The Writer 

Peter Mehlman has written for the Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, and Esquire, but his legacy will be Seinfeld. Peter was a writer on Seinfeld, and a damn good one. Peter wrote over 20 episodes of Seinfeld, which means he's written more episodes than anyone not named Larry David. His episodes include, but are not limited to: "The Yada Yada," "The Virgin," "The Implant," and "The Hamptons."

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I recently reached out to Peter through improper channels and insisted he do our radio program (The I-95 Morning Show). It was the miracle of all miracles, but he agreed and, in doing so, he will be a topic of many of my future conversations. I can name-drop like nobody's business, but I'm going to break a ton of toes with this name.

Youtube/Peter Mehlman
Youtube/Peter Mehlman

The Inquiry 

Lou: How did you find your way to being a writer on Seinfeld? As a kid I never remember anyone pointing to that door, sitcom writer. How does that happen?

Peter: "It happens by luck and it happens by accident. I live in New York in the late 80s and I meet Larry David twice. One weekend, I had like a quarter-share in a Hamptons house and somebody brought him as a guest so I spent one day around him and then I saw him at some other party once. Then, I move to LA, I'm still a freelance magazine writer, writing for GQ and a little for the New York Times, every woman's magazine under the sun from the male point of view. Then I bump into Larry David one day on the street in LA, the key word is bump into, I guess that is two words. Anyway, he knows I'm a writer but he doesn't know that I've never written a script before. He says to me, you know I'm doing this little TV show with Jerry Seinfeld maybe you can write a script for us? Give me a writing sample and I'll pass it on to Jerry, who knows. I gave him an article I wrote in the New York Times, it was an about men column, this kind of funny and somewhat bittersweet which is weird because bitter sweetness is forbidden on Seinfeld. I wrote this article about a day I'd spent in New York after a break-up where I spent the entire day walking about New York City until I spotted a celebrity and then I would go home. My friends and I had great eyes for spotting celebrities in the street. I mean obscure celebrities if there is such a thing as an obscure celebrity. So, I gave that article to Larry and he passed it on to Jerry and the funny thing is, later I found out that Larry had been making this offer to several other people and the only one that Jerry took a shine to was that article so I got a chance to write a script and somehow it worked out and next thing you know, I was loaded." 

Lou: Is there one of your episodes in particular that is near and dear to you? 

Peter: "I would say The Implant just because I think I did my absolute best job on that one, the one with Teri Hatcher. I was still learning as I go and that one, I felt like I figured out how to do this. I'll just come up with like four or five really funny scenes and try to mush them together into one episode. That system never worked again but it worked great on that one. I had all the disjointed ideas about you know, talking to a woman and another girl comes by and Jerry looks at her, stares her down and Elaine says they're fake you know? I had that, I actually had an experience where I tried to get away with using a death in the family fare to get a reduced trip to New York."

Dave: When you were in this writing room, what was it like trying to convince Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld that this would be funny?

Peter: "First I should tell you that we didn't have a writer's room. We pitched ideas individually and they'd go OK, go ahead, write it. You'd pitch all these ideas and you know Jerry or Larry especially would say, oh yeah I like that one, use that one. You'd have to have a certain number of ideas for Elaine and each of the characters. I always felt that if you had a strong Elaine story then you were in business. But, pitching to Larry and Jerry was, you know it was difficult but if you gave a one-line description of a story and they laughed, it was like the greatest feeling in the world."

Seinfeld: The Apartment Fan Experience
Tommaso Boddi

Lou: Seinfeld was the first show I'd ever seen where a main character would make a statement and another main character would completely ignore it or change the subject. I thought that was so brilliant because that is how people really talk, people are not really listening they are waiting for their turn to talk. It was also great because the fact that they ignored it, became it's own mini-joke. 

Peter: "Yeah, I always felt that the opposite of speaking is not listening, the opposite of speaking his waiting. I mean look, these are not good people on the show. They don't live up to any rules of decorum, you know they all have their own agendas. My favorite thing about them is that in one episode they'll completely screw each other over and in the next episode, they're still best of friends."

Lou: It also doesn't marry you to every word that is said. A lot of what I don't like about certain sitcoms is they have to follow that first idea no matter how dumb it may be. On other shows, if that first statement wasn't right-on, wasn't worth following, you still have to follow it. 

Peter: "Yeah, you know Larry was very confident in what he thought was funny. You know, at a table read or the rehearsals you know, certain lines weren't getting laughs he'd go no, it's funny I'm leaving it in. No other show would do that."

Lou: We've all been led to believe that there was little, to no interference from the executives at NBC. Was that really the case? 

Peter: "I would say once we got away, once Larry got away with 22-minutes on masturbation, it was pretty much over." 

Lou: I have imagine that somewhere around Season 3 or 4, the ratings are good, the characters are established and I feel like everyone now knows you don't know what Kramer is going to do. Does that now open up a whole new world of jokes to you with writing for Kramer? 

Peter: "It's funny that you should say that because unlike just about every other writer on the show, I was best at writing and coming up with ideas for Jerry and Elaine. Most writers were big on George and Kramer because they were kind of extreme. I was more like Jerry and I loved writing for Elaine. So, I was actually perpetually troubled by coming up with Kramer stories. The funny thing is, in direct opposition to what you just said, what I finally figured out after like four years was that if I had a story that was for Jerry I could give it to Kramer and he could take it to a crazy place. I would give him very simple story ideas, like he's got a low sperm count or he wants to wear thin jeans. You know, I'd give him those stories and he would take it to a crazy place, it worked out better for me that way." 

Lou: I'm glad you mentioned Elaine, you have a male writing staff, mostly male characters, does that become a challenge writing in a woman's voice for Elaine or does gender just not come into play and you treat her like one of the guys?

Peter: "I think that was one of the great things about the show, you having conversations in mixed company that would normally just be amongst guys. I really had no trouble writing dialogue for Elaine, I don't know why it just came very easy for me."

Seinfeld: The Apartment
Monica Schipper

Lou: Was there ever a major celebrity who was a fan of Seinfeld that tried to use their influence to force their way onto the show?

Peter: "Uh, I don't know about forced their way but oh God. I got a call once, I think it was in my last season from a representative of Paul McCartney who just started loving the show so much and the guy said, Paul would love to be on the show. I said well you know, we don't really pick an actor and write a story for them. If they happen to fit in like Keith Hernandez, great or Marisa Tomei, great but we don't do it that way. But, if it does work out I'll get back to you. I happened to mention this to Julia-Louis Dreyfus and she almost wanted to kill me. She was such a Beatles fan and she goes, you write a script for Paul, you get him in and I have to be kissing him in the show. That one, I kind of got endless grief for."

Lou: We all know this show made a lot of people, a lot of money. I'm sure NBC took several shots at Jerry and Larry to try and get them to do a reunion or bring the show back. Did that ever come close to being a reality and if so, what were the numbers like?

Peter: "I really don't know to tell you the truth, I don't know. I'm sure that probably went straight from NBC to Jerry's manager George Shapiro, to Jerry and it ended there. That is what I would assume because no matter how successful it is people kind of want to move on. I left before the final season, the last episode I had written in Season 8 had been "Yada Yada. I thought that was a good one to get out on. The funny thing is I had a development deal after that with Dreamworks and I had an office still on that lot so me and Dave Mandel got together and wrote the backward episode."

The Personal Obsession

I used to leave Seinfeld on the TV and sleep with it on all night. I thought this was about comfort and being with my four best friends all night. But then I read that this is a coping mechanism for people who have experienced trauma. Who knows if that is true; if so, it's a shame because I have no immediate plans of sorting that out.

I wasn't leaving Seinfeld on because I could stream it on Netflix; there was no Netflix back then. In the mid to late '90s, I'd watch every new episode on NBC and record it. Then, I'd watch the older syndication episodes and record those. I didn't do that because I didn't have the old episodes on VHS; I did it as a way of making mixtapes. I'd splice together different episodes with a similar tone, and then I would be able to watch based on mood (morning mist).

There was a goofy mix that had episodes of Seinfeld that featured Kramer's more over-the-top antics, the kind where he's making sausages with Newman. Then, I'd pair together some of the more cerebral comedic episodes. An episode like "The Yada Yada" fit really well with "The Virgin" for me. It didn't make sense at the time, but I now know why. They were written by the same man, Peter Mehlman.

I used to look at fans (FANATICS) and think there was something really wrong with them until I found Seinfeld. Once I realized a slice of pop culture could impact me in such a deep way, I stopped making (so much) fun of "fans."

It was not just a show to me; it was a way of life. My whole personality changed, and all I wanted to do was make biting sarcastic remarks about everything I saw. Every little thing became something I could deconstruct in the name of a joke.

This was probably not the best route to take in real life, but there is no going back now. It may have damaged my personal life, but it did wonders for my career. I'm a radio show host and a damn good one. I've been doing this job for almost 25 years now (since 1999), and radio has taken me places I'd always wanted to go. It afforded me the opportunity to do some acting, writing, and even 3 years of stand-up comedy.

No matter where you point on my career timeline, you will find the influence of Seinfeld. I started making Seinfeld references the first day I opened a microphone at a radio station, and I have not stopped.

No, my show is not ALL Seinfeld, and we don't force things in, but these moments come up where Seinfeld not only fits the discussion but it becomes a shared experience that brings me closer to the listeners. Most, not all but most of us, have this thing in common. We've seen life through the lens of a specific style of humor that can make the most mundane tasks tolerable.


Thank you to Peter Mehlman for indulging the I-95 Morning Show and our listeners.

The Rest 

Our full interview with Seinfeld writer Peter Mehlman is available below in three-parts.

Part 1 - How Peter met Larry David and Peter's favorite Seinfeld episode

Part 2 - Does Peter get sick of watching Seinfeld? What top-flight guest actor that blew Peter away. Peter talks about seeing Yada-Yada in ads and the money everyone made from the show.

Part 3 - Does Peter think that Jerry & George were based on Larry David? When did Jerry's character transform? Was there creative fatigue towards the end of the show?

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