It is a wonderful, confusing life for Jerry Seinfeld. And it's bound to get even more confusing for his fans this fall.
Seinfeld essentially plays himself in a hit NBC comedy, "Seinfeld" (9 p.m. Wednesday, Channel 2), a stand-up comic in New York surrounded by a group of dysfunctional friends.
When he does concert dates around the country, his fans now have different expectations.
"The crowds have definitely changed," said Seinfeld. "They've been larger and they've been more excited about the show and less excited about me.
"They now come because there's someone from the show gonna be on the stage. They don't realize I come with my own agenda, having worked on a stand-up act, which I don't seem to need anymore because they just yell at me: 'Where's Kramer? Where's George? Where's Elaine?'
"And then I have to explain to them the very sad reality that these characters, while being very likable and entertaining, are in reality fictional, where I am a real person."
This fall's episodes are really getting real. The story line has NBC approaching Jerry and his unemployed friend George (Jason Alexander) to do a sitcom. Talk about confusing: The show essentially will be a fictional take on the real development of his show.
"George and I are going to write it," explained Seinfeld. "The first five episodes could play as a movie. At this point, George has taken over the negotiations without telling me and has found himself in (NBC President) Warren Littlefield's apartment during a romantic dinner."
America's romance with Seinfeld is growing stronger, as evidenced by his Father's Day visit to Melody Fair.
"The crowd was great," Seinfeld said after his press conference. "I did a lot of stuff about father behavior and the species of the father. Fathers and the trunk of the car, the thermostat, certains areas they want to control."
The thermostat is on high for Seinfeld these days. Most people even know how to spell his last name. Most.
"I still have it spelled Steinfeld, Steinman, Steincell," he says.
But that's just about the only thing he can complain about. He admits there are certain bonuses connected with being a TV star. It doesn't help you find a parking space in New York City, the subject of one of last season's best episodes. But he has noticed that concert audiences laugh for five minutes just because they want to laugh.
Critics, who uniformly have praised "Seinfeld" for its ability to get laughs out of life's minor incidents, are no different. Asked what kind of jokes he hates, Seinfeld did some cave man jokes.
His examples convulsed the critics in laughter when they were intended to illustrate how lame they were. Even when he's trying to be unfunny he can get laughs these days.
His show's success is just as accidental. When I interviewed him here in January 1991, Seinfeld called the show a comedian's dream.
"Every comedian would love to do a show about his own act," Seinfeld said back then. "I thought it was a fairly narrow concept. We're trying to write for people who wouldn't even dream of watching a 30-minute sitcom. I can't watch them."
NBC is giving "Seinfeld" a special boost by airing an original episode after the Olympics on Aug. 12 and premiering the show in September with an hour special.
Next fall, "Seinfeld" will battle ABC's "Home Improvement," which has been moved to the same time slot.
"What are we supposed to do, anti-tool jokes?" cracked Seinfeld. "They have a good show, we have a good show. That's where we live and they are coming to visit."
He didn't get invited by NBC to do his show until he had perfected his stand-up act for 15 years. By coincidence, an hour before his press conference he appeared on cable in a 1986 repeat of "Late Night With David Letterman." He doesn't enjoy watching himself.
"Have you ever seen a photograph of yourself at the beach from, like, 10 years ago? It's pretty uncomfortable. You usually look weird. You always think you are better and it is usually depressing to watch yourself," said Seinfeld.
Actually, his low-key humor stands up remarkably over the years. It also is easy to imitate. On Friday's "Tonight Show," Rosie O'Donnell admitted she stole his act when she was a teen-ager desperate for material. On a hilarious "Saturday Night Live" sketch last season, Seinfeld hosted a game show in which three comedians imitated him.
Parodying oneself, however, isn't the true measure of success. Getting your name in the New York Times crossword puzzle -- now, that's success.
Alexander pulled out a recent puzzle and noted that 21 across was "Jerry Seinfeld, for example." Answer: Comedian.
And his name was even spelled correctly.