Profile: Jason Alexander
There’s more to him than George Costanza
By Kate Morgan

“On the day that I die,” Jason Alexander says in that voice you’d know anywhere, “if anybody notices, they’ll say, ‘George Costanza died today.’ I made my peace with that a long time ago.” 

It’s true that the Jersey-born actor is known to most for his portrayal of the neurotic, unlucky-in-love George on “Seinfeld,” which ran from 1989 to 1998. The character was the butt of many of the show’s jokes and delivered some of its most iconic punch lines, cementing Alexander’s place in sitcom history.  

“I love George,” says Alexander, “and the love people have for him is very rewarding.”  

So, you know him as George – unless, of course, you’re a Broadway fan.  

Before all the primetime TV glory and the Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, Alexander won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his work in “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.” He starred in Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound,” Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” and Larry David’s “Fish in the Dark.”  

And that’s just his work on the Great White Way – he’s also appeared in and directed theatrical productions all over the country. In April, he performed his one-man autobiographical musical revue “Jason Alexander: The Broadway Boy,” backed by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at the N.J. Performing Arts Center. 

“I find that when I’m not singing, all I want to do is go sing,” he says. “If I’m doing a TV show or a play, I’ll be backstage going, ‘Goddamn it, if we could just sing it, it’d be so much better.’ I’m a musical curmudgeon that way.”  

Alexander’s roots in the New Jersey theater world run deep. He credits all of his success to the Pushcart Players, a still-active theatre troupe in Essex County that launched his showbiz career before he was old enough for a driver’s license.  

“Pushcart was creating children’s musicals and touring them around schools,” Alexander says. “Some dad in the audience of one of those shows decided it might make a good TV series. He raised the money and produced a pilot. Then two big things happened for me.” 

To participate, Alexander had to join an actor’s union.  

“Actors try for years to be invited [to a union], and for me it happened at age 14. The other thing was that the show was never sold as a series, but the New York and New Jersey local affiliates agreed to air it at like 8 am on a Sunday morning. A talent management company that handled kids and teens took a liking to me and managed the first 12 years of my career. I never had the experience of trying to leap from student actor to pro. I jumped that whole line.”  

So, you know him as a stage actor – unless, of course, you’re into magic. Alexander is also an avid amateur magician. In 2006, his weeklong engagement at LA’s exclusive Magic Castle earned him the Parlor Magician of the Year award. If you’re a poker fan, you might know Alexander as a competitor in the World Series of Poker and a winner of Bravo’s “Celebrity Poker Showdown.” If you’ve got young children, you may have read them Alexander’s lighthearted children’s book, “Dad, Are You the Tooth Fairy?”  

In short, Alexander’s resume is long and kind of weird – and that’s by design.  

“I have always looked for things that were challenging, interesting, scary, exciting,” he says. “It’s the reason my career has been so diverse. Someone would say, ‘What about a children’s book?’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t know how to do that, but let me try.’ ‘How about a symphony concert?’ and I’d say, ‘I can’t do that, but let me try.’ Nothing I’ve done has been haphazard, and I wouldn’t take any of it back.”  

He’s also not taking back any of his tweets. Twitter is often where the funnyman is at his most serious, frequently criticizing government officials and occasionally drawing the ire of followers who disagree.  

“The public and private personas get mixed up, for better or worse,” he says. “When I go to work, most of the time I’m not being hired to espouse opinions or talk about the real world or things that matter to me. I’m being hired to entertain. But I’m a person, and I’m a citizen, and I do feel strongly that people need to participate in the society they live in. There are times when I raise my voice about things, and they tend to be political. I don’t use Twitter to demean people. I’m trying to inform people.”  

It’s a divisive time in America, Alexander says, and that may be why we’re turning back to the thing that made Alexander a household name: sitcoms, what he calls the “comfort food” of television.  

“Comedy can be the greatest pallet cleanser in the world,” he says. “I think comedy, and sitcom in particular, is reflective of where the zeitgeist is at the moment. Right now we’re seeing reboots of old shows and spin-offs of shows that have been with us for a while.”  

We love these shows, he says, because they’re “reliable and familiar. We know the people in them, we know we’ll enjoy them and we’re comforted by them.”  

Alexander isn’t plotting a return to primetime – though his stance on offers for new projects is, “If nominated I will run, if elected I will serve” – but the 58-year-old is totally unconcerned about his place in entertainment history. 

“I had a conversation with my sons a few years ago, when I was helping a friend get their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,” he says. “My sons asked if I had a star. I said no, and they said, ‘Do you want one?’ I told them it’s a nice thing, but we could walk block after block, and you wouldn’t know most of the people whose names are written there. I told them, ‘I only care about how two people in the world remember me, and they’re here in this room.’ My legacy will be carried by my sons, and no other part of my legacy matters much to me at all.”  

Jason Alexander will appear at Katz JCC on June 6 for “As Long as You’re Asking: A Conversation with Jason Alexander.” Showtime is 7 pm, and tickets are $65 for general admission or $100 for preferred seating. 

June 2018
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