Jerry Seinfeld Talks to YouTube Star Colleen Ballinger About Why the Internet Is Better Than TV

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Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Jerry Seinfeld first heard of comedian Colleen Ballinger when his 13-year-old daughter Sascha suggested he watch a YouTube video of Ballinger's obnoxious, tone-deaf, spiteful persona Miranda Sings. He was instantly impressed by her ability to make both him and his daughter laugh. As a result, he invited Ballinger to appear on his web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, in character as Miranda. The episode, which the pair shot in October, debuts tomorrow. (Watch a trailer for the episode here.) Earlier this week, Vulture spoke with Seinfeld and Ballinger to get the scoop on their surprising and intriguing partnership and learned why Seinfeld insists TV is a “small” medium.

So, Jerry, how, exactly, did you come to do this episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Miranda Sings?
Jerry Seinfeld: Well, I remember sitting in my daughter’s room. She said, “Hey, you want to see something funny?” I said, “Okay.” And she hands me her phone, and it’s this video of Miranda responding to hate-mail. I mean, she was just laughing and laughing at this and said, “You’ve got to see this.” I said, “Is this something that you and your friend watch?” She said, “Yeah, it’s really popular.” I watched it, and I laughed, and I didn’t think that much more about it. And then she would say, “You want to see another one?” And I would watch another one. I started to see that there was a very well-developed character there, and a very talented performer. I became very interested in that it was just as funny to me as it was to my daughter, who is 13. Normally I’m not a big fan of the crap that they watch, but this was really making me laugh. I’ve been around a bit, and I can tell when someone’s really funny. This was on a different level comedically for me.

And Colleen, I imagine you were quite excited to find out Jerry wanted to include you on his show?
Colleen Ballinger: It was surreal for me because I grew up watching him. I’ve seen every episode of Seinfeld. I was like, He must just want me to promote it or something. I did not think he actually wanted me on the show. I thought, There’s no way that was possible. So when he called me and actually asked me to be on it, I was just over the moon. I was really excited because I’ve looked up to him my whole life. 

Had you guys planned anything out script-wise for this episode, or was it entirely improvised?
JS: Well, we did meet the night before. I wanted Colleen to feel comfortable with me and get used to the idea that I trusted her and her character and that she could do this. So we got together the night before at Jerry’s Deli in Studio City, and we just hung out and we had coffee. We just talked, and then we kicked around some ideas of what we could do. I wanted her to feel comfortable insulting me because I knew that would be funny if Miranda was hostile to me. I said, “I just want you to come on the show, take over, and completely treat me like garbage.”

[Both laugh.]

JS: That’s a lot to ask someone to do. I remember the old days of doing my TV series, guest stars would come on, and at a certain point their knees would shake. You’ve got to help a performer get past that. She seemed to have absolutely no problem with that. She’s very cool under pressure. I didn’t see a wobble or any sense of her feeling like, This is a bit of a break for me. [To Colleen] Did you feel that? Some nerves?

CB: Oh, wow! I’m a much better actress than I thought [laughs]. I was extremely nervous. You can ask my fiancé. I was quite a mess for a couple days before we shot. But going out with you the night before and talking really did help because I wasn’t quite sure what I could do with you. Miranda is typically quite hostile and mean to everyone she meets, but obviously I was very nervous to do that to you, Jerry, because you’re Jerry. If we hadn’t gotten together, it would have been a much different episode. 

JS: Yeah. I think it would have been a little too difficult to get in the swing the way we did. It was thrilling. It was very different for me, because we’re essentially doing a bit.

That was why I wondered if there was a script.
JS: Nothing. We had nothing. I mean, Colleen, your ability to catch on instantly ... you’ve gotta be really cool to do something like that. I could not have been more impressed. Colleen, you haven’t even seen the episode, have you?

CB: No! I haven’t! I’m really excited to watch it, though.

JS: It’s amazing. When you take away everything we did that didn’t work and you just leave what did work, it’s just amazing. You can’t believe it’s not scripted. The thing I’m most curious about with [the character of] Miranda is where you want to take it and how. It’s a very special character. It’s a rich character, and it definitely can grow into a different container. But that’s the trickiest thing in show business. The hardest thing for a stand-up comedian is to find another container for what he does. Once you become a comedian and audiences like you, then trying to jump from one planet to the next is really, really tricky.

CB: I’m actually writing a TV show right now that is the backstory of Miranda. So that’s my hope for it. I think that the character can live on the box and not just the internet.

JS: But, see, that’s the weird thing that’s going on now. Colleen, you’ve already gone past television. You’re bigger than television and you haven’t even done it yet. It’s like you’ve already surpassed it.

CB: I just feel like there’s a broader audience that Miranda could appeal to that I’m not hitting online.

JS: Yes. Well, that’s where I come in. I thought it would be really fun to introduce her to this broader audience. ‘Cause I thought, if this makes me laugh, this needs to go beyond young teenage girls.

CB: And that’s my hope for it as well. That the audience will broaden. I’ve always thought that television would be the next step, but I don't know. I want to tell Miranda’s story more broadly than what I have been in these five-minute videos on the internet. She can live in a longer format.

JS: I don’t think it could have come out better. It exceeded every expectation I had of what we could do together. Frankly, I think it’s kind of a miracle. It’s one of the best shows of Comedians in Cars we’ve ever done. What I look for are bits that start and run and then resolve — there's a shape that is satisfying and fun to watch. I’ve watched the show now probably 75 times, and I appreciate how it fell together. There’s a bit in there about the gravy on the turkey platter that’s so damn perfect, I can’t even believe how it came out. She starts complaining, “Why do they give you extra gravy?” And I try to help her understand, and she gets more annoyed, and I get more annoyed, and it comes to a very funny conclusion. You know what, Colleen? The more we’re talking about it, the more I’m thinking Miranda should be a musical on Broadway. And then a movie based on the musical. TV is too small. Take it from me: I was there when TV ended.

CB: [Laughs.] I will take it from you. If there is anybody I will take it from, it’s you. 

Jerry, I assume then you think the internet is where the most creative freedom currently exists for comedians?
JS: Absolutely. I mean, Colleen, I don’t think you asked anyone’s permission to do this, did you?

CB: No. It’s a job that kind of came about, and I had no idea. Seven years ago, I didn’t put videos online with the intention of, This is gonna be my career. I’m gonna be a YouTuber. I was just screwing around and trying to make my friends laugh. Now it’s insane. And I don’t need to ask anyone’s permission or get notes from anybody else. I do it all on my own. There’s no other platform I can think of where that’s really an option. Even now, I go into meetings with different networks and they’re immediately like, “You need to take this off the internet. This has to go. We need creative control of everything.” And I feel like that’s what’s really stopped me from moving past the internet at this point.

JS: The reason I wanted to do [my show online] is I wanted that same freedom for experimentation, too. I obviously came from the other direction and am known from traditional network television. And now I’ve moved into the digital space, and now I met her, and it’s like when the Soyuz and the American satellites met in space. I think it’s perfect.