Among my passions, besides napping, eating cherries, and watching people hurt one another inside hockey arenas, is the realm of stand-up comedy. We were lucky enough to see Seinfeld, the other night.
He ran out onto the stage a la Letterman and straight into his routine. 90 or so minutes of inspired hilarity that only Seinfeld could pull off. I wouldn’t dream of burning any of his material; suffice to say his set was polished and accompanied by his dynamic movement across the stage. This punctuated his routines to excellent effect.
His style, as you know, is a patter. It is a patter that he originated, and has been appropriated by so many comics that it has become, perhaps, almost ‘hacky’, as they say in the industry. This is why he becomes a target for much criticism by (whom else) critics. Were you at the show that we attended, there certainly was no shortage of appreciation, and the laughs were frequent and quite explosive. He took frequent water breaks, out of a glass, poured from a bottle, of course.
His frequent target is us, and our hypocrisies and ridiculous-seeming indulgences. We become cast as likable, but imbecilic idiots, and we love him for pointing it out to us. No one brings that recognition of abhorrent and absurd behaviour home like Jerry. A case in point was his lambasting of ‘binge watching’. “You’ll love this series, but the first four seasons are garbage”.
There is an absurdity nicely folded into much of what he espouses, and this, above all, is what appeals to me about Jerry, apart from his Everyman persona. Bob Newhart had this quality as well – another genius IMO.
Jerry does not riff as much as his pieces are too finely crafted and calibrated for maximum laughs for that. There were some inspired uses of wordplay that clearly came from his ‘Sein language’ days. An example is of a common practice of using the same word twice to emphasize a point (i.e.: it IS what it IS, if it HAPPENS it HAPPENS, etc). He does not end there, but garners further laughs by including a series of these into a funny narrative.
At about the mid-point of a 75 minute set, he ‘changed gears’, and delved into his own personal life, to this point. This is fairly new territory for this observational comic. He is married with 3 children and, at 64, moves about the stage with a grace that belies his age. The tone was never mawkish or sentimental in any way, and complemented the preceding material nicely. On being 64: When you’re in your 60s, if someone asks you to do something, you can just say ‘no’. When I’m in my 70s, I don’t think I’ll even answer. And I don’t lie in restaurants anymore. They ask, How is everything? I say, I don’t like it. Do you want the cheque? No, I intend to press charges.
Jerry takes the minutiae of all our lives, and presents it to us in the harsh light of day in all its absurdity. Love him or hate him, you cannot deny the monstrous influence he has in comedy and stand-up.