Born in Brooklyn, Jerome and his sister, Carolyn, were soon whisked off to the suburbs of Long Island by their parents Kalman and Betty, of Hungarian and Syrian-Jewish descent. But as soon as Jerome was of age, he came back to NYC, attended Queens College and moved into a studio apartment on the Upper West Side.
Still uncertain about a career, Jerome dropped in on open-mic night at NYC’s Catch a Rising Star comedy club. Almost immediately, his observational humor and likability led to a regular spot, followed by an appearance on an HBO Rodney Dangerfield special.
Young Jerome was soon hired for the role of Frankie on the sitcom “Benson,” and just as abruptly fired. Back on the comedy club circuit, his career shot into orbit after a successful spot on “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson.
In 1989, he was invited to create a sitcom bearing his name. The show had lousy ratings, and NBC almost canceled it after four episodes. Eventually it caught on and became one of the most successful sitcoms in history.
The show was set on the same West 81st Street block where the real Jerome lived when he was a struggling comic. Whether about fighting for a parking spot or impatiently waiting on line in a Chinese restaurant, the sitcom’s plots resonated with New Yorkers. In one episode, they discussed eating at La Caridad, a no-frills Latino-Chinese joint in my neighborhood, where I once sat beside series co-creator Larry David and his family as they noisily squabbled over the menu.
Now a multimillionaire, Jerome bought a lavish co-op just a block from that West 81st Street apartment. He also upgraded from collecting white sneakers (more than 500 pairs) to collecting Porsches.
A major New York Mets fan, the married father of three is often seen at the games in his private box. He has also helped broadcast games with pal Keith Hernandez.
Since his TV series ended, Jerome has kept busy, hosting a popular Web series (“Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”), co-writing an original film (“Bee Movie”) and returning to his first love — standup comedy.
So happy birthday, Jerry Seinfeld. Hard to believe you’re turning 61 today.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.