It has been 15 years since Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer said goodbye to NBC's must-see Thursday lineup for the last time, but Jason Alexander is still recognized and introduced as Seinfeld's Jason Alexander pretty much wherever he goes.
Q: Winnipeg is kind of an out-of-the-way destination for you. How did you and the Negev Gala find each other?
A: There's no magic to it, really. About a year ago, I started doing a new standup (comedy) show, converted from a show I used to do that was slightly more theatrical, playing a character all night. It has morphed and become this other show, and it plays at all kinds of venues -- performing-arts centres, casinos, corporate events... and somebody at the Negev decided, "We should bring that Los Angeles Jew up to Winnipeg to perform at our event." It's as simple as that. And hey -- Winnipeg in the summertime; why not?
Q: You describe this as a standup-comedy show, but in the long span of your career on television, in movies and on Broadway, you haven't really been known as a standup. Is this latest direction a result of having worked alongside comics like Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David for so long?
A: I'm sure that's part of it. If someone asked me today, "Do you do standup?", I would say, "No, but I do a show where I play a standup comedian." To me, the notion of being a standup comedian is so frightening, because I've seen some of the very best, and I know what that entails. I know I don't think like them, and I don't quite understand how they do what they do.
This show is the result of a very, very slow evolution that started 20 years ago, when out of the blue I suddenly started being asked to MC and host things. To do that, you need a couple of minutes, so I found a guy who's a wonderful writing partner, and we started creating these two- or three-minute pieces that gradually became five-minute pieces and then a 30-minute piece that eventually became more of a concert night.
Q: So what you're saying is that when you do this show, you're not exhibiting the soul of a comedian; you're an actor playing a comedian.
A: That's how I think of it -- I see it as a theatrical monologue, and it's a character named Jason Alexander that I'm going to play. The truth is that the real me would never, ever get up on a stage and try to do this. The one thing that is truly genuine when I do this is that in order to do this show, I must develop a rapport with the audience, because I use the audience quite a bit. And that's very joyful for me -- after all these years of being an actor, and having to create a fourth wall between the audience and myself, to have that wall go away and to be able to talk directly to them and play with them and have them be part of the evening is a complete joy for me. The rest of it, however, is a character, just like George Costanza or anybody else I've played.
Q: Most people in these parts know you only as a TV and movie actor. What should they expect from a live evening with Jason Alexander?
A: The surprise, for most people, is that there's a bit of a variety flavour to this -- there's a bit of music, which tends to surprise people who didn't know I sing, and then there's some material that talks about Seinfeld, including a bit of a Q&A, and a few other things.
When I do this show in a theatre, it's called An Evening With Jason Alexander and His Hair, because a couple of years ago I started wearing -- whenever I choose to -- this hairpiece. I wear it in the show, and I begin by talking about it, and why it's there, and things that people do to try to make themselves look a certain way. And it leads into topics that we all have to deal with -- body issues, relationship issues. With the exception of the Seinfeld stuff, this show -- like all good standup comedy -- deals with stuff that we're all familiar with and we all struggle with.
Q: Speaking of Seinfeld, it has literally been 15 years since that show ended. Have you made peace with the fact that George Costanza is going to be with you for the rest of your life?
A: Oh, yeah -- we made our peace with that when the show hit its apex. We all kind of said, "Well, that's it." The day I die, the New York Times will probably say, "George Costanza died today." But it's actually kind of an amazing thing, and I don't think any of us are unhappy with the impact of the show or the iconic status it has achieved.
Q: A quick look at your resum© shows that you've done pretty much everything in show business -- TV, movies, Broadway, cartoon voiceovers, live comedy, music videos. What are the passions that drive you creatively these days?
A: I have a huge desire to get back to New York and get back on the stage. That was my first passion, but I've kept it at arm's length in order to be a good father. Now that my youngest, my baby boy, is graduating high school next year, that will free me to go pretty much anywhere I want to go, and my guess is that I'll get back to Broadway. Also, a lot of the passion, for me, has gone over to the directing and producing side, rather than in the performing. If I could dramatically increase my opportunities for directing, on TV or film or stage, I would probably be more than happy with not performing for a while.
Q: In recent years, you've become a presence in the poker world. How did that come about?
A: It kind of happened with the whole celebrity-poker craze that started about 15 years ago. I thought poker was just a game, in which you look at your cards and you gamble. I didn't know there were skills and tools and so many other things involved. Once I started being introduced to the inside nuances of the game, I became really intrigued with what I don't know and what I'll never know. And the world of poker, in the last 15 years, has produced a lot of great characters. Every time I sit at a poker table, I end up being fascinated by at least three or four people at that table. I find it all quite thrilling; I don't know why it intrigues me so much, but it truly does. I'm going back to the World Series of Poker in July with my pipe dream in hand.
Q: One last thing, and as a Canadian, I think I'm required by some obscure law to ask this -- what's the deal with you appearing in a Nickelback video (Trying Not To Love You, in which Alexander plays a lovelorn latt©-slinging barista smitten with a comely customer played by Baywatch alumna Brooke Burns)?
A: Boy, you know, they don't get a lot of love, do they? I took a bit of a thrashing for doing that one. Actually, I didn't know Nickelback very well -- I'm not really up on the music scene -- but I heard the song and kind of liked it, and then I asked my son about Nickelback. He said, "Aaah, some people love 'em, some people hate 'em," which I figured was true of the whole music world. So I dove in, mostly because I got to work with my friend Brooke, which I knew would be a lot of fun. I actually love the video and the song, but I'm not really knowledgeable about the larger Nickelback catalogue, so if you tell me I should hang my head in shame, I will believe you. But it was a lot of fun to do.
Jason Alexander will appear at the 2013 Negev Gala, honouring the Arab Jewish Dialogue, on Tuesday, June 4 at the Centennial Concert Hall. Tickets range from $80 to $280 (tax receipts will be issued for charitable-contribution portion), and are available from the JNF office at 204-947-0207 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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