The first time Jerry Seinfeld was funny in Salt Lake City his audience was so small it could have fit in the restroom of Abravanel Hall.

But Seinfeld didn't seem to mind. He stood there in Nino's Cabaret and was so funny that one of us actually had to stop listening periodically just to catch her breath.That was in 1987, when Seinfeld was already funny but not so famous that he could fill even a medium-size nightclub. He had already appeared on Johnny Carson lots of times and had already spawned stand-up imitators. But he didn't have his own sitcom yet. He wasn't so famous yet that he was known simply by his last name.

Now, though, "Seinfeld" (the show) is the third most-watched TV program in America. So when Seinfeld (the guy) appears in Salt Lake City this time, on Friday, June 25, he will fill Abravanel Hall twice, at both the early show and the late one.

Seinfeld is so famous now he doesn't need to do stand-up anymore. But, like "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, what he really likes to do best is get up in front of a live audience and tell some jokes. He still shows up at L.A.'s Improv comedy club, sometimes three times a week. And he still does tours.

"To be a comedian, you have to exercise the muscle constantly," he told Cosmopolitan magazine recently. "You don't do it, and it just goes away."

Or listen to what he told New York magazine: "I remember reading some comedian in a book saying, `You don't want to be 50 years old getting up on a Tuesday night in Milwaukee.' I thought, `Yes I do. That's exactly what I want to do.' "

Stand-up comedians are his superheroes. Like Superman, hesays, the stand-up comic is out there on a ledge, alone, relying on his own wits, or wit, to survive.

Some people (OK, me) would say that Seinfeld alone on a stage being a stand-up comedian is much funnier than Seinfeld on TV acting the part of stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The TV show is funny; but not as funny as the guy himself.

Half of the show's funniest lines come from George, the neurotic, out-of-work friend who is the alter-ego of Larry David, Seinfeld's real best friend and the main writer for "Seinfeld." The other half come during the monolog Seinfeld delivers before and after the sitcom part of the show.

The monologs let Seinfeld do what he does best: make an observation, spin it on its head, and let his famous droll inflection run with it until it's one step beyond its logical conclusion.

Seinfeld, for example, on finding a parking space in New York:

The problem is, car manufacturers are building hundreds of thousands of new cars every year; they're not making any new parking spaces. That's what they should be working on. Wouldn't that be great? You go to the auto show and they've got that big revolving turntable and there's nothing on it. New from Chrysler! A space.

Or Seinfeld on having to go see other people's babies:

Nobody ever wants you to come over and see their grandfather, do they? `You've got to see my grandfather. You've got to come over and see him. He's so cute. 168 pounds, 4 ounces. I love 'em when they're this age. He's 1,000 months. You know, the 80s is such a good age for the grandpeople.' . . . Just once I would like to meet a couple that goes, `You know, we're not that happy with (our baby). I think we made a big mistake. We should have gotten the aquarium.' "

Seinfeld is funny because he tells us about the mundane things the rest of us see but don't notice. "Why do they do the blankets like that?" he asks about the way hotels make the beds so tight. "You have to put your feet like this" (makes his hands separate in a V shape).

Seinfeld grew up wanting to be a comedian. But the first time he actually got on stage himself - before a solitary diner in a club that wasn't really a club ("just a restaurant with a table missing") - he froze. "The beach . . . driving . . . your parents," he said, listing the topics he had planned to turn into jokes.

Eventually, of course, he got the hang of it, but the first few years were a struggle. He took the worst day jobs he could find, figuring that would be the incentive he needed to succeed at his stand-up comedy at night. He even sold light bulbs ("There aren't a lot of people sitting home in the dark saying, `I can't hold out much longer.' ")

After a few years in New York, Seinfeld moved to Los Angeles, where he was hired as a joke writer for the sitcom "Benson," then was fired after three shows. His big breakthrough came in 1981, when a talent scout from the "Tonight Show" saw his act at a comedy club and signed him up.

From there things only kept getting better - except for the occasional glitch, like that evening in Salt Lake City six years ago. But we're ready for him this time. The shows have been sold out for months.

Opening for Seinfeld will be comedian Carol Leifer, who holds the record for the most stand-up appearances on "Late Night With David Letterman." Leifer has also worked as a staff writer on "Saturday Night Live" and recently starred in her third Showtime Special, "Gaudy, Bawdy and Blue."