friends who are actors, writers and artists of various kinds.
But when I'm in the company of other stand-up comedians I feel like I'm rolling around in a litter of puppies.
Excerpted from "Is This Anything?" by Jerry Seinfeld. Copyright © 2020 by Jerry Seinfeld. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All Rights Reserved.