Jerry Seinfeld, in a memorable 2012 Super Bowl ad, tries to wrest a first-edition new Acura from a car lover who beat him to the lot — tempting the guy with everything from a Soup Nazi visit to a zip-line ride through Manhattan.
Just when Seinfeld is about to seal the deal, Jay Leno swoops in via jetpack and spirits away the car owner. "Leno!" Seinfeld, his fist clenched, snarls in tones usually reserved for his sitcom archenemy Newman.
The spot not only wrung laughs out of the comics' friendly competition and their well-known shared car obsession, but it presaged their post-TV-stardom careers in modest, auto-themed shows.
The duo intersect again this week when "Jay Leno's Garage" returns Wednesday for a second season on CNBC, while "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" begins its eighth round on Crackle Thursday. Like the old Acura commercial, the programs underscore the different routes the master comics take to get laughs.
Seinfeld's title-says-it-all show focuses less on the cars and more on the comedians — Will Ferrell, Steve Martin and Sarah Silverman, among many others — talking about their craft. The show also occasionally finds insight in unexpected places: President Obama was a guest last season, and Garry Shandling mused about his mortality shortly before his death in March ("What I want at my funeral is an actual referee to do a count, and at five, just wave it off and say he's not getting up," Shandling quipped).
Leno made a notable appearance in Season 3, riding with Seinfeld in a 1949 Porsche and bantering ("That was my last cup of coffee," Leno cracked). Seinfeld is set to return the favor in an upcoming installment of "Jay Leno's Garage."
Credit both entertainers with keeping a foot in the spotlight without attempting the impossible task of topping their respective runs on "The Tonight Show" and "Seinfeld."
That's a road less taken: Johnny Carson didn't try to work again after his 30-year "Tonight Show" run. David Letterman, who stepped down from "Late Show" last year, is slowly finding his way back into the public eye as evidenced by his recent interview with NBC’s Tom Brokaw. Jon Stewart has made cameos on former "Daily Show" colleagues’ programs, and has a deal with HBO, though details on what he's planning and when are unclear.
Leno and Seinfeld, both still active on the standup circuit, are comfortable enough in their legacies to go smaller with their auto outings. They're in the driver’s seat, cruising along carefree – just as long as they don't covet the same model Acura.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.