- ROTC officer Doug Niedermeyer in the film Animal House (1978),
- a vampire identified as The Master in the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2002), and
- a middling conductor who demands to be called The Maestro (aka. Bob Cobb) in Seinfeld (1989-98).
It is, of course, Metcalf’s turn as The Maestro that brought him into to our classroom.
Thus, for about 30 minutes via the wonders of Skype, the seasoned actor talked with my students about his experience filming Seinfeld‘s “The Maestro” (7.3) and “The Doll” (7.17), and he also shared more general information about acting, auditioning, and the process of sitcom-making.
Q&A with The Maestro
The week before Metcalf was to join us, I invited my students to come up with one question they’d like to ask him. It could be about anything: his character, the cast, Larry David, television comedy in general.
Out of roughly 30 questions, I picked seven and then emailed them to Metcalf a few days before he was to speak. In response, he approved them as “good questions” and thankfully NOT containing words like semiotics and hermeneutics. HA.
The first three of my students’ questions are about Seinfeld in general, and the last four, about Metcalf’s character and the process:
- Alexis: How long did it take to shoot a single episode, and were the scenes shot in chronological order?
- Anthony: What is your most memorable experience being on Seinfeld?
- Taylor: What is your favorite episode of Seinfeld?
- Jennifer: What was it like to addition for the character The Maestro, and was the Seinfeld cast in the room when you auditioned?
- Charlotte: Was the idea of “The Maestro” and your character based off anyone the writers, Larry David, or Jerry Seinfeld knew, or was it just an idea that took off?
- Kelly: Did you have to learn the Italian song you sang in “The Maestro” or did you have prior experience?
- Davia: Was improvisation encouraged or did you strictly go by the script?
Here are what I found to be the most interesting responses:
First, as you’re probably aware, virtually all episodes of Seinfeld were taped before a live studio audience (note the ever-present laugh-track). But the episode “The Doll” (in which The Maestro, Kramer, and Frank Costanza play pool pantless to avoid getting creases) was not. Evidently there was some issue with Jerry Seinfeld’s having to be out of town during the scheduled taping, so “The Doll” was shot without an audience. (Sidenote: I tweeted directly after he said it, but Metcalf told my students he wasn’t wearing pants as he was speaking to them. Much laughter ensued.)
Second, although he cited “The Contest” (on masturbation) and “The Yada Yada” (anti-Dentites, yada-yada’ing sex) as two of the most “artful” and well-conceived episodes of the series, Metcalf did not really have a personal favorite. Why, you ask? Because, apparently he didn’t watch Seinfeld (!!!). His son regularly enjoys it even now, and Metcalf occasionally catches an episode since “they’re so hard to get away from” (i.e., syndication), but he never watched it religiously, it doesn’t seem.
Third, when asked why his character was not brought back for the series finale (in which dozens of minor characters return to testify in court), Metcalf was told that only secondary characters whom Jerry, George, Elaine, Kramer “treated poorly” were reintroduced. According to the writers, the The Maestro was not treated badly, so he did not return.
Thanks (Yet Again), Twitter
This “event,” we’ll call it, has been in the works for a while now—and all because of Twitter. Yes, I am going to sing the praises of this social media platform for the umpteenth time. Here are how things came about:
- 2009: I signed up for Twitter.
- 2010: As a place to house my research, findings, etc. on Gene Kelly, I set up a blog. This blog inadvertently morphed into Gene Kelly Fans, a legitimate fansite with multiple contributors and regular readers. Weird, yes. (More info about this process in my post “On Academics and Fansites“.)
- Early 2011: Gene Kelly Fans expanded to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
- Late 2011: A Milwaukee author who interviewed Gene Kelly at his home in Beverly Hills followed @genekellyfans (and thus me) on Twitter. We conversed about his time with the song-and-dance man and have done the same since via my personal Twitter account, @kellimarshall.
- 2012: I promoted my Seinfeld class on Twitter and Vine. Shortly after, my Milwaukee friend sent me a tweet that Mark Metcalf is his neighbor and is usually quite happy to share his time speaking to others.
- A week later: I am emailing “The Maestro.”
There you have it. Primarily because of connections made through social media my students and I were able to talk with someone who was there when Seinfeld was at its pinnacle.
So I offer a big thanks to Twitter, my Milwaukee friend (and fellow Gene Kelly fan), my Spring 2013 DePaul Seinfeld students (who were fantastic, btw), and most certainly to Mark Metcalf who took time out of his day and endured the often odd one-sidedness of Skype to talk with us about his experiences in the industry.