July 25--When Larry Miller first saw him, Jerry Seinfeld was wearing sneakers, blue jeans, a white T-shirt and trying -- somewhat tentatively -- to become a stand-up comedian.
A few days later, Miller noticed Seinfeld sitting on a New York City bus.
"I waddled over to say 'hello,' " said Miller, who, like Seinfeld, was heading to an East Side comedy club in 1978 to try and make people laugh. "I guess we've been friends from that day forward."
They reunite tonight when Miller opens for Seinfeld at Stockton's Bob Hope Theatre. It was Seinfeld who comedically christened the city's renovated Fox Theatre on Sept. 19, 2004.
They've done this a "handful of times over the years," said Miller, an actor, stand-up comedian and recently revealed singer-songwriter. "He always takes friends out (on the road). It's a wonderful way to get together again. The best way in the world. He works in beautiful theaters to great groups."
Of course, after those formative years at New York's Comic Strip Live club and riding the MTA, the Brooklyn natives and former "baby comics' " career paths diverged.
As Miller emphasized, though, the common theme isn't punch lines. It's effective storytelling.
Seinfeld, 59, co-created -- with another Larry (David) -- one of the most successful sitcoms in TV history ("Seinfeld," 1989-98). Larry Miller. 59, did get to play a spiteful hotel doorman in one "Seinfeld" episode. In 1991, he thinks.
"We were close friends," Miller said. "As good friends as you could be."
Of course, like Seinfeld, he became a successful stand-up comedian. He's catalogued 100 movie and TV credits, including multiple appearances with David Letterman, Jay Leno and Bill Maher and roles in "Pretty Woman," "The Nutty Professor" and "The Princess Diaries."
Miller, who has added a couple of songs -- "I think they're very good. Witty." -- to his stand-up routine, retains total admiration for Seinfeld, whose TV show, supposedly "about nothing," still is watched every day somewhere in the world.
"He's the same, in a way, as he is as a standup," Miller said during a recent phone conversation from his home in Sherman Oaks. "He's very talented with a great ear and eye for the whole nature of what being a storyteller means. I love to watch a good story being told. His style of discussing it is 'That's how I feel.' So people in the audience feel, 'That's what I think, too.'
"In a way, instead of saying 'That's the way it is,' you almost wanna say, 'How could it not be?' How could someone doing something so good and solid and honest -- that's coming straight from the head and heart -- why would people not like that?"
Obviously, they do. In huge numbers. Without "X" or "R" ratings. Bill Cosby-esque.
"We always had the same instincts, even when we were baby comics," Miller said. "Whatever somebody does to be funny is all right with me. Like Cosby, I just love the phrasing of the storyteller so much. Describing the scene and what they think is funny. Others say, 'Maybe not.' "
Born in Brooklyn, Miller grew up in Valley Stream, Long Island -- fascinated by TV ("The Million Dollar Movie," "every Western series") and absorbing Cosby's early '60s comedy albums.
"I loved being funny at home," he said. "My dad would tell jokes. My mom and sister, we'd all laugh together."
Miller's dad, Milton, was an attorney and mother Marion was a teacher -- "great at suburban mominess" -- who worked in impoverished neighborhoods.
"I liked to laugh as much as any kid," said Miller, voted "wittiest" in his high school yearbook after a bare-chested, eye-patched attempt to be named fall festival queen. "I didn't really know what I was doing and don't have a gigantic understanding now. I just got lucky. It was a great breeding ground for comedy little league."
A singer who played cello, piano and drums, Miller majored in music at Amherst (Mass.) College. After graduation, he returned to New York and worked for six months as an Amtrak reservation agent. He also was the drummer in a comedy club -- yes, he delivered punch-line rim shots when requested -- before friends encouraged him to head for the Comic Strip, where he met that guy in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt.
They still hang out. In mostly sold-out theaters. "The Jerry & Larry Show" never has been proposed.
"I suppose we could," said Miller, a married (Sheryl) father of two sons who stages his one-man show next week in San Antonio, Texas. "This seems good, too. Doing what I do, I love it. I always will. Jerry might have had his fill with weekly TV. He's loving what he's doing. Going around the country and world being a comic. People are going, 'Hey, let's go see this guy. This guy is good.' "
Contact reporter Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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