You’re just starting the third season of The Goldbergs, which was a hit in a year when most freshman sitcoms were slaughtered. Why do you think this one survived?
I refuse to analyze that. [laughs] I don’t want to figure that out. And by the way, I don’t think I even know. I know the writing’s good—I think it’s a really good show—but I have no idea. I think it has to be that people feel good watching it. I can’t figure out that. I don’t try to figure out why I’m funny; I don’t want to figure out anything. I don’t want to figure out why we exist. I don’t want to figure out why chocolate tastes good. It just does.
Is there anything you do want to figure out? Are there any mysteries of life you want to solve, or are you just content with all the information that’s available?
At this point in my life I’m content with all the information that’s available.
There’s nothing you wonder about?
I’d like to know a little bit more about the Kennedy assassination. That’s about it.
Do you have any theories about it?
I have no theories. See, there you go. Even though I’d like to know, I’m not active in figuring it out.
Why do you think we’re so fixated on the 1980s, the era in which The Goldbergs takes place?
Well, I think the 1970s and 1980s are very similar. We were goofy then. I think America stopped being fun and goofy sometime around the 1990s.
Don’t you think that in the 2040s people will look back on today and think about us the way we think of the 1970s?
No. I don’t see how they possibly could. We’re just rehashing everything, so they’ll look back at the 1970s and 1980s as the last original eras.
You talk in your stand-up about how your wife might not actually be your soul mate because you don’t think your soul mate would be as disappointed in you as she is. A lot of comedians say they fictionalize a version of their wives for their stand-up. Is your stand-up wife like your real wife?
Oh yeah, that’s my wife. She’s not my soul mate, but I love her. I don’t know if soul mates really exist. What is a soul mate? I don’t even know what that means. My wife is my mate and she’s soulful, so we’ll leave it at that.
You made some pretty impressive friends on your way up. When you were at Second City in Chicago you worked the ticket booth with a young upstart named Stephen Colbert, and you roomed with an unknown Conan O’Brien.
I have no anecdotes about Stephen at all. He was just a guy I liked. I discovered his brilliance only later on. I am not very close with Stephen Colbert. I’ve known him for a long time, and I adore him—I guess that’s the best way to put it. We’re strong acquaintances. I don’t know how to even explain it.
Maybe just friends?
I mean, I don’t hang out with him. There should be a word in between friend and acquaintance.
But you were close with Conan.
Conan was also an extraordinarily funny person to spend time with. But the idea that he would one day host a talk show, I never saw that. And what’s ironic about that is we used to have a fake talk show in our living room where he did a great George Takei—you know, Sulu on Star Trek. We did a show called Great Wild Blue Yonder With Your Host George Takei. He was George Takei and George Takei had two guests: me and Adam West, because I do a real good Adam West impression. And he would ask us questions. We’d do it almost every day. But I never thought he’d really be a talk-show host.
You were one of just a couple of comedians who refused to go on Jay Leno’s show after he took his spot back from Conan.
Looking back, it was kind of stupid of me, but Conan’s my friend and I didn’t like what they did to him. I just said, “I don’t want to be part of this anymore.”
Were you worried about how it might hurt you?
Nope, nope, nope. It’s not hard to take a stand like that. It’s easier than people think. And I think the only two people who did it were me and Tom Hanks. But I gotta tell you, even if I had never done The Tonight Show, it wasn’t going to affect my career.
Were you sad to see David Letterman go?
Here’s how sad I was: I couldn’t watch any of the last two months of his show. I couldn’t watch, and I didn’t. I didn’t even watch the last show. I couldn’t—he was one of the main reasons I became a comedian. I became a comedian when his 12:30 show had just started. I’m crazy proud of the fact that I did both stand-up and panel on his show. For me there’s a great satisfaction in that, but it’s still too painful to think about.
You’ve said you suffer from anxiety and depression. You seem pretty laid-back. Do you get nervous before you go onstage?
It’s never horrifying to be onstage, ever—even when I’m bombing. I’m totally comfortable onstage no matter what’s going on. I have more anxiety about going to bed at night than I do about going onstage. I am loaded with anxiety, but I seem laid-back because I don’t take others down with me. That means if I’m feeling full of anxiety or I’m not in a good mood or I’m tired, that’s not anybody else’s problem; it’s my problem. I’ll keep it my problem. I won’t make it your problem.
What’s your anxiety about?
It’s mostly free-flowing anxiety. It just comes from anywhere and everywhere. It could be anything, like something I said that afternoon. I don’t think I ever say anything that I don’t regret, ever. On the other hand I’m rarely horrified by what I say onstage. I’m only horrified by what I say offstage. Onstage is what it is. You know, offstage I’ll have conversations with people and I’ll drive home thinking, Why did you say that? What purpose did that serve? Who’s better because of it? I can be very hard on myself in that way.
What was childhood like?
I had undiagnosed ADD. My friend’s parents were social workers, and they suggested that I had it. Then I went to a neurologist as an adult. We went through everything, and I was a big bowl of ADD. It was a relief. It’s still a constant struggle for me to deal with it, between my anxiety, my ADD and my depression. But I’m laid-back and happy in spite of that. I really enjoy things, but it can be hard. Plenty of nights I don’t fall asleep until four in the morning, and I go to bed at 10.
The show you were first known for, Curb Your Enthusiasm, is very different from The Goldbergs in that it’s pretty dark. Did it ever get to you?
No, no, no. It’s so funny. I only thought of our situations on Curb Your Enthusiasm as, All right, I’m here; I’m ready to go. What’s for lunch?
Speaking of Curb Your Enthusiasm, will we ever see new episodes?
I think there might be. I’m doing The Goldbergs, but I’m allowed contractually to do more Curb.
You make a lot of jokes about your body. Is that just shtick, or do you think about your body a lot?
You’re wrong saying I do a lot of physical-insecurity jokes. I’m a very confident man, but those aren’t jokes. That’s just me talking about my feelings. They happen to be funny because I’m funny. Here, I can give you a perspective that just hit me. I follow different friends on Instagram. A friend was vacationing in Mexico, a young guy in his 30s. He’s one of the directors on The Goldbergs. I love this kid. His name is David Katzenberg. But he instagrammed a picture of himself in a shallow pool. I don’t want to insult him, but it’s not like he’s studly. He’s built like a regular guy. I looked at him, and he’s just lying there so relaxed, and I thought, I have never felt that way. There’s never been a moment in my life when physically I’d be lying by a pool or on the beach and I didn’t think I was fat. I’m very comfortable with my body, but still I never feel good ever, ever.
Some of the entries on your IMDb page might startle people. For instance, you were on an episode of Baywatch.
I did Baywatch. It was the first job I had when I moved to L.A. with my wife. I was an evil disc jockey who takes over the beach. I didn’t try to make it better, because you can’t make Baywatch better—I said all the lines as written. When the producer asked if I’d be interested, I said, “I’d love to be on. It’s pretty colors and bosoms. Who doesn’t like that?” And I worked with David Hasselhoff. It’s my best acting and my worst acting. It’s my worst acting because I’m not a good enough actor to rise above bad material. But it’s my best acting because I did scenes with David Hasselhoff yelling at me and I didn’t laugh.