Incredible Story of the first comic billionaire- Jerry Seinfield

Jerry Seinfield is a household name thanks to the show “Seinfield”, but his success didn’t end with the final episode. Jerry has been busy with other things since the last season went off the air in 1998. But those royalty cheques keep rolling in. This is the foundation of the massive wealth he has accumulated, but there is much more to the story of Seinfeld fame and fortune. We all know that he is rich but did you know that in 2019, he crossed the threshold of becoming a billionaire. Today I want to take a look at this fascinating journey from a broke performer to the first billionaire comic. But first a brief introduction.

Who is Jerry Seinfield?

Jerry Seinfield is a comedian, producer, director and actor who is most well known for his incredibly popular sitcom. “Seinfield” ran for 9 seasons and is widely recognized as being among the greatest and most influential sitcom of all times. In addition to Seinfield jerry co-wrote and starred in Bee movie in 2007 and hosted a reality series called The Marriage Ref for two seasons beginning in 2010. He has had a long and successful stand-up career and his newest special, “Jerry before Seinfield” was released on Netflix in 2017. He also launched a web series called “Comedians in cars getting coffee” in 2012. And in 2018 show moved to Netflix for its 10th season. We all are familiar with Seinfield, where it ended up. But where did it all began?

Where it all began

When Seinfield was as young as 10 years old, he became obsessed with the stand-up comedians he watched on TV. He spent hours and hours studying their sets and form. While attending Queen’s College, he tested out his own material open mic nights and got encouraged by the response. After he graduated in 1976, he performed free at an open mic night at a comedy club in New York City called “Catch a rising star”. This landed him a spot on HBO special with comedic giant Rodney Dangerfield. It was until 5 years later he began to make a name for himself in the comedic world with his first appearance in “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson at the age of 27. He was finally beginning to achieve what he felt for a long time wasn’t possible.

The Vision he had

For Seinfield being a comedian was an unrealistic dream. To him, comedians were genius’, and he couldn’t fathom that he could ever be in their realm. Yet he was drawn to comedy all the same and felt compelled to perform. After three weeks of struggling through his first stand-up routines at open mic nights, renowned comedian Jackie Mason happened to be at one of his shows. Jackie pulled Jerry aside and told him that he would be incredibly successful as a comedian. This was all Seinfield needed to hear about developing a vision for attaining that success. He now felt it was possible and would do whatever it took to become one of those greats.

Struggling days faced

Although the vision was clear, the path to success wasn’t. The field of stand-up comedians is notoriously competitive, and there is no guarantee, you will ever make it past the comedy club grind. Jerry was taking any gig he could, and many times he was paid in food rather than actual money. He was only working on his comedy 2-3 days a week, and he was in danger of giving up altogether. Then one day he saw a construction crew finishing up their lunch break and heading back to work. It occurred to him that he was as dedicated to comedy as those workers to their jobs.  It would take his focus and relentless work ethic for becoming one of the few comedians that makes it.  From that day forward, he worked on his comedy every day without fail. He knew that being funny and naturally talented wasn’t enough. He had to want it more than anything else.

The turning point

After years of making the rounds of comedy clubs, his first one-hour comedy special titled “Stand-up confidential” premiered on HBO on September 1987. One day after performing to “catch a rising star”, Jerry and a fellow comedian Larry David wandered into a nearby store called “Lease market”. They began riffing some of the items there. There was immediate comedic chemistry between the two, and this is when the first spark of the Seinfield show was created. At that time David was working as a writer for the NBC show “Saturday Night Live”, and Seinfield’s agent had been pressuring NBC to develop a show for him. Larry and Jerry decided to work together on a show and finally granted a meeting with NBC executives. They were given the green light to create a pilot called “Seinfield Chronicles” which was later shortened to avoid confusion with another show on the network.

Although the show struggled in its first couple of years, there was even a threat of being cancelled. By season 3 it developed a strong following, and by the 4th it was the most-watched sitcom on American television. This series ended up for 9 seasons from 1988 – 1998 and earned 10 Emmy awards and 3 Golden Globes. The show bought Jerry huge paydays unlike any he had seen before.  In the final season alone, he was paid $267 million. Even after 9 years the show was immensely popular and NBC executives were desperate to keep it on air, but Jerry felt strongly that it was time to call it quits. NBC even offered him to pay $5 million / episode for a total of $110 million just to come back for the 10th season, but he refused. He never regretted that decision because, for him, it was never about the money. He strongly felt to go out on top, and he stands by this decision to this day.

Build up to becoming a first and only comic billionaire

Jerry could have easily chosen to sit back and relax to enjoy the royalties of “Seinfield” for the rest of his life. Every year he receives about $32 million just from “Seinfield” syndication deal. Instead, after the show wrapped, he moved from LA back to New York and dived right back to the stand-up comedy scene. With plenty of money to live comfortably, Seinfield had the freedom to explore many options. Still, he always came back to his true passion for comedy. Today he performs stand-ups about 60 times/year to sold-out crowds. He has also made millions of dollars in appearing in advertisements for various companies and brands including Microsoft, who paid him millions of dollars to promote Microsoft Vista. When it comes to his work, he follows his gut, not others expectations and only sticks to the project as long as he is excited about it. Once that excitement is gone, he quickly moves on. One of his recent ventures is comedians in cars getting coffee. In the show which began as a web series, Seinfield can show off a number of the beautiful and rare cars in his extensive and pricey collection. Netflix picked up the 10th season of the show as a part of the 100 million dollar deal that also includes two stand-up specials and the series back catalogue. Several million dollars come his way from Hulu every year since they hold the rights of Seinfield’s back catalogue. All of these multiple sources of income have accumulated to a net worth of over a $1 billion for Jerry. Out of the roughly 2100 billionaires in the world, Seinfield has remained as the first and the only comic that has ever achieved that level of success.

 What we can learn from his journey

There is one big lesson we can learn from Jerry’s journey to become a billionaire. In the beginning of his career to developing his craft day in and day out whether he felt like it or not. This is the hustle and the grind which is necessary to achieve whatever goal you have set forth. The difference between those who make their goals and those who give up is tenacity. Being able to push through the struggles and overcome adversity and relentless push towards success. And for interesting behind the scenes of the show “Seinfield” and how it continues to influence popular culture today, you should definitely check out the book SEINFELDIA- how a show about nothing changed everything. In this book, the author Jenifer Armstrong looks at the lasting impact of the show and give insights of how the show developed from a fledgeling sitcom to a cultural phenomenon.

While researching his story, I came across this incredible quote that I would love to share with you.

Once you start doing only what you’ve already proven you can do, you’re on the road to death.

Hmm. That’s a little depressing, but the message is compelling. Seinfeld is telling us that the key to life is always taking up new challenges. Don’t become complacent after your initial success. Instead, keep pushing to new heights.

Now the question to you is-

If you had over $1 million in royalty money coming in every year, would you retire and enjoy the fruits of labour or continue on in your career? Let me know your honest thoughts in the comments.

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