Jerry Seinfeld on Preaching?

by Glenn on November 15, 2015

Some time ago I watched an interview of Jerry Seinfeld by David Letterman on the subject of Seinfeld’s web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

There was one moment in this interview that really struck me. At 30:13  Letterman says,

“There’s something I’ve known all my life … there are guys … who are in comedy and they are funnier at the table than they will ever be on stage.”

At 30:53,  Seinfeld responds,

“Being funny has not that much to do with what a great comedy act is about. A great comedy act is a machine that’s built. Being funny is the fuel, but you’ve got to have a whole machine to burn it—and that’s the act.

“…An attitude and a joke structure, segueways, shaping of themes—you’ve got to build it. An act has to be built.”

Here is the video cued up. It’s worth watching for a few minutes because at 33:48 Jerry tells “a comedian joke.”

What struck me about Jerry’s statement is how much he downplayed “being funny” as a means of success for a stand-up comedian. I don’t think I had enough appreciation for the art of stand-up comedy until I watched the 2002 documentary about Seinfeld, “Comedian,” where we followed Seinfeld as he got rid of his old material and created a brand-new comedy act. It was pretty inspiring.

I can’t get that statement of his from this interview out of my head: “A great comedy act is a machine that’s built.” I began to wonder if perhaps a comedian has something to say to preachers.

Is there is a parallel for preaching? There are preachers who are deeply spiritual. They walk the talk as we like to say. But being spiritual alone doesn’t make you a great preacher. Being spiritual doesn’t mean you can give a great sermon.

I imagine this conversation between two preachers:

Preacher A:
“There are guys who are in ministry and they are better preachers in conversation than they will ever be behind the pulpit.”

Preacher B:
“Being spiritual has not that much to do with what a great sermon is about. A great sermon is a machine that’s built. Being spiritual is the fuel, but you’ve got to have a whole machine to burn it—and that’s the sermon.

“…An attitude and an organization and transitions, a beginning, middle, and end. You’ve got to build a sermon.”

It’s not an either/or proposition. You shouldn’t discount the importance of a deep walk with Jesus for a preacher. But preachers need to work on their craft.

“A sermon is a machine that’s built.” I think that rings true.