May 24, 2019

Comedian George Wallace talks Jerry Seinfeld, Judaism in comedy, success and more

“>Downtown Magazine. As Jerry Seinfeld's best friend for decades, the theme of Judaism came up a few times within our Q&A, which felt right to post within the “>


You and Jerry started doing comedy together in 1976. Were there are any comics mentored you in those early days?

George Wallace: Not really. I've wanted to be a comedian since I was six years old. I watched Redd Foxx, Red Skelton is why I'm in the business, Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers, Moms Mabeley and anybody else who did comedy, because when we started there were only three networks and you had to be clean to get on those stations. So that's why [David] Letterman and [Jay] Leno and Seinfeld and [Garry] Shandling and most of us in that school are kind of clean. And the about 15 years later, the Eddie Murphys came along and then HBO, Def Comedy Jam, people start to express themselves in a different way with any kind of language…Nowadays you can say anything on pretty much any network, they just bleep it now. So mentors, I always loved David Brenner, what he did, he was kind of smart. Another mentor, not a mentor, I worked with him one time, maybe twice, and I start reading his books and I didn't finish the book, that was George Carlin. I started the book, I think it was Brain Droppings, I put the book down because this guy was so smart, I'm going “Shit, I thought I thought of that.” There were things I thought. “Operators are standing by, why are they standing, they're sitting.” There's about four or five of them and I said, “You know what, I'm not going to read anymore.” This was disappointing. He was so smart. Everybody learned a little something from Bill Cosby at that time. We were making a change into the Richard Pryor era. We were younger and everybody was so damn clean and had to be like him to make it…Mentoring? We just worked hard. We just went onstage five times a night, seven times a night. That's why I'm still into it. People can't believe I'm as old as I am and I'm still with a yellow pad at The Comic Strip and Stand Up New York and at the [Comedy] Cellar. They're going, “He's still out here doing that?” That's all I know how to do. That's my sex, that's my drugs, that's just what we do.

As a comic, how does your approach compare to Jerry’s?

George: We're two completely differently styles of comedy.

Well, you’re both observational comics…

George: You're definitely right. He's structured, he writes every day, he writes everything out. Me, I just write the subject. I went on-stage at Caroline's two weeks ago, and the MC, I just said “Stay here” and gave him the pad. I had him give me the subjects and I would run that way. Whereas Seinfeld, the whole thing is written from A to Z. He's really structured, he's really good too, he pisses me off sometimes with the premises he does. I watch him sometimes, Seinfeld is so good, but then I think I'm a better comic than him. I interact with the audience, I can get the crowd going crazy…But I'm blessed to be his best friend.

Did you ever visit his family on Long Island?

George: We were all just together last week. We're a family. We've been together to everything since 1979. I know his mom, dad, sister…Are you Jewish?

Yes I am.

George: Is it supposed to be one of the grandfathers that holds one of the legs at the briss? I think it is and I was asked to do it. When his mother died, I was asked to stand next to Jerry carrying the coffin. I'm into the family thing and I've done the dinners. That's when we really became friends, he invited me to his house for Thanksgiving in 1976. I'm a Georgia boy, I don't know anything about Jewish culture, all I know is that you had gefilte fish or something like that and I ain't eating it. I was ignorant…Everybody said, “You've got to go visit.” I got there and sitting around and I'm talking and they say dinner's ready and I'm so nervous…When I went to sit down on the dining table with his whole family, I'm just scared as hell and guess what they had at the dinner table? They had turkey, they had string beans, they had mashed potatoes, they had everything any family would have in America for Thanksgiving. I was like, “This is cool.” His dad was really funny, he used to say things like, “You want another piece of cake? One more piece of cake? You might as well, they're gonna say you ate it anyway.” (laughs) Just being a part of the family, we're all still family today. My mother died when I was 16, my dad when I was 18, so I've known Jerry longer than anybody. He's the closest person to me, maybe in my life.

You’re known to be one of the smarter and more well-adjusted comics out there…

George: There are so many things that I don't know, though. I need to go back to school. I didn't learn anything about the Holocaust when I was down in Georgia. But when I went to college in Akron, Ohio, those kids knew nothing about Black History, and I'm talking about black people. It was just black and white people there. There were a lot of Jews in Atlanta, it's always been the most progressive city because Jews and blacks got along together. Even when I grew up, my mom was a housekeeper growing up, sometimes working for Jews. But blacks and Jews were always close, blacks and Jews created the NAACP.

Well, blacks and Jews shaped hip-hop, like Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin co-founding Def Jam and Eazy-E and Jerry Heller being at the helm of N.W.A.

George: You know all of that, huh?