(inspiring music) – Welcome to Script to Screen. – Thank you. David is back. Today, we’re gonna talk
about your classic episode, Bizarro Jerry, the very world, with writer/producer David Mendel. Seinfeld is known as a show about nothing. (David laughs) This is how Jerry and
George actually pitched it in their episode at NBC. But this episode’s kind of complex. There’s a lot more going on. – I would argue most of
the show is pretty complex. I think the nothing was sort of– – The joke. – Maybe the very early show, maybe. Because it got pretty complicated. If you think about it, not even discounting the Bizarro Jerry, but really, as it starts
to find its footing, especially in that sort of
third, into the fourth, season, you’ve got, most of the
time, four complete stories. Four very different stories doing this. It was pretty much the
opposite of nothing. But yes, I know that is
how they pitched it, yeah. – This episode, you have George, Kramer and Jerry have the exact opposites. – Yep. – What inspired you to take
Seinfeld to the comic book world and make a comic book world and kind of do this alternate universe? – I think there’s two things going on. First of all, for me, number
one, I’m a comic book fan. I’m a collector. I collect original comic
art and that kinda stuff, which I love. And, obviously, in the show,
not just in the episode, but in the show, it had been established that Jerry was a Superman fan and there had been a lot
of Superman references. So that jump to sort of picking up on other Superman stuff was
kind of ripe for the taking, if you will. But what it really was, for
me, almost, was a little bit, and I think this was very
true of the later seasons, and whether you like them or not, but a little bit of the first. The Bizarro takes place in
the first post-Larry season. To some extent, what I would
say is a lot of the writers at that point were, at that point, no longer the original group of writers, but writers like myself
who had watched the show and recognized its genius and
were very obsessed with it. I do think, as sort of
the second generation of Seinfeld writers, we
were sort of almost like, okay, we see what Seinfeld is, now how do we push and
play with the format? And I love doing that, just in general, in a lot of my writing in general. I’ve done that on a lot
of the shows I worked on. That was a real opportunity
to push it further and, yes, it’s pushing it
into the superhero world, but also, just the notion of these opposites being
like real opposites and acting that way was very much going, well, how far can we push it? And Jerry was very open to it, so that was great, too. But it comes from, there’s a line in the
middle of the episode where Jerry’s complaining to Elaine that everyone’s gone. That George is in the forbidden city, and Kramer’s at his job, and she’s off with the Bizarros. She basically says, I cannot keep coming into this apartment day after day going over
the minutia of the day. And he goes, well, like earlier
today, I was at the bank. It’s really commenting on the show as much as, the episode is the episode, but it’s really commenting on the whole Seinfeld
show up to that point. I do think that’s a lot
of what that second group of writers, we all brought to it, which was we were such fans of the show that we started making fun
of the show in the show, if that makes sense. – It was interesting when you
talked about the storyline, ’cause it was one thing they note, especially in later seasons, all the ABC storylines were
getting a lot more weight. – They were, yes.
– It’s like you when you’re– – They became more equal. Our little trick was always, if you can find a story for two of them, that’s better. Or the more that they can cross over, so that way they’re not standing alone. But in a perfect world, if you could find a story
that holds an Elaine-Kramer or an Elaine-Jerry or something like that. In this one, everybody’s got a story, but they’re going with each other. Some of the ones that were
sometimes easier to outline and write where maybe you
only had three stories because two of the characters were in one. Four full stories, and each
one very equal of weight. – I like what you’re talking about where we had the whole funny thing where Jerry was feeling
neglected by Kramer, had dinner ready. ‘Cause we always had the
joke in the first season, Kramer’s just using me. It was interesting when
you saw the flipped dynamic where Jerry needed Kramer. – Again, the comment of
basically now Jerry cooking food, for lack of better word. Or, as you said, well, I
ordered, it’s still effort. But wanting Kramer to
come in to his apartment. – When the whole joke has been, we don’t want. – And dare I say, again, pushing it but turning their relationship and stretching it into the, if
you will, modern domesticity. I guess I was gonna say husband and wife, but, at this point, we can certainly say husband and husband. But again, this sort of
domestic idea of the two of them as almost like a couple. – That was my favorite part.
– And then Jerry playing somewhat the neglected spouse. Now you have these other things very much pushing up against reality. Definitely more out there
than perhaps earlier seasons. – It was also nice because he was also
being rejected by George. For not takin’ him this forbidden city, which is kind of, ’cause Jerry’s usually the
one driving up to that point. Kind of driving the storyline, but here, he was chasing
after the other characters. – Right. But it was this nice thing, too, I guess. It’s funny. Some of it happens, and
some of it, you plan. I think, definitely, or initially, the plan was this sense
of Kramer abandoning him. But, in some ways, it ended up with all of
them kind of abandoning him, which was a really neat thing to watch Jerry play in general. Not just in the heightened
scene of the spouse, but also just in general, in
the back end of the story. He’s just kind of a little
bit at his wit’s end. Again, a little bit of a commentary, because in so many of the other episodes, it’s almost like you get a sense
he wishes they would leave. – He drives, he pushes them away. So Jerry must’ve been really excited. You threw in Superman and
gave him a lot of stuff to do, kinda like interesting
character things to do. – He definitely got to
play a lot of stuff. The whole Bizarro thing
initially just started off as a conversation. And it started off just
as the conversation of, to some extent, of Elaine
dating your opposite, she’s sort of dating Bizarro Jerry. It very much started with
me pitching the idea, I guess, of this opposite
guy, if you will. Using the Bizarro thing, which I just thought would
be a really funny discussion, like this is gonna be a
great coffee shop scene. That’s how we used to
think about these things. The coffee shop was usually the spot where you were explaining
or talking about, commenting on whatever had happened. It was really Jerry’s encouragement. I give him all the credit in the world, saying, no, no, keep going. You know what I mean? Not necessarily specifically
ordering up the other Bizarros, but certainly just going, this is rich. Keep going. There’s more here. We can keep going. Then that led to meeting, then, his other group and Elaine,
and everyone liking it better. Obviously, by the very, very end, it gets very surreal. But, again, I think earns surrealness, which is the best kind. – I did like the initial thing is where they go to the library to read. – The list of the opposite
stuff was so fun to play with, from the locked door and
the knocking and who is it. Again, just that part, I
mean, I hate to say it, wrote itself, but it did write itself. – And the postal worker who is not your. (laughs) – Yes, Vargas, who actually works, technically, he’s wearing almost a FedEx outfit, so it’s the opposite of the post office. And, of course, they’re best friends. So that stuff, you could’ve done like
11 minutes there alone. What I like about it, again,
when I think about it, is it does get out
there, but it slow rolls. If that was scene two, I
don’t think it’s Seinfeld. But that becoming the end, and dare I say, you
meet the other Bizarros, but we didn’t do the Newman
one until the very end. Again, so it’s building
and building and building, which I think is, to me,
that’s when Seinfeld works. And I don’t just mean this about, I’m very happy that mine does, when episodes work, it is those ones that really
come together like that. And that’s just the outlining secret. – Now, talking a little about Elaine, what was your reaction when
you saw the dailies of Elaine between the two worlds on the street? – I give just so much credit there to long-time Seinfeld
director Andy Ackerman. So good. Well-deserved, whatever, DGA Award winner and all that kinda good stuff. That was so of his design. First those long shots
where you kind of see them and then just that sort of perfect moment of the three and three on
the old New York street. Again, one of those moments of, it’s easy to write into a
script they come together. It was sort of in there, but the execution just raising it. – It does tell me a little
about Elaine, for me, because, the first couple of seasons, she was always like fourth
dude, in a lot of ways. Here, I was beginning to see here, and also something in seasons you did, you were developing her
as a woman character. I felt a little more that
she was turning into, she was growing. – She definitely was, I always feel like, to the credit of Larry and Jerry, going back to when she
was the fourth dude, there was something wonderful about that. Because, and it’s funny, I’ve said this to Julie and
I’ve said this elsewhere, there was something lovely
and funny and real and good about the fact that she wasn’t a woman that was babysitting these three guys and constantly shaking her head, like you see on so many sitcoms. Where the girl is the den
mother, the babysitter, or whatever she is and is constantly shaking
her head at these dummies. She was one of the dummies. That, I think, was really
eye-opening to the world, but obviously, not eye-opening to people who had mixed gender friend groups, where you have your friend who’s a woman who is not your romantic character but just is another one of your idiots. I think that was somewhat
revelatory unto itself, and then once those ground
rules were established, you can, at least, start to add in that she
has certain different hopes and dreams. I think what also crept
into it occasionally, and it was there also even early on, episodes like, you gotta see
the baby, come see the baby, what her, if you will, other
female friends expected of her as a woman. And yet, often what she didn’t wanna do or wanted to do, which, I think, just made her all the more interesting. I love the fact that there’s
a little bit of the cracks of her going, I don’t
necessarily wanna be here and that maybe somewhere. Again, she wasn’t necessarily going, I wanna get married and have kids, but she was saying, there’s
gotta be a little more to life, in a way, perhaps, that
the other three don’t want. And I think that’s really interesting. – In some ways, she’s more tragic, because of all the four, she’s the only one that
recognizes that they’re selfish, but she traps herself like she
can’t help herself, either. Like pushing the guy at the end. – I guess you could argue
that she’s the most prepared to interact with the rest
of society as we know it, and so it’s all the more
tragic that she doesn’t. – But then she knows she
should and cannot help and goes back to the group. – It’s a tragedy, yeah. – But also, for me, I
was always wondering, what would Kramer be like at a job? It was always something
I’ve been wondering. That’s why I enjoyed
watching him go to work. – It’s funny. I probably said this somewhere, like on the Seinfeld DVD
things, the commentaries. It was a story that had happened to me, which is, I used to spend a lot of time at Tower Records in New York City. There was one very much close to my house. And I was there so often, and just kind of a schlubby
kid in a t-shirt and whatever, that the number of times
that I was asked by somebody, hey, do you know where this section is? And I did know where the section was, but I didn’t work there. But they were asking me because I looked like I worked there. That was kinda the inspiration for it. This was the other thing, too, is that, when I was in college, to make
my parents happy senior year, I did corporate recruiting. I knew I wanted to do comedy writing, but just in case, I covered my bases.
– The back-up fallback. – Yes. And so, at some point or another, I was meeting with these
really Brown Brothers Harriman or Proctor & Gamble and stuff, and I didn’t know anything. And they would ask these
questions, and I knew nothing. I had some basic economic knowledge, but it was embarrassing, in a way. That was a little bit
of the inspiration, too. He would be great at all
the things that he’d, basically, for lack of a better word, seen and heard about jobs, but no actual knowledge. – It was fun watching that. I also enjoyed Man Hands. Where’d that come from? – That was based on my, at
the time, I can’t remember. I think we were maybe not together, but, now-wife. At the time, perhaps, we
were on a break of some sort. It was very much my pointed, hey there, this is
about you kind of thing. My wife has what she calls, she grew up on a farm, and she has what she
always calls farmy hands. Because she grew up working on this farm. So her hands are a little
rough and whatever, but they’re normal-sized and very ladylike and all these things. But they are definitely rough, as opposed to, these are the
hands of a young, Jewish prince from New York that basically
had everything done for him by his parents and never worked
an honest day in my life. Just ever. So I have very smooth, beautiful hands. (laughs) I always remembered the farmy thing. Like all the great Seinfeld,
and, later on, the Curb stuff, and even a little bit of Veep, you start with the piece of the real and then you extrapolate. Farmy wasn’t funny, but take it that one step
extra to the man hands. And then, the next step, which was to cast a very beautiful woman. Kristin Bauer, who’s also
very funny in the part, but then obviously, we used one of the grips with
his hand in the silk blouse. Then, of course, adding all of the him touching
Jerry’s face, whatever. It’s fantastic. My wife has made her
peace with the episode. (laughs) – What was special about the
writers room of Seinfeld? Because you know they were
always unique about it. What was kind of the– – I mean, it’s a funny thing to say. What was unique about the
writers room, to some extent, is it was not a traditional writers room. Larry and Jerry had very much, since neither of them, I guess Jerry had worked
on a sitcom a little bit. He had been on Benson before
he was, similarly, fired. (both laugh) And Larry had never really worked much. He’d been on Fridays and
he’d been at SNL briefly but certainly didn’t have the
traditional sitcom training. They very much came at it early on of just writing it themselves. And then even when they
hired a couple of writers, I think they almost initially
were using the writers, I don’t wanna say 100%, but they honestly were almost
bringing the writers in and hoping that if they hired people, those people would just have enough ideas to be coal for the oven,
basically, and keep it moving. Or I guess I should’ve said coal for the steam engine, sorry. Initially, even when writers were writing, I think a lot of times they were taking it and giving it a pass, really. It was going through them, and then they were lucky enough they started to find good
writers and original voices, like Peter Mehlman, Larry Charles, and these people that then stuck around and could write Seinfeld. But the truth is is especially
when Larry was there, the notion of the group getting together. Yeah, once in a blue moon, Larry and Jerry would call people together and run something by them. And once in a blue moon,
when a script didn’t come in, maybe, from another writer
the way they wanted it to, and they were under the gun. They might say to the writing staff, can you guys rewrite these scenes while we work on this other harder part? But certainly never that kind of, I guess the way most sitcoms and certainly most network sitcoms, and now it’s a little different, but the notion of a show
being created in a room. All the ideas being
come up with in a room. It almost being beaten
out completely in a room. Stories being fully worked out. Outlines fully being developed in a room. And then, often, handed off
to whosever turn it was. Larry and Jerry definitely ran it maybe almost closer to a drama, where, certainly when I got there, you pitched your ideas to Larry and Jerry. And by the way, you
certainly were allowed, as you were working on stuff, to be interactive with each other. The writers certainly did, and we helped each other all the time. Again, not in a formal writers room. You would pitch Larry and Jerry stories, and you were trying to get
approved for the four characters. Great, now I have a Jerry story. Now I have an Elaine story. Now I have a Kramer story. You get your four stories. You would start outlining. You bring them in to show them Act 1. They would give notes, they’d
do things to it, whatever. Then you keep going, and
eventually you get an outline. And you get approved to write. But again, always Larry
and Jerry with the one or, if you’re a partner, two writers. The rest of the team,
yeah, I’m talking to people about what I’m working on. I’m maybe even running it by them. Not that group think. I think that speaks to the
unique voice of the show and a lot of unique voice
sitcoms that have followed it. Everything I’ve ever done since then, that’s how I have done it. What we would do, and where I do think a
writers room is very helpful, when Larry left the show, Jerry
would often convene himself, the writer of the episode, and then usually two or three
other people to punch it up. But even then, there was a bigger staff, but we were trying to keep it tight. I do think a writers room
can be super valuable for making things funnier, but I’m a big believer
in the individual writer. I think part of why I think
the Bizarro Jerry works is those four stories are
very close to my heart. And they are me writing
these four stories. Obviously, in the case of
the one about my now-wife, super close to my heart. But even the other three
are things that happened, some to me, some to friends of mine, but they are stories that I
really brought to the table and then was allowed to develop. Just talking in a grand scheme of things, the writers room was so good because there wasn’t a writers room. But, what I guess I will say is it was a really just great
mix of really funny people that I think Larry and
Jerry had really great taste of just being able to find people who really just cared about the funny. That’s what was, I think,
really special about it. I’ve been in so many bad writers rooms where every time there’s a comment, there’s like a song and a dance. (imitating) Well, as a
father, I think, and whatever. And it was, that. It was just, this is funny. This isn’t funny, let’s make it funnier. Or this is funny, I think
we can make it even funnier, which so many shows, they stop. They’re happy with whatever they have. I guess it was just a real,
it was a killer lineup. It was like a 1960s Yankee
lineup kind of a thing. – I’m sure it was one of the reasons it was one of the most loved sitcoms. I did notice, in the episode, since you were the only one involved, I could feel that the
storylines were more interwoven. It felt, they connected. – They did, they did. Again, sometimes you get
lucky and sometimes you don’t. I have an episode that I
really liked the stories that were in the episode that
I wrote a couple years later or a year later. Was it the same year? I can’t remember. Might’ve been even my
second episode that season, called The Susie. And I can tell you, to
this day, it doesn’t work. Those stories are as much
me as the Bizarro ones, but it just, can’t explain it. To this day, you’ll laugh,
I once in a blue moon, you know you get a stress dream like oh, I’m in college
and it’s the final exam and whatever? Once in a blue moon, I
will still have a dream where I think I’ve solved The Susie. Oh, I know, if I just
move these scenes around. This is how to fix that story. And, I don’t know, it
haunts me to this day. It doesn’t always work, but in this case, everything did work. – You build a relationship
with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, obviously. What was it about your connection that made her want to bring you onto Veep? You’re taking over for Veep in the. – I’ll say a couple things, which is, it’s funny. We’re not particularly
that far apart in age, when you actually do the math. But interestingly, at the time, and I don’t mean this in a bad way, she was a mom and I
was a 25 year old idiot living in a rental apartment
driving a leased car. I don’t know what to say. The moat seemed bigger at the time. We were certainly, again, I
think we were acquaintances, and I think she liked some
of the stuff I was doing, but I don’t think either of
us would pretend we were. We didn’t know each other’s phone number. I’ll simply say. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It just was what it was. And when we did on Curb, we did the Seinfeld
reunion seasons on Curb. I think we came back together and perhaps she got to see a little more or whatever of me and all that
kinda stuff, in a good way. I’d like to think, lord knows
I thought the world of her, but I’d certainly like to think she knew of my capabilities and qualifications. And I don’t mean, again,
none of this is bad. But I think it was Casey Bloys from HBO, ’cause I’d been doing Curb, that actually was the one that was like, Dave Mandel should do this. She thought it was a good idea, but I know she certainly made sure she checked with Larry, too. I don’t wanna take anything away. It was nice and we did get together. We had all of that as a baseline. I guess I always feel like I’m not sure we knew going into it. I think we knew we were
simpatico, comedy-wise, but I think the genuine affection that came out of the four
or five years of Veep. I was actually just in New York, oddly, and I did this with her for Downhill. And I was thrilled to be
asked and it was so much fun. I didn’t actually ever know
that that’s 100% gonna happen. I knew we were gonna be
simpatico comedy-wise. That is important. I knew she would kill
herself to make Veep good, and so would I. But I didn’t quite know how entangled in each other’s lives we would become. (laughs) – That’s my question. We know she’s a terrific actor. She’s one of the greatest
TV actresses of all time. – We can just say actor, I think. – Actor, actor. What makes her so good? What does she do that’s so special? – She is a brilliant actor that also happens to be hilarious. There are people that are really funny, but often aren’t
necessarily the best actors. That’s just a true thing. And, obviously, there are great actors that are not funny in the least. She puts those two things together. What you’re talking about, and when you think about
what she does on Veep some of the time, the way she can often play a scene, whereas Selina, she’s supposed to be saying
something very positive that she believes in, but she, herself, at
the same time, knows it. Kind of plays that at the same time, but is also, at the same time, playing the sense of I
hope no one catches me. And then a little bit of,
oh, I think this is working. You’re talking people, you can probably count them on one hand. I don’t think people realize
just how good an actor she is. Forget about the comedy. – Also must make for you as a writer, being able to, how far you can push it. You can write to that,
knowing she can do it. – You sit there knowing, I
don’t know how to do this. My directing of her is
always very enjoyable, ’cause all I’m doing is
just telling her to do more. (both laugh) Which a regular person
couldn’t do, but she can, so it makes my job very easy, yeah. – Cool. Thanks for coming back and talking to us.
– Oh, my gosh! Any time. (uplifting music)