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'Unfrosted': Jerry Seinfeld's movie about the fictional history of Pop-Tarts

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has always had a thing for breakfast.

(SOUNDBITE OF JONATHAN WOLFF'S "SEINFELD THEME")

MARTÍNEZ: The shelves of his TV kitchen on "Seinfeld" were stuffed with cereal boxes, and breakfast foods have been a staple of his stand-up act for decades.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JERRY SEINFELD: 23 HOURS TO KILL")

JERRY SEINFELD: When they invented the Pop-Tart, the back of my head blew right off.

(LAUGHTER)

SEINFELD: And they can't go stale 'cause they weren't ever fresh.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing) Pop-Tarts, you can eat them hot or cold, eat them a la mode. They're jam-packed full of fine fruit filling.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter) Pop-Tarts have had a particularly warm place in the toaster of Jerry Seinfeld's heart, so much so he wrote, directed and stars in a new film for Netflix about the fictional history of America's favorite rectangular strudel. It's called "Unfrosted.".

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "UNFROSTED")

SEINFELD: (As Bob) In the early 1960s, the American morning was defined by milk and cereal. And the two undisputed giants of the cereal world were Kellogg's and Post.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Major news from the breakfast world. The Post cereal company has reportedly invented a shelf-stable fruit pastry breakfast product.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Jerry, I want to believe that everything I saw in "Unfrosted" is 100% fact, absolutely 100% true. How much of it is based on a true story?

SEINFELD: Probably 4.6%, I would say, is true - kind of like the percentage of nutrients in a bowl of cereal.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter) I think it would be great, though, if there was an actual Kellogg's and Post rivalry in buildings right across from each other, and they were constantly looking out the window just wondering, exactly what are they up to?

SEINFELD: Yes, that's how we got into making the movie. We just liked that setup of two huge, idiotic companies fighting with each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "UNFROSTED")

SEINFELD: (As Bob) Post, they did it. It's some kind of jelly-ish structure thing. This could sink us. There isn't a Kellogg's cereal that would survive.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, this is the first film that you've directed. How was that for you?

SEINFELD: Oh, it was fun. I'm very fussy in particular about everything. I'm a complete pain to live with or do anything with, and that's really all that a director is. It's just someone who is a complete pain about everything.

MARTÍNEZ: Why didn't you direct earlier? If you knew this about yourself, why is this the first time you directed something?

SEINFELD: I didn't want to. You know, TV is really a writing medium. If you spend 99% of your time writing, it'll go well. Anything less than that, your series will not work. But movies are different. You really do have to care about the costumes and the actors and the cinematography. But I didn't want to have to explain things twice to the director...

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

SEINFELD: ...And then watch the director explain it wrong to the actor and then come back to me. It just seemed like just doubling the work.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, because, well, in this one you did all three - acting, writing, directing. I mean, you were involved in every part of it, pretty much.

SEINFELD: Yeah. The comedy world to me is like an aquarium. As long as I'm in the aquarium, I don't care whether I'm in the castle or I'm in the ferns. I just - I'm very happy as long as I'm in the aquarium. And I don't care how many hours I work, I don't care how many days I work, as long as what we're trying to do is be funny, I'm completely happy.

MARTÍNEZ: Jerry, I watch "Seinfeld" every single day. I have it on just like I would a song. Everyone always asked me, like, haven't you seen that episode? I'm like, you know, you have a favorite song that you like. You like hearing the song over and over. I like watching episodes over and over.

SEINFELD: Yeah, but music and comedy are not similar in that way for most people, so you're a real comedy person.

MARTÍNEZ: So when people ask me why I like "Seinfeld" so much, I always say that you and Larry David are the kings of sweating the small stuff. So how did you make an art out of that?

SEINFELD: I mean, most art is the disguising of the work. Tony Bennett taught me an Italian word called sprezzatura. Sprezzatura means to put a tremendous amount of effort into looking like you didn't even give it a thought. Don't let them see that you worked at this. I once had a boat, and I named it Sprezzatura.

MARTÍNEZ: Did you really?

SEINFELD: Yeah, I love the word. Yeah, it's a phenomenal word.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, you were in the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" finale. Second to final scene, you and Larry David walk out of a jail cell. And for me, Jerry, it felt like a chapter in American pop culture had closed. Has it closed television-wise for you two?

SEINFELD: Can't say because we didn't plan to do the series in the '90s. Larry never planned for his HBO special to become a TV series. So you don't want to plan too much, you just want to wait for a good idea to hit you and then do that.

MARTÍNEZ: How do you decide what ideas you want to do?

SEINFELD: You use your sense of humor. And if you go, that's really funny, then you do it. If you go, that's kind of funny, don't do it.

MARTÍNEZ: So most of the things, I'll bet, that get pitched to you or if you think of, they don't cross that bar yet. They don't get to, like, really funny. They get to, like, kind of funny, maybe.

SEINFELD: If I think of 10 things that I think are absolutely sure-fire hilarious, three of them will work. Seven will fail.

MARTÍNEZ: So it's like a good baseball batting average, right, .300?

SEINFELD: Absolutely baseball.

MARTÍNEZ: So the jokes that get to us, like, through "Seinfeld," through...

SEINFELD: Right.

MARTÍNEZ: ...Anything you do, that's the .300 batting average?

SEINFELD: Those jokes have been picked by 25 audiences before you got there, those focus groups. And you just follow their direction. You just suggest ideas to them and they pick the ones that work. And they might not be the ones you like, but you do not disagree with them.

MARTÍNEZ: And is that why you ended "Seinfeld" when you did? I mean, was the audience telling you something?

SEINFELD: Yes. I felt they were saying to me, don't ruin this for us. We love it. And even though it might have been good for me to just make some more episodes and make some more money, it wasn't what they wanted. I know what they want is to walk away from something going, hey, that was fun, and it never turned awful.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, with "Unfrosted" - I mean, here, I'm going to give you the standard public radio question that everyone gets.

SEINFELD: OK.

MARTÍNEZ: What do you hope audience does take away from "Unfrosted?"

SEINFELD: Are you seriously asking that?

MARTÍNEZ: Yes.

SEINFELD: Yeah, I don't want them to take anything away from it. I want them to just watch it and hopefully get a laugh or two. That's it.

MARTÍNEZ: And that's fair. That's Jerry Seinfeld. His new film is called "Unfrosted." Jerry, thank you very much.

SEINFELD: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAURIE JOHNSON'S "HAPPY-GO-LIVELY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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