It’s a rainy fall morning in New York City when an unassuming man walks into the Remedy Diner on the Lower East Side.
White, middle-aged, hood pulled over his head, he could be mistaken at first glance for just another of the LES’s recent yuppie transplants. But there are a few tells that indicate this isn’t your average 60-year-old normcore banker. Maybe it’s the fully-3M’d Nike Olympic Jacket, or the pristine blue, green, and white Nike Huarache sneakers. Or maybe it’s the “J.S.” scrawled on the Starbucks cup he’s clutching as he steps through the door. Not many guys in dad jeans are known to baristas around town just by their initials. Jerry Seinfeld is in the house.
Seinfeld’s come to the Remedy to meet a friend. Back in the ’90s, Jerry’s regular diner companion was an anxious, balding, unemployed “architect” named George, a guy who favored Nike Cortez and was prone to occasional fits of temper. Jerry’s breakfast buddy today is Wale, a renowned D.C. rapper who sports a full head of dreadlocks and a pair of crisp, $2,000 “What the Dunk” Nike SBs (he’s brought along a pair of Jordans for Jerry). Wale, too, is known for emotional outbursts, like the time he threatened a Complex employee because his album The Gifted didn’t make a list of the 50 Best Albums of 2013. (It’s water under the bridge now.) When they see each other, the Maybach Music Group MC and the comedy god embrace like old friends.
The Seinfeld-Wale friendship isn’t quite as odd as it seems (although let’s face it, it’s still a little odd). Wale’s been rapping about Seinfeld since 2008, when he dropped The Mixtape About Nothing, which took inspiration from episode titles and samples of the show and featured a shout-out from actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who played Elaine Benes. After hearing the mixtape, an appreciative Seinfeld arranged to meet Wale backstage at a 2008 gig in Baltimore. They later discussed working together on The Album About Nothing, which led to the comedian appearing on The Gifted’s “Outro About Nothing,” where Seinfeld sounds perplexed that he’s shown up to record vocals and Wale isn’t ready to start the project.
This year, Seinfeld truly goes from being Wale’s inspiration to his collaborator. The comedian is all over Wale’s forthcoming The Album About Nothing, serving as a sort of narrator and muse, contributing spoken-word segments that form the basis for many of the songs. It’s clear the pair’s relationship runs deeper than a few recorded skits. He’s not the hip-hop zen master Rick Rubin is, but Seinfeld seems to have a calming influence on Wale. Jerry’s life lessons spawned entire tracks on the album, and his sage (and hilarious) wisdom on art and fame have allowed the rapper to view the world a little differently. Whereas Wale is admittedly on edge, Jerry is calm. Whereas Wale seems to care too much about haters, Jerry couldn’t care less.
Comic, rapper; serene, excitable; Huaraches, SBs: Jerry Seinfeld and Wale complement each other in ways that only good friends can. Over 30 minutes, the two sip coffee and discuss the important issues of the day: sneakers, suicide, strippers, and sorcery (yes, sorcery). Sometimes it’s difficult to tell exactly what it’s all about but one thing is clear: It’s not about nothing.
Interesting sneaker choice, going with the Huaraches today, Jerry. Internet rumors say you have more than 500 pairs of sneakers.
Jerry Seinfeld: Nobody has 500 of anything.
Wale: I beg to differ.
JS: You have 500 sneakers?
W: Yeah. [Laughs.]
JS: Well, I never had that many.
W: I’ve lost 500 sneakers. I have two sneaker rooms, one in L.A. and one in Jersey. And I have what is essentially a sneaker room in my mother’s house.
JS: Why is it so important? To feel right?
W: I don’t know. White shoes make me happy. Remember? There’s a song on the album called “White Shoes.” On it, Jerry says he was wearing white shoes and a lady stopped him on the street and asked him why he liked white shoes. He said, “I don’t know. They make me happy.” The idea for the record was to call it “White Shoes” because, where we come from, it’s such a vanity thing. That’s the first thing a woman would notice on you, the shoes.
JS: They say you judge a man by his wife, his car, and his shoes. Those three things will tell you everything you need to know him. I got into white sneakers because of Billy “White Shoes” Johnson and Joe Namath. Those were the two guys wearing white in the NFL. All of a sudden, the game had a lot more flair.
Are you familiar with the “normcore” movement?
JS: Mmm hmm. Mmm hmm.
W: What’s that?
It’s stonewashed jeans, basic tops—dad style. It turned into a fashion statement recently, and Jerry is credited as being one of the forefathers.
JS: It’s kind of like, looking bad. My problem is, how do we make sure people know that I’m doing this intentionally? [Laughs.]
Was it funny that something you did in the ’90s came back now?
JS: Kind of funny, but kind of sad that we’re always looking back for a new idea.
W: It goes back to the idea that everything’s been done, essentially.
JS: Well, that’s not true, either.
W: You don’t think so?
JS: Everything’s been done? Then why get up in the morning?
W: Do it different. Find a new way to do something that’s been done.
JS: Or do something that’s never been done.
What’s tougher: to rap on the spot or be funny on the spot?
W: Probably to be funny. Because you gotta play off somebody’s emotions. Being a comedian is probably the most pressure, next to being a quarterback in New York City or something like that.
JS: Yeah. [Laughs.] I do this thing in my show where I say, “I know there’s a lot of people here because somebody wanted to go and you said, ‘If you want to go, I’ll go.’ You didn’t really want to go.” There’s always a lot of,“You want to go, I’ll go” people. So I acknowledge them.
But at this stage in your career, you don’t need to win as many people over as Wale does, right?
JS: I definitely have an advantage. Last night, I went up at a club and people were excited that I was there. And I said, “You’re just excited because you didn’t have to pay for this. And now you have a story and a picture you could show.” But then, I always say, nobody laughs at a reputation. A laugh has a pure, natural beauty to it. You don’t laugh because somebody made you laugh 10 years ago.
This may make you laugh. Wale is obsessed with wrestling. I kind of am, too.
W: Stop it!
Jerry, how do you feel about that?
JS: About you two being wrestling fans and me not? I find it entertaining.
Do you guys discuss your wrestling obsession?
W: We talk but Jerry doesn’t understand it.
JS: I understand it!
W: He’s like, “You watch that rubbish?!”
JS: Everything’s rubbish. It’s all rubbish. Whatever you like, you like.
W: I like the rubbish.
JS: You should. If you like it, it makes sense.
W: Thank you, Jerry. You always make me feel better.
JS: I like a lot of stuff that I would never try to explain to somebody else. I saw this video years ago that started me thinking I wanted to do more Internet stuff. A guy made a video because he got new Timberlands. He slowly opens the box, and then—you know the sound that the paper makes? He puts the Timbs on and just walks around. His polished wood floor makes that squeaky sound. You never see him above the ankles. And I’d watch it over and over again. He made a beauty video of when you get your new shoes home and you open the box and you’re going to put them on for the first time. That’s a special moment, right? I like people who say, “Let’s just do something with this moment.” A forgotten moment. A meaningless moment. I probably can’t get you into that, but you understand?
W: I get it, yeah. I totally get it.
JS: I like the tissue paper of the shoe box.
W: Respect. [Laughs.] I think [wrestling’s] a little more fascinating, but you probably think shoe opening is more fascinating. I’m going to Google the Timberland man.
JS: You can’t find it anymore. I tried. And they were blue.
W: Blue Timberlands! Gotcha.
What’s tougher to deal with: Twitter hecklers or real-life hecklers on stage?
W: Are you familiar with Twitter hecklers?
JS: Oh, yeah.
Do you read your Twitter mentions and look at hate?
JS: Yeah. It has no substance for me. It’s like when somebody has a cigarette and they blow the smoke in your face. It’s going to be gone in two seconds. I don’t care. [Looks at Wale.] Oh, he’s upset. [Laughs.]
W: I handle it differently. It’s different!
JS: Why do you give these people meaning?
W: I don’t know, Jerry. I don’t know.
JS: You don’t have to! It’s your choice.
W: I try to rationalize with people. Like, “Why do you feel this way?”
JS: Who cares!?
W: I don’t know. Nine times out of 10, when I respond, I just want to find out what’s the root of it. Somebody says, “If I fuck with him, he’s gonna react.” What then? Did you win any money? Did your life become better? Why would you do that? Why is this entertaining to you? I just don’t understand why.
JS: Yeah, well I have a terrace at my apartment and it’s fantastic. You have to come see it sometime. Every time I go out on that terrace I think, Maybe I’ll jump. [Wale laughs.] Because if I jump, the list of things I don’t have to do is so long, the issues I don’t have to deal with. All I have to do is jump and everything is taken care of! Now, I don’t jump. But I don’t care to know why I want to jump. What’s the difference why? The mind is not that great.
W: I would love to know what makes [somebody] want to not be involved with what I’m doing. Maybe I’m vain. Maybe I’m crazy. We’re all a little bit crazy.
JS: Let me tell you why they don’t want to be involved with you. Let me tell you why they don’t like you. Every person has a different reason—and none of them have anything to do with you!
W: Aren’t I allowed to want to know why, though?
JS: No. No. Not in my world. You’re not allowed. You want to know why I want to jump off the terrace?
W: But you weren’t being serious.
JS: I am being serious.
W: You think about jumping off the terrace?
JS: Every time.
JS: I look over it and I think, I could do it. I could do it. I’m on the 19th floor. [Laughs.] All I got to do is jump.
W: You’re scaring us, Jerry.
JS: But there’s nothing there. There’s nothing there to explore, is my point. I’m not going to a shrink to find out why I want to jump off the terrace. That’s a waste of another hour!
W: [Laughs.] I don’t want you to think like that anymore, so maybe I’ll stop.
JS: You’ve wanted to, too.
W: Yeah, but I’m not as rich as you are.
JS: But you’ve been on terraces. You’ve been on roofs.
W: Yeah, I think about it sometimes.
JS: Why? Because the human brain is not as good as this: [Pulls out the iPhone 6.] That’s why. The human brain has bugs in it. It needs an update. A bug fix.
W: Our conversation about relationships with fans and breakdowns makes a lot more sense. I was telling you about the breakdowns. I asked you about your peace and quiet time. I was like, “What is this sorcery you speak of?”
JS: I found [peace].
W: I need to find it. Well, I found it recently. I accepted certain things. I did radio all day yesterday and I was like, “OK, I’m emotional. Can we get into the music now?”
JS: I bought a Buddha a couple days ago. In a snowglobe. Having Buddha around is good.
W: For the chakras. I’m learning about this energy thing. This album, some of the conversations, I just keep playing back in my head. The roller coaster of relationships. Sometimes I go through the dips, and I’m like, this is just a dip. It’ll be all right later.
JS: You’re always going to dip. Up and down. The whole thing. As long as you don’t fall in love with a stripper.
W: That’s half the rappers. We’re going to have to take you to Atlanta.
JS: I talk about it as if I could deal with it, but I wouldn’t be any different than you.
W: Well, I started young. I got exposed to strippers at a young age, so I can fight their sorcery.
JS: Right, that’s what it is. It’s sorcery.
W: All strip clubs in the South have chicken, macaroni and cheese, and fried fish.
When’s the last time you were in a strip club, Jerry?
JS: A bachelor party in the mid-’90s. I went reluctantly. You know, you go there and it’s just...you know.
W: It’s not all it’s cracked up to be sometimes.
JS: It’s exactly what it’s cracked up to be. It’s just not cracked up that high.
W: Well, Magic City is an experience.
JS: Is that in Atlanta? I don’t know what that is. But I know what girls are.
W: Yeah. Never say never. You have social gatherings at Magic City. Chicken socials and shit like that. You just go there with your friends. It’s different. I’ve done interviews at Magic City.
JS: I know what you’re saying. I understand chicken and naked women.
W: Can’t beat that.
JS: I’d actually rather just have the chicken. I can’t eat chicken and look at strippers at the same time.
W: It’s an acquired taste. Literally.
JS: How about oatmeal and strippers?
W: No, see that’s lumpy, creamy, weird, sticky.
JS: But a wing is a mess!
W: Not necessarily. When you have napkins and proper shit like that, it’s cool. Oatmeal is disgusting. Oatmeal and strippers. That’s repugnant.
With the two mixtapes paying homage to Seinfeld, and your real-life friendship, was the collaboration on Wale’s new album always bound to happen?
JS: There’s no collaborating, it’s his album.
JS: He asked me to be part of it and talk. It’s his gift, I’m just a bystander. I love being around him and watching how he does it because it’s different from what I do. It’s a whole different process.
W: I’m funneling his wisdom. I talk to Jerry and I listen. Then I go to the studio and capture those moments. What do I agree with? Am I conveying this message to a broader audience? It’s like a writing drill. Jerry talks in metaphor a lot. When “this” is like “that,” it’s easy for everybody to understand.
JS: When I did the TV series, there was a writer on the show named Larry Charles. He said that if I were a superhero, I’d be “Analogy Lad.” If you had a problem, Analogy Lad would bust into the wall and say, “You know what this is like?” He can’t help you, but he’ll tell you exactly what it’s like.
Wale has had a rough relationship with COMPLEX. Have you heard the phone call he made to us last December?
JS: I love it. That was good entertainment.
W: It’s all an angle. I learned that from wrestling. It’s just like a story. My devious plot.
JS: All good entertainment.
W: [Laughs.] Well, at the moment it wasn’t entertainment.
JS: I know, but that’s what makes it good. I enjoyed it. I was laughing so hard.
W: I got burned for that, though.
JS: You did?!
W: Yeah, a lot of people called me on that.
W: Because it’s not good to call and yell at people and be like that.
JS: I disagree. That was fun for everyone involved. Even the guy on the phone, look at the story he got. You filled in a lot of air with that.
W: It wasn’t fun for me, though. It’s good now to laugh at it.
JS: Well then, it’s good! All good entertainment starts with a painful moment. And if you’re an artist you can take that pain and do something.
W: I learned from it. Although I wasn’t happy with certain things in my career, I checked some things in myself. It’s rough to try to act like this doesn’t affect me, so when things happen, why not let people know it’s affecting me and move on with my life? I’m more open with how I feel, like, “I don’t like this, but it’s not the end of the world, let’s keep moving.” I don’t think it’ll happen again.
JS: No, I don’t think it will. It’d be tough to beat. If it happened again you’d have to be even angrier.
W: I bowed out. One and done.
JS: It’s a good one, though. It was a classic.
Jerry, you dismiss the burden of celebrity. Wale does not. What advice would you give him to help him deal with it?
JS: This is why the universe put us together. I am here to relieve you of this burden.
W: I’m listening. I would love to hear this part.
JS: It’s just a choice.
W: I don’t understand the world’s fascination with celebrity. My admiration for people like you or Jay Z is because of your talent. Now, people are famous without having talent.
JS: There’s a fame need. We need people to look at or talk about to just fill the time. They say life is too short. It’s way too long! And we’re filling it in with a lot of fake stuff. Like wrestling. Like stars who have no talent!
JS: Shoe-trying-on. There’s a lot of stuff. Maybe I’ll jump, maybe I won’t. We have to come up with things to fill in the time. There are old people sitting on cruise ships, doing crossword puzzles, just trying to finish it up. [Wale laughs.] They didn’t want all that time! But it’s there. That’s why there are a lot of no-talent celebrities, just to fill in the air. We’ve got too much time, too much space. Too many gigabytes.
JS: I love when he says “respect.”
W: It’s like the end of the chapter.