A couple of weeks into The Pete Holmes Show on TBS last fall, Holmes sought to let viewers know how he felt about hosting his own late-night TV show, when all of a sudden, a familiar voice interrupted his monologue. It was Seinfeld.
Not Jerry Seinfeld.
New Material Seinfeld. A puppet. In the voice of Seinfeld. Courtesy of stand-up comedian Joe DeRosa, a friend of Holmes and writer for his show.
“What’s the deal?”
“Who are. These. People?”
As Holmes explained it on-air that first night in November, “He likes to come by the show sometimes to try out some of his untested jokes. So won’t you help me in welcoming for the first time to The Pete Holmes Show, New Material Seinfeld!”
The segment would come back three more times over the eight-month duration of the show, lastly and most recently earlier this month.
The real Seinfeld took note:
— Jerry Seinfeld (@JerrySeinfeld) June 6, 2014
Holmes is no stranger to paying tribute to his fellow comedians via impersonations. Last month, Ray Romano joined Holmes on his show for a spoof called Romano Duets. On multiple episodes, Holmes also has slipped into his “Bill Cosby” voice and encouraged his guests to do likewise.
“I’ve always loved doing other people’s personas and Seinfeld has always been someone I’ve loved, so I used to just do “New Material Seinfeld” to make my friends laugh,” Holmes told The Comic’s Comic this week. “I remember doing it in Melbourne, Australia, for David O’Doherty and realizing it could be a “thing.” I had no idea where to put it, but it had potential to live outside of something I enjoyed doing with other comedians.”
DeRosa noted that when Holmes filmed test shows last year before debuting on TBS, he wasn’t on the show yet.
But Holmes thought it made a perfect fit once he hired DeRosa as a writer.
“Joe is also a huge Seinfeld fan, so when he and I would do it, it was always hilarious,” Holmes said. ” So when I got TPHS, and Joe came on, it was a no-brainer to bring the bit to life.”
“The goal initially was just simple,” DeRosa told The Comic’s Comic. “This puppet comes out. It’s supposed to be Seinfeld. And it throws bits at Pete. We always, the whole time, the main goal was to make it sound – because we’re all big Seinfeld fans – it was always to make it sound like Seinfeld. We’re into him. Obviously. And he’s brilliant.”
In that first segment, puppet Seinfeld mused about the necessity for windows on boxes of pasta on store shelves, the king, queen and twin naming conventions for beds, and the naming of overalls. DeRosa’s puppet Seinfeld cracks up Holmes by imagining: “I think the guy that invented the overalls didn’t have arms. To him, they were fine!” When he returned, armed with more new material, puppet Seinfeld questioned the linguistics behind the words “rehearse” and “extinct,” “hardwood floors” and “bars,” and eventually the twisted notion of when a dog is “fixed” vs. “broken.” At times, puppet Seinfeld will stop — and DeRosa will drop the vocal impersonation, too — to ask, “Is this any good?” And at various times, too, Holmes readily concedes that the puppet has a winning Seinfeld bit.
DeRosa said offstage, Holmes encouraged him to “keep it as loose and organic as we can out there. It would add another element to the bit, publicly.”
“It was always meant to be a tribute to Seinfeld. So we tried our best when we were writing it to make it as genuinely Seinfeld as we could be,” DeRosa said. “So we tried to write the bits with respect and with humor, too. And then the idea of this puppet being, ‘Is this funny? I don’t know!’ The way all comedians do. At the end of the day, this puppet of this iconic comedian was throwing these bits out…”
And hoping for positive affirmation from another comedian.
Just like DeRosa copped to doing himself last week in Los Angeles. “I did it to Kurt Braunohler the other night for 10 minutes outside of a bar,” he said. “Two of the jokes didn’t work out so well, so I was telling him the bits.”
Receiving approval from Seinfeld himself for “New Material Seinfeld”? Priceless.
“Our greatest hope is that if he ever saw it, he would like it, and he did,” DeRosa said. “That was the final bit of fulfillment that we could all get out of it. That the last airing of the last segment, that the man himself would see it. I freaked out when I saw (Seinfeld’s Tweet). I woke up and checked my phone, and I couldn’t believe it.”
DeRosa doesn’t make a point to make impersonations part of his act, although he does acknowledge a bit here that involves a Larry David voice; a bit there with Michael J. Fox as “Teen Wolf.” Maybe a Louis C.K. voice for a bit “I kind of do,” and a current obsession with Sam Rockwell. “But these are all half-assed impressions,” he said. “Even Seinfeld. Part of the joke was that the impression wasn’t perfect. Once the puppet’s there, it becomes this whole other weird thing. It becomes watching a cartoon.
“There’s a lot more freedom at that point to be a little less accurate with the impression and be more loose.”
Now that The Pete Holmes Show is over (its final original episode aired last night; its final repeat, tonight at midnight), DeRosa is back to focusing on his own stand-up again and working on a new hour. In addition to “New Material Seinfeld,” he’d also been on the team writing nightly monologues for Holmes. DeRosa will head out to Stand-Up Scottsdale at the end of June, followed by weekend stints in July at Comix at Foxwoods, and Helium in Buffalo. “I’m excited to go on the road all through the summer and work on it, craft it,” he said. “I do have another stand-up album coming out, but it’s all B-sides. Hopefully in September.”
As for New Material Seinfeld’s future?
“I’m not averse to doing it somewhere else if somebody wants that to happen. I would of course seek Pete’s approval,” DeRosa said. “I would gladly take up the puppet again for something. But it’s not like I’m going to be bringing it out at the end of my set….he encored with the puppet!”
P.S. Holmes and DeRosa also had fun at DeRosa’s expense, too. In one of this week’s final episodes of The Pete Holmes Show, Holmes impersonated DeRosa with a poster-sized cut-out photo of him in a segment called, “What’s Wrong with Joe?”