FLMag: Is it true that you turned down the role of J Peterman in Seinfeld because you had enough work at the time?
JO’H: ABC had canceled my sitcom the day before. We ran a whole year there; it was called A Whole New Ballgame. We really had a great, great, really funny show and they pulled the plug, as they’re apt to do. I went out to dinner that night with my manager, crying in my beer, trying to take the cancellation as personally as I possibly could. Larry David’s office had called that evening and said we have this guest star role on Seinfeid starting tomorrow and it’s perfect for John; he can really chew it up and have fun with it. I said, “Just tell them no, I’m licking my wounds over the cancellation, I’m not in a good space to go have fun.” True story, he (the manager) never called them. So they were expecting me over at Seinfeld the following morning for the read-through. My manager called me and said get out of bed, they’re waiting for you.
FLMag: Tell me about your ironic turn of events after Seinfeld ended in 1999.
JO’H: Well, through the five seasons that I was there, the character … became really fun and very noticeable too. And it was running in parallel to the success of the actual catalog, the J Peterman catalog. John Peterman and I became very, very good friends just through our assimilation of the show and the business together. I’d send him wine and he would send me clothing – we had a really nice relationship. Well, the show ends, and the J Peterman Company goes on. Unfortunately they tried to expand and get into the IPOs of the late ’90s too soon, and they ended up in Chapter 11, which caused all sorts of stir because this was about a year after Seinfeld ended and all the business publications were calling me for my comments.
About a year later, John Peterman called me and said, “I’ve got the intellectual rights back for the company. I’d like to bring the company back, and I’d like you to join forces with me on the board and as part of the company.” So I did that. I wrote him a real large check, and I was part owner of the J Peterman Company. To this day I have a relationship with the company, although I’ve backed out a little bit and cashed in.
FLMag: Tell us about your touring show. What can attendees expect?
JO’H: I call it A Man With Standards because I was lucky enough to grow up in that time of the late ’50s and ’60s, when the sounds of the Great American Songbook were what entertained us. And I also say that I was lucky enough to grow up in the shadow of men who had standards. I call them gentlemen. In terms of the culture back then, the music and the manners were indistinguishable from each other. The music and the manners of the Great American Songbook, that’s how we would relate to each other. My parents would go out every Saturday night for dinner and dancing.
FLMag: Are you looking forward to performing in South Florida?
JO’H: It’s going to be a wonderful experience, and I’ll tell you why. I graduated from high school there, at Cardinal Gibbons. I spent just one year down there, but it was one of the most life-changing years for me, I would say, as a performer. We moved from New England; my dad was a surgeon and went to Holy Cross Hospital. My senior year was an epiphany for me because I came from a really established private school in West Hartford, Connecticut. In my head I said well, I can totally reinvent myself. I just developed so much as a performer that senior year in high school because I was taking chances and commanding the stage rather than just appearing on the stage. It was a big turnaround for me. If I was to look back at one year of my life, it was that one year in Fort Lauderdale.
I’ll have a lot of people at the show from Gibbons, my graduating class and people who knew me from Gibbons, so it’ll be a lot of fun. Class of ’72, we just had the 50th reunion last year.