“Car Matchmaker” Spike Feresten Talks to Us About Loving Porsches, Hating Crosstours, Writing “Seinfeld,” and Predicting Donald Trump
Although he hosted Talkshow with Spike Feresten for three years on Fox, Spike Feresten made his biggest contributions to the entertainment industry while working behind the camera. As a television comedy writer, Spike has few equals, with a resume that includes Saturday Night Live, Late Night with David Letterman, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld. His most iconic creation remains “The Soup Nazi,” a character that continues to be referenced in pop culture (including in the 2012 Acura NSX Super Bowl commercial that Spike wrote with his old boss Jerry Seinfeld).
And like many comedians, Spike Feresten is an unabashed car guy. On his Esquire show Car Matchmaker, Spike uses his automotive expertise to help people find the vehicle that’s just right for them. The third season begins this week, and features Spike giving advice to everyone from bikers to swimsuit supermodels.
When we talked to Spike, the air conditioning had just gone out in his Los Angeles home, with the temperature hovering at “about 128 degrees.” In spite of those less than ideal conditions, Spike was more than willing to talk with us about his show, his favorite (and least favorite) cars, his comedy writing career, and the way that he slyly predicted the 2016 presidential election more than two decades ago.
The News Wheel: The third season of your show Car Matchmaker premieres on the Esquire network this Wednesday at 9 pm. What new vehicles and guests are you most excited about for this season?
Spike: Well, this season, for the first time we’re featuring motorcycles. We did an episode where the buyer is looking for a motorcycle with a sidecar for her dog, which was a hell of a lot of fun. We also had a couple of off-road episodes this season. One person in particular, a couple actually, that trains with CrossFit, was looking for a vehicle to get off the grid for a year. Big enough for them to live in, and also carry 500 pounds of CrossFit weights. I really enjoyed doing that episode. We had three big off roaders, we were off in the woods for a couple of days, and we had a fantastic time.
We have the usual assortment of performance cars, Ferraris and Lamborghinis, and production cars. It runs the gamut this season.
You’ve had a lot of high-profile guests on the show, from athletes to comedians. Is it easier to be a car matchmaker for celebrities, since they already have a public persona?
We generally don’t find cars for celebrities. What we do on the show is introduce real people to car celebrities, if you will. It works this way: We had a young lady on the show who wanted her first motorcycle and had only been riding for three years, so I thought it would be cool to bring her by Keanu Reeves’ Arch Motorcycle company, and have her meet Keanu and hear his experience about riding, and what he thought she should buy. That’s generally how we incorporate celebrities into the show.
But on occasion, we’ll help them out. But celebrities don’t need help, they’re already celebrities! [laughs] They already have everything! Why would I help them? I make them work when they come on Car Matchmaker.
When people associate certain cars with certain personality types, they are often used derisively, like the idea of a “midlife-crisis car” or a “chick car.” Do you try and look past those negative stereotypes, or do you feel like some of them hold true?
Well, truthfully it’s a bit of both. It all depends on the type of buyer I’m dealing with. For me personally, I see the end of my life pretty clearly [laughs]. I don’t want to be that guy who says “jeez, I really wish I had driven this car, but I was too afraid,” you know what I mean? I drive cars for the experience; I could care less what people think.
There are people out there who are buying cars that need them professionally. Maybe a real estate broker who wants to take around clients and needs to project success, or maybe a doctor or a network executive out here who needs to project humility, and not let their bosses know they’re making too much money [laughs] It all depends on the individual story.
Was working with car guys like David Letterman and Jerry Seinfeld something that ignited your passion for vehicles?
It really was. The passion for cars and motorcycles was already there, what Dave and Jerry did was help focus it in on stuff that they knew I would like. Dave in particular let me drive his collection of cars out here in LA one year, and it really did focus me in on what I liked and what I didn’t like in terms of collecting. I believe we drove Porsches, Austin-Healeys, and Ferraris that day, and I knew right away I didn’t want to be an Austin-Healy guy.
I loved the cars, but I said that was not for me, I am just too young! This old Porsche 356 here, this car, wow! What a simple wonderful driving experience with nothing extra on it. No power steering, no power brakes, I loved it, and I really connected with the early Porsches Dave had.
You seem to be partial to Porsches, but are there any other automakers that hold a special place in your heart?
Many! Many! I mean, if we’re talking vintage, it’s ever-widening. This year I bought a 1979 Volkswagen Police Beetle that was used in Wurzburg, Germany from 1979 to 1990. That’s opened my eyes to vintage Volkswagens. I grew up with American Muscle Cars, so on my radar right now is an old Mustang, old Chevy Nova, something of that ilk that reminds me of my small town in Massachusetts. I have an old Land Rover… I’m a little obsessed with old Land Rovers from the 60s and early 70s, I just love those things. There’s a lot lately. Old Jaguars have piqued my interest, too, and I never thought I’d go near those things. I’m pretty much all over the place when it comes to that stuff.
As far as the new stuff, I’m pretty loyal to Porsche, but when I get these Lamborghinis and Ferrari press cars, I lose my mind for a weekend. I haven’t written a check yet, because I don’t have the money, but still, I would.
Obviously, you’re trying to help the people on your show find a great vehicle, but if you were picking a car for your worst enemy, what kind of crappy vehicle would you stick them with?
I would put them in… Let’s see, that’s a good question. Well, anything with Takata airbags [laughs] In an accident, it’ll blow metal shards in their face, but that’s a little violent.
I think I would want to kind of ruin them slowly, murder their soul slowly, over the course of days, weeks, and months, and for that I would pick the Honda Crosstour. [laughs] It’s an aesthetically hideous car. I can’t tell you how it drives because I don’t want to get within 400 feet of one. That would be my choice.
Just from watching the show, we noticed that you have little love for the Honda CR-V.
You know what? I’ve warmed up to the CR-V.
Here’s the thing about matchmaking: As long as you’re happy, I’m happy. It’s like real matchmaking. Who am I to tell you not to marry or date this person? If you’re happy with them, I’m happy for you. What I’ve learned about the Honda CR-V, which I have been very critical of before, is that a lot of people are very, very happy with their CR-Vs, and really like them. I’m staying open minded about it.
I’ve started to take a very negative opinion on what Toyota has done with the new Prius, because they’ve managed to magnify the ugliness in a way I did not think that was possible! I’m frankly shocked and upset at the new design, mostly because we’re a Prius family. My wife loves them, we’re on our fourth Prius, and I know once this car is up for renewal she’s going to want that new one, and I’m not so sure I want it in my driveway.
Maybe you can convince her to drive a BMW i8 instead. Those are pretty and they’re electric.
Yeah, you know, it’s funny. Here at least, every time we’ve been in that car, men in general really like them and women in general really don’t. They just don’t get it. I test drove it this year, and I thought it was OK. I mean, it was kind of a letdown for me. I just thought of all the things that are like this, this is the least interesting version of it. I like the BMW i3 a lot, it’s a cool little electric car.*
I’m a big fan of the Chevy Volt, and I can’t wait to see the Bolt. They’re affordable and they do what they’re supposed to.
You wrote the Seinfeld episodes “The Wig Master,” in which George discovers that prostitutes are servicing clients in his car, and “The Junk Mail,” in which Jerry discovers the Costanzas making love in his van. Is there a reason that a guy discovering people having sex in his car is a recurring motif in your work for that series?
I’ve never put that together before, but yes! I believe the sex in the van was just to get the phrase “if this van’s a rockin’, don’t come knockin’” in! Just so I could hear that line uttered in that episode.
The Jeep [being used by prostitutes in “The Wig Master”] is torn from the pages of my real life. I had a cheap CJ-5 in New York, and I parked it on a lot on the West Side outside, and the doors did not lock, and that was really happening. So that is a real story from my life.
So was the obnoxious Volkswagen Golf driver from “The Puerto Rican Day” inspired by a real VW owner who cut you off?
I think that’s random. That whole episode was just inspired by getting caught in traffic during parades in New York City. It was an unfortunate choice, that it was the Puerto Rican Day parade, because I think viewers saw something negative in that, but really it could have been any parade in New York City.
Speaking of NYC traffic, how much has your life changed, going from Massachusetts traffic, to New York traffic, to now LA traffic?
You know what; nothing prepares you for the driving world better than Boston driving. It’s an education, it’s violent, it’s speedy, the aggressiveness, the horn honking… I was so ready for New York, and then after New York… I mean, please. Watch out, people of LA! I’m a specially trained driver! I’ve seen it all!
This last question doesn’t relate to cars, but it’s something I’d like to ask about, if you don’t mind. In 1995, you wrote the classic Simpsons episode “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming,” about a charismatic yet certifiably insane television personality with bizarre red hair who somehow gains access to a nuclear weapon. Considering that now, over twenty years later, Donald Trump may well be given the nuclear launch codes… do you feel like a prophet?
[laughs] Yes, I feel vindicated! You found the Easter Egg in that episode, the message! I am Nostradamus, and I am making my predictions in a Simpsons episode 20 years ago! [laughs]
That’s what we’ve been suspecting, so glad to confirm that!
You’re right, you got it, you caught me!
Patrick Grieve was born in Southwestern Ohio and has lived there all of his life, with the exception of a few years spent getting a Creative Writing degree in Southeastern Ohio. He loves to take road trips, sometimes to places as distant as Northeastern or even Northwestern Ohio. Patrick also enjoys old movies, shopping at thrift stores, going to ballgames, writing about those things, and watching Law & Order reruns. He just watches the original series, though, none of the spin-offs. And also only the ones they made before Jerry Orbach died. Season five was really the peak, in his opinion. See more articles by Patrick.