Jerry: Interrupting. It's a communication felony. If someone is talking—and I don't care what they're saying or how excited you are to say what you have to say—wait until he or she is finished.
Oprah: Interrupting is like saying, "What I have to say is more significant than what you have to say."
Jerry: Right. When you interrupt, you've stopped listening. People need to be heard.
Oprah: Yes. See, that's another way you're so normal! Everyone says that happy-go-lucky people don't make great comics, that comedians need a dark side. You don't seem to have one.
Jerry: It probably helps that I had a long early career; things didn't just happen for me overnight. I'd been working as a comedian since I was 21, and I didn't get the sitcom until I was 35; by then I'd been knocked around quite a bit. Then I did the show for nine years, and I wasn't going out every night afterward. So at 44, I was unleashed on the world for the first time as a famous person of means. By then I'd gotten a good education in life. But what I had, and more, landed in Eddie Murphy's lap when he was around 22. That's a different puzzle.
Oprah: How so?
Jerry: In every conceivable way. I read about a study that says your brain goes from impulsive to thoughtful over the course of living. So when some old guy comes back to talk to young kids in prison, for instance, and he says, "Don't make the mistakes I made," he can't reach those kids. Their brains are actually built differently. How come we all have a story about some insane thing we did at 22 that we would never do today? Because we're built the same way.
Oprah: I get it. By the time you became successful, you already knew who you were.
Jerry: Right. Being an actor is the art of becoming other people; being a comedian is the art of learning who you are. A good comedian is someone who allows his or her personality to come out. Five minutes after Bill Cosby has been on a stage, you're thinking, "I know this guy."
Oprah: Was Cosby your idol?
Jerry: Still is. I have all his albums.
Oprah: What was it like to meet him for the first time?
Jerry: It was great! I was in Vegas with a friend and we called him up because we'd heard that he talked to young comedians. Next thing I know, I'm in Bill Cosby's dressing room at the Hilton, and he talked to me for two hours! I couldn't believe it. If some guy I'd never heard of called me, he wouldn't be coming to my dressing room. I wish I could be like that, but I'm not. [Laughs]
Oprah: Would you call yourself an introvert?
Oprah: Then when you're onstage, you become an extrovert.
Jerry: Yes. Well, the stage is dark. You don't see any faces. You're essentially alone up there, yet you're reaching people, communicating with them without the intimacy of face-to-face. That's a very free place to be. Every human being wants to connect with humanity in whatever way we can. For me, stand-up comedy is a way to do that, but with gloves on. That's the appeal to a certain personality type. I love people, but I can't talk to them. Onstage, I can.
We Hear You!