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Jason Alexander

Most people don’t know him as anyone but George. And now he wants us to call him Donny?

Jason Alexander understands the challenges in trying something different.

The backers of the "Seinfeld" star’s new comedy venture were good with his new persona, Donny Clay. The parody of self-helpers such as Tony Robbins or Dr. Phil is the framework for a live vehicle that lets Alexander weave in stand-up, music and audience banter.

But, he notes, "the poor people at Planet Hollywood are going, ‘How do we sell this thing?’

"If you put ‘Jason Alexander’ up on the marquee, you’re not gonna get Jason that night, you’re gonna get Donny. If you put Donny up, no one’s coming."

Someone suggested "A spoof of motivational speakers." To which he begged, "Please don’t put that up. I’d rather pull out the rest of my hair than see whatever that’s about."

Las Vegas usually works within defined parameters. As Alexander says, "When you go to a Cirque show, you kind of know what you’re in store for. This needs a little premise building."

So here we go.

After "Seinfeld" ended in 1998, the man who played George Costanza was deemed a hot commodity — at least by the corporations who kept calling his agent to ask about private shows.

"I think a lot of people assumed I had been a stand-up comic at some point. But that was not anything I particularly thought I’d be good at. I knew I didn’t have that in my pocket."

Instead, Alexander spent many of his pre-"Seinfeld" years in musical theater. He even won a Tony Award — for Best Actor in a Musical — in 1989 for "Jerome Robbins’ Broadway."

But when it comes to corporate incentive programs, "I don’t think the good people at Johnson & Johnson want George to come and sing show tunes."

So he and writing partner Peter Tilden set out to create a showcase that "closely resembles stand-up comedy," but is "actually more like a little play. … The thing that Vegas does kind of know that is close is ‘Defending the Caveman.’ "

For Donny — billed as "the world’s fourth-best motivational speaker" — Alexander and Tilden returned to Bob Patterson, the self-help guru they created for Alexander’s short-lived sitcom. (It debuted when the country was reeling from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and people were "not in the mood for the type of humor we were pitching," he says.)

Alexander insists he is "not that fascinated" with motivational speakers. "I just think that is an area that is intrinsically funny. The notion that any human being has got their crap so together that, for a living, they can tell you how to get yours together is to me funny."

When the economy torpedoed corporate budgets for conventions and incentive travel, Alexander reworked "Donny Clay" into a public ticket. He has toured the past few months "and despite everything we do to the contrary, there are people who come up to us and go, ‘Wow, I really learned something.’ "

Alexander, 50, says "no matter what happens to me in my life and career, I will probably never achieve much distance from George. ("Seinfeld") was such an enormous thing and ran a relatively long time, in some ways it seems to have transcended being a TV show and (become) some part of the fabric of people’s lives in a way few television shows have been able to do." (For him, that show was the original "Star Trek.")

A more realistic goal, he says, is for people to say, "He wasn’t actually that guy."

Last season’s "Curb Your Enthusiasm" reunion of the four "Seinfeld" stars pulled back the curtain on the phenomenon, posturing that even Alexander didn’t like George. That type of deconstructionist comedy wasn’t available to Lucille Ball, who "went to her grave with people thinking the character on the show was the same character as the actress," he says.

"I fully expect the lead news on the day of my death will be ‘George died today,’ " Alexander adds. But if one day, people would say, "Boy, the character he played of George, that was really good" — that, he says, "would be very satisfying."

"Donny Clay’s" becoming a regular visitor to the Strip would be another step in that direction, he says. Plus, "that would mean we don’t have to explain it as much anymore. ‘It worked in Vegas, OK?’ "

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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