Shelf Life

Fred Stoller’s ‘Seinfeld’ year

Kai Ryssdal Jan 31, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: You know how when you’re watching TV? You see the same character actors cycling through in various different parts over the years? They’re never quite famous but they’ve been around forever, managing to make ends meet in an industry where most actors don’t.

Fred Stoller is one of those guys. He’s been on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Seinfeld” and a whole bunch of others. He’s a been a standup comic and a sitcom writer. He’s also now — thanks to Amazon’s Kindle singles — a best-selling author. His book is called “My Seinfeld Year” about being on Jerry’s writing staff.

Fred, thanks for coming by.

Fred Stoller: This is exciting. Thank you so much.

Ryssdal: I have to tell you it’s a little weird because obviously I’ve seen you on television shows — “Seinfeld” and all the rest — and now you’re sitting here. And you know what’s funny? You’re exactly the same in person as you are on the television.

Stoller: Which is what? I’m just a guy.

Ryssdal: More than that. Don’t take this the wrong way, you’re kind of a schmo kind of guy.

Stoller: Oh I know that. One thing I say is: I’ve had auditions where they say, “Not so pathetic.” And I go, “But I was just being myself.” So there’s something I exude that… whatever.

Ryssdal: I mentioned “Seinfeld,” the book is called “My Seinfeld year,” why? What was your Seinfeld year?

Stoller: You know that movie “My Favorite Year?”

Ryssdal: Yeah, of course.

Stoller: Well, this was not that. It’s what it was like being on the biggest sitcom, falling into a staff writing job thinking, “Maybe I’ll have a real job here, be a real person.” And I was like the new guy asking, “What do I do? How do I do this?” I was just thrown into this. I was like the weird pest kind of guy. So it was just kind of crazy.

Ryssdal: Sounds not pleasant.

Stoller: Well, it was pleasant in the fact I knew this was TV history. And I knew this was an amazing thing, but at the same time that’s why it was unpleasant. This was supposed to be the biggest job to be on. And how do I make it work for me?

Ryssdal: This book, it’s a fascinating look at the guts of Seinfeld in ’94/’95 when it was so big. But more than anything else its about you getting comfortable in your own skin. About playing the same characters over and over and owning what you are in a professional sense.

Stoller: Right. Yeah. It’s coming to terms because I was so naive. When I wrote on Seinfeld, I thought being a TV writer was a job.

Ryssdal: Nine to five. You go do your thing and you get paid, right?

Stoller: Yeah, I thought it would be a nice job, save up money, get off the road. But people were very corporate. They had agents cultivating deals. And I’d be trying to write my “Seinfeld” scripts and they’d be on the phones — these other guys — three deals ahead of themselves because of their “Seinfeld” cachet. I was naive. I was stupid. I didn’t even get a date from it.

Ryssdal: But for all the angst and anxiety that you have, in the world of working actors you’re doing amazingly well.

Stoller: Thank you. Again, it’s L.A. where you see posters of people you started with. But yes, in perspective, it could be a lot worse. And I’m appreciative

Ryssdal: So now what? You’re on the virtual best-seller list and you’ve got acting gigs sort of intermittently. So now what?

Stoller: Well, still I got a part in “Fran Drescher Show” coming up as an annoying waiter. So I’m still the annoying waiter, the annoying delivery guy. But this has been so fulfilling — the feedback I’ve been getting. So I hope to write more of these quirky singles, or maybe an actual book. I like expressing myself rather than fitting into puzzles.

Ryssdal: Fred Stoller, his book is called “My Seinfeld Year.” Fred thanks a lot.

Stoller: Thank you so much.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.