Mark Schiff on Jerry Seinfeld, Drunks, and a Burning Trunk

True story. Mark Schiff, Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, Larry Miller, and Michael Hampton-Caine walk into a Cafe on News Year’s Day and ask the waiter, “How’s the Squab?” If you don’t know what squab is, you’ve likely not spent much time in New York where the common rooftop pigeon is occasionally on the menu. But, we’ve already botched the punchline, so we’ll let Mark tell you about that later.

Mark has led a full life on the road as a standup comedian, including being a key member of an entourage that included Jay Leno, Paul Reiser, and Larry Miller. He has written books, hosted a Podcast (‘You Don’t Know Schiff‘), cruised Manhattan with Jerry in a car with a burning trunk, and made audiences laugh on just about every talk show there is, including Johnny Carson:

And so we were asked if we wanted to chat with Mark about anything we wanted, so long as we mentioned his new book, Why Not.

And so naturally, we said, Why Not
And this is what happened next.

Urbasm: Hello, is this Mark?

Mark Schiff: You got him! Hi, how are you? Where are you?

Urbasm: We’re in Denver, Colorado.

Mark Schiff: Beautiful.

Urbasm: We’ve got about eight questions for you plus a speed Round. Are you ready?

Mark Schiff: My dog is here, I hope he doesn’t bark, but he’s ready.

Urbasm: (laughs) Well, we’ve certainly been fans of your work for a while, but for anyone who may not know you: Who in the heck is Mark Schiff?

Marl Schiff: I am a stand-up comedian and a writer… and an actor. Triple threat. I’ve been a stand-up for over 40 years. I tour with Jerry Seinfeld for the last 20 years. Just last week we played 11,000 people in Richmond Virginia and in Connecticut. I’ve done all the major talk shows. And… I’ve been writing. I wrote a book years ago called I killed: True Stories of the road by America’s Greatest Comedians, and that was a hit. And now I have the new book that I wrote during my COVID vacation.

Urbasm: (laughs) Right.

Mark Schiff: My work as a comedian was decimated for almost three years. So, I decided not to get fat and eat. I decided not to watch a lot of television. I decided to sit down and write a book. And that’s what I did. It’s called, Why Not?: Lessons on Comedy, Courage, and Chutzpah. Chutzpah is a Jewish word, kind of means ballzy, you know, gutsy. It’s called, Why Not, And in life, two words can change your life.

Urbasm: How’s that?

Mark Schiff: Years ago, somebody asked me to write some essays. It is not something I do, but I said, Why not. I wrote them, people liked them, and he said would you write some more, and I said, Why not. Before I knew it, I had 30 or 40 of them, and then COVID hit, and so I thought, Why not write a book? I did that and got in touch with a literary agent, I called him up and asked if he would like to read it and he said, Why not.

Urbasm: (laughs) We see where this is going.

Mark Schiff: So he read it and said, I think you’ve got a book here, would you like for us to try to get it out to some publishers? I said, Why not. And then they got 30-something rejections, and he said, Why not. And they said, Because we don’t want it. Apollo Publishers stepped up and said, We’re interested, would you like to have a meeting? I said, Why not. And we had a meeting, they made me an offer, and I said, Why not.

Urbasm: (laughs)

Mark Schiff: Two words! Just two words changed my life. Now if I would have said, no thank you, I would not be talking to you, and I would not have a book. No thank you can destroy so many possibilities.

Urbasm: But at least you would have been polite.

Mark Schiff: …

Urbasm: But we agree.

Mark Schiff: I hope I was not long-winded. I wanted to give you the whole spew.

Urbasm: How is this book different than the first one you did?

Mark Schiff: This book is my story. This is my memoir. This is my life on the road. This is my travels with Seinfeld, and Bob Dylan coming to my house and meeting Kathryn Hepburn, the greatest actress that ever lived.

Urbasm: Yeah!

Mark Schiff: And it is all about my family too. It is very funny and touching at times. This is my story, my kids. The first book was not my story. Do you have kids?

Urbasm: None that we know of.

Mark Schiff: You should get some. You know, they are on sale this time of the year. You can get them cheap on Amazon.

Urbasm: (laughs)

Mark Schiff: I wanted to leave a legacy for my family and my kids. I did not want this to be published originally. I wrote it as a legacy. It just so happened that the stories were universal enough that it touches people. I am not unique. So, that is that.

Urbasm: And it is good that. We figured that you would be the guy to ask: What is the funniest thing that you’ve seen lately?

Mark Schiff: Wow. That is a question. Well, I tell you. The funniest thing… I am on tour with Jerry Seinfeld. So, the other night, we are in Richmond Virginia with two shows, 3500 people for each show, and I sat on the side of the stage, in the wings, while Jerry was on, and that is one of the funniest things that I have seen lately. I’ve seen Jerry 200 times, and I am still laughing.

You know, when you are a kid, people try to erase funny from you. Have you ever heard, Don’t try to act so funny? Or Do you think you’re funny? Or they call you funny man in a condescending way. They ruin any potential you have for this particular talent, by making it seem like it is the wrong thing to do to try to entertain and be funny. It’s terrible. So, be funny. Be entertaining to your friends, and tell some funny stories.

Urbasm: Could not agree more with you. And speaking of that… tell us one of your favorite stories while hanging out with your comedian entourage.

Mark Schiff: Okay, so Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, and a wonderful actor/comedian, Larry Miller, another guy who passed on, Michael Hampton-Caine. We used to get together every New Year’s Day for 30 years. And we would go to restaurants, one in particular in Brooklyn called The River Cafe. We had this thing that we would do. One year we were in the restaurant, and there were like 300 people. And we asked the waiter, “How’s the Squab?” The squab was on the menu, and the waiter said, We’re out of squab. And we all looked at each other, threw our napkins down, and walked out.

Urbasm: (laughs)

Mark Schiff: We got about halfway out of the restaurant and then we came back. And every year for about 20 years, we had the same waiter, and we would ask him the same question, How’s the squab? He would say, We don’t have any, and we’d throw our napkins down and pretend to walk out. That was a funny moment.

Urbasm: That’s classic!

Mark Schiff: I was walking with Paul Reiser in France, he lived in L.A. and he had a French car. He had a Peugeot. And he said to me, You know, as long as I am in France, I might as well pick up some parts for my car. And for some reason… I could not stop laughing for about 10 minutes when he said that.

Urbasm: (laughs)

Mark Schiff: Funny friends, hanging out with Jay Leno, hanging out with Jerry; it’s always a… it’s always a good time.

Urbasm: No doubt.

Mark Schiff: What do you have, like 40 people working for you right now?

Urbasm: We balance it out at about 5 most of the time.

Mark Schiff: I have no team. I am in my office. I am writing books. I’ve got a podcast… I’ve got to get a team!

Urbasm: (laughs) Guess what? It’s Speed Round time…

Mark Schiff: I’m ready for you. Go ahead. Hit me with your best shot my friend.

The Speed Round

Describe yourself in just three words

Tall, Dark, and Short.

Secret hidden talent

Take a Rubix cube when somebody has put it all together, and mess it up.

Your superpower

I can take my teeth out every night.

Name three things that you cannot live without

My wife, my kids… and my two girlfriends.

Favorite insult

Put down the Crescent, you’re 400 pounds!

What song would play as you entered a room if you had a personal soundtrack?

Happy Christmas by John Lennon.

(singing) ♪♪ And so it is Christmas… and a happy New Year… ♪♪

It’s a wonderful song.

Take 2

Urbasm: (laughs) We’ve got a few more questions if that’s okay?

Mark Schiff: It’s more than okay; I’ve just got to get my pants off.

Urbasm: (laughs) What is your favorite story about touring with your friend, Jerry Seinfeld?

Mark Schiff: (ambulance siren in the background) Do you hear that? My rides here.

Urbasm: (laughs)

Mark Schiff: That is the oldest joke when you are onstage at a nightclub and you hear a siren go by. The comedian always goes, That’s my ride, I’ve got to get outta here.

Mark Schiff: So, yeah, one night I was with Jerry and we were driving on the West Side Highway in Manhattan. And all these cars are honking their horns and blinking their lights, and I turned to Jerry and said, I guess they recognize us?

Finally, one guy was pointing to something, and I pull over, get out, and my trunk is on fire. That was a fun moment. We were confused. We thought that they had recognized us, and really… my car was on fire.

Urbasm: How does that even happen?

Mark Schiff: I’ll tell you a fun one. One time when [Jerry] was shooting Seinfeld, I went to the lot to visit him. I had a 1976 Toyota Corolla. It was probably worth, at that time, about $3,000. Jerry is on the lot and he pulls up in a $250,000 Porsche. I said to Jerry, I’ve never driven one of those, I’ll have to drive one. He said, Here take my keys, I’ll drive your car today and I’ll drive yours. So, he gave me this unbelievable Porsche to drive around, and he was driving my Toyota.

I was so worried about scratching it and destroying it. I never drove more than like 30 mph. I was scared to drive that thing. Thank God, I gave it back to him the next day without missing the steering wheel. It would be like if someone gave you a million-dollar item and said, Watch this for me overnight. You get nervous, you know.

Urbasm: Okay, so a member of our team came up with an interesting question, and we were unsure if we were going to use it, but WHY NOT? What do you think is the greatest joke that has ever been told throughout the history of comedy?

Mark Schiff: Well, let me see here. Okay, I’ll tell you two good [if not great] ones.

So, this guy calls his priest. He says, Father, I think my wife is trying to poison me. The priest goes, Really, that is terrible, what would you like me to do? The guy says, Would you meet with her; just call her up, find out what is going on, and let me know. Priest says, Absolutely.

The next day the priest calls the guy back and says, Hey, I met with your wife today. The guy says, Yeah, what happened? The priest goes, We spoke for five hours… five hours. The guy says, So, what do you think? The priest says, Take the poison.

Urbasm: (laughs)

Mark Schiff: So, this doctor calls this guy and says, I’ve got some news for you- Your wife’s mind is completely gone. And the guy goes, You know, I’m not surprised, because she has been giving me a piece of it every day for the last 40 years.

Urbasm: (laughs) Love it. Thank you.

Mark Schiff: You’re very welcome, and I am not going to charge you.

Urbasm: What is your approach when you are forced to deal with a heckler?

Mark Schiff: We’re like Green Berets. We start off with little clouds of people drunk, heckling, and yelling. When they first do it, you just try to calm them down and not get them too crazy. But if they continue, you have to put them out of their misery. You have to destroy them. It depends on what they are saying. If you let them talk, they usually bury themselves. There is an old saying, If you keep your mouth shut, nobody will know how stupid you are.

Urbasm: And that is true.

Mark Schiff: One time, one guy actually took offense. This guy came into a room at a comic strip in New York and as he walks in, I’m on stage, doing my act, and the guy yells, You’re not funny. So I said, You know, let me tell you something, it is usually the guys with the really small penises that say stuff like that. He goes, What? He then charges the stage so fast, he ran by the bouncer. He never got his hands on me, but that was the one time that a guy really took offense.

Urbasm: We have one last question for you. What are your three best tips to help any man become a better version of himself?

Mark Schiff: Okay, so first of all, you have to want to be a better person. That’s necessary.

Two, there is a code that I live by, which is called restraint of pen and tongue. Don’t say what you are thinking to people, and don’t write nasty notes to people. If you want to write something, maybe I will write you a nasty note, but I won’t send it to you. Maybe I will read it to somebody else.

The third thing is to try to do something for at least one person every day.

Urbasm: Love that.

Mark Schiff: I am a married guy, and every morning I make my wife breakfast and a drink. So, when I wake up in the morning, one of the first things that happen is I do something for somebody else. That is a one hundred percent proven method that cannot backfire. You will be a better person.

Urbasm: And that’s how it’s done. Thank you, Mark!

And now it’s time for us to say goodbye to Mark, but you can keep the friendship going by keeping up with him on tour, listening to his Podcast, reading his books, or maybe just calling him out of the blue like we did (we’ve heard the Batman symbol works about a quarter of the time).

About Dr. Eric J. Leech

Eric has written for over a decade. Then one day he created, a site for every guy.

About Dr. Eric J. Leech

Eric has written for over a decade. Then one day he created, a site for every guy.