Getting To Know Jennifer Armstrong: Author Of Seinfeldia
The last episode of Seinfeld aired on May 14, 1998, it was also the day millions of viewers tuned in to say goodbye to our favorite wacky sitcom characters, but who would’ve thought we’d still be talking about a “show about nothing” almost 10 years later? We recently had the opportunity to talk with Jennifer Armstrong, writer of the book Seinfeldia (which by the way, is a must own for every true Seinfeld fan) and got to know a little about her, as well as some of her experiences while writing the book.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself, where did you grow up? What were you like as a kid?
A. I grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. (My mom still lives in the place I call home, Homer Glen, Illinois.) I was an excessively good girl and good student, major overachiever. And perhaps unsurprisingly, I was a huge pop culture nerd. I read the TV Guide cover-to-cover every week. If I liked a musician, I would go to the local library and look him or her up to learn all I could. This is clearly reflected in the work I do now.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I just always knew I would be one. During those library visits, I would also usually read, sometimes an entire book in one visit. (I would often read one volume of the Sweet Valley High series, then take the next one home with me.) I would also look up books about writing. I learned the words “freelance writer” when I was about 8, and I wanted to be one ever since.
What was your first breakthrough?
It depends on your definition of that, but I’ll go with the first book I wrote, which was about the 1950s Mickey Mouse Club. I was very much not alive in the 1950s and was not a particular fan of the show. But when a big publisher asked me to write a book about it, I decided I would just figure it out. It was really fun to interview people who had been child stars on the show (and were now in their 70s-plus). And it taught me how to write a book. It didn’t do very well for a variety of reasons, but it taught me how to write a book, allowed me to make mistakes, and showed me that I could write a book about a show. The next time I chose one I cared passionately about—The Mary Tyler Moore Show—and that has become my niche.
What continues to inspire you?
I am lucky in that I write about TV in a time of great TV. So all of the wonderful television right now inspires me—Insecure, Game of Thrones, BoJack Horseman, Transparent, and so many other shows.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I don’t totally believe in guilty pleasures—I have very little guilt about my pleasures. For instance, I am a huge Britney Spears fan, but I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. And I love fluffy TV shows like Younger and The Bold Type to balance out the heavy stuff like Westworld and Game of Thrones, but again, no guilt!
What’s next for you? any upcoming projects we should look out for?
Well, it’s perfect for On Location Tours! My next book is about Sex and the City. It is scheduled to come out in June 2018.
Tell us about a funny or interesting moment that happened during the process of writing your book?
Well, the nice thing about writing a book about Seinfeld is that everyone involved is among the funniest people in the world. I got to interview Peter Mehlman about writing some of the show’s catchiest catch phrases—”real and spectacular,” “yada yada,” “double dipping.” And probably my favorite story in the book is my favorite mainly because it’s a “scoop”—it was the rare Seinfeld stone left unturned—but also because I really felt like Woodward or Bernstein when I heard it. When I asked Spike Feresten a standard question about the inspiration for the Elaine dance episode he wrote, he whispered, “What do you know?” I knew nothing in particular and said so. He followed that with, “It’s time someone knew.” I could barely contain my excitement, though I tried to seem cool. He went on to tell me about how his former boss, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, actually inspired the dance. A pretty good scoop.
If you could give anyone reading this advice, what would it be?
I’m guessing you mean writing-book-type advice, as opposed to general life advice, for which I am not particularly qualified. What I would say is that if you want to be a writer, just start writing. The rest will fall into place. Take every opportunity to get your work out there and pursue the subjects you’re most passionate about. This doesn’t guarantee fame and fortune, but it does guarantee that you’ll always love what you’re doing and be proud of it.
Which writers inspire you?
So many, but I’ll stick to the ones who influence me all the time or are on my mind right now. I adore Susan Orlean and Mary Roach as nonfiction writers, and they’re my main inspirations. I’m also really really into Hamilton right now, so Lin-Manuel Miranda is everything to me.
What’s the first thing you do after you finish a project?
The actual first thing is probably something along the lines of “drink a glass of wine” and/or “sleep” and/or “shower.” But the big first thing is make a massage appointment.
What’s one thing you can’t live without?
Hmm. Iced tea.
In the process of writing your book Seinfeldia, what was the most interesting person you met/experience you had?
I’m a big fan of Kenny Kramer, the real-life inspiration for the Kramer character. I knew of him, but during my research, I took his bus tour of Manhattan sites from the show (worth going on *in addition to* On Location Tours!). We became friendly and he has come to several of my Seinfeldia events since. He’s a real character, just like the character he inspired. I call him the mayor of Seinfeldia.
I have to ask, what’s your favorite Seinfeld episode?
I have many and often cite different ones depending on my mood, but the one that most often comes to mind (besides “The Contest,” which is perfect) is “The Marine Biologist.” It’s the first time I remember really falling in love with the show, and I live for George’s “the sea was angry that day” speech at the end.
What was your favorite character on the show & why?
There’s no question: Elaine. She’s my goddess. She was extremely progressive for a female character at the time, and she was played by the person I believe is still the best living comedic actor, Julia Louis Dreyfus.
Thoughts on the Seinfeld finale?
I am a defender of the finale. It is not the most perfect episode of Seinfeld ever, but I admire that it took a chance and had a point. I also think it stands alone as a piece of art in retrospect. A lot of people who say they hated it haven’t watched it since it aired, when there was so much hype that it couldn’t possibly live up to expectations. I encourage you to rewatch it with fresh eyes.
How would you say Seinfeld is still affecting our culture today?
The vast majority of TV comedies have Seinfeldian elements now: the cinematic shooting, the packing in of more than the traditional two sitcom stories (beyond an A story and a B story), bringing plotlines together in surprising ways. Both comedies and dramas now have major characters who are far from admirable role models; I believe Seinfeld prepared America for the onslaught of antiheroes. It also changed the way we watch TV, from the passiveness of earlier decades to the obsessiveness fans demonstrate now.
We want to give special thanks to Jennifer for chatting with us as well as joining us on our tour.
You can follow her on Twitter @jmkarmstrong
As a special thanks to you, we are giving away a copy of Jennifer’s book Seinfeldia.
All you have to do to win is:
-Follow us on Instagram
-Find our Instagram post with the above picture
-Tag a Seinfeld Fan
(Winner will be announced Oct 31st, 2017)
If you’re looking for a Seinfeld tour in NYC, make sure to check out our When Harry Met Seinfeld Tour to see filming locations from Seinfeld and much more.