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Why Seinfeld Sucked

23 Oct

Jerry Seinfeld isn’t very funny.

Hold the firing squad. Stop the downward swivel of the boiling pots of oil. Lower your clubs and stones and any other within-easy-reach-blunt-objects needed to teach this defamer of a comedic legend a lesson. I have a point.

My opening sentence was appropriate for the early scenes of the 2002 documentary “Comedian,” in which Seinfeld scrapped his TV repertoire in favor of new material and returned to his roots, braving the bright lights and lonely mics of the stand-up circuit.

Hard to believe, but when Seinfeld took those first few stages, while he didn’t out-right bomb, neither did he burn the house down with wit-inducing, best-ab-workout-of-my-life laughter.

His reputation produced huge welcomes from the small, smoke-filled comedy clubs, but things cooled after that, with Seinfeld struggling to recapture the observational quirkiness to his comedy and mesh that with the timing that gathered an audience of over 70 million for the final episode of his sitcom in 1998.

Improv comedy is one thing, but that’s not what Seinfeld is about. His journey back to the top of the stand-up circuit is one characterized by planning, writing and voicing of insecurities and fears of failure and soul-searching, with plenty of f-words to season the dialogue, while in the company of contemporaries like Chris Rock, Garry Shandling, Jay Leno, Colin Quinn and Bill Cosby.

More writing and refining followed every step of his journey, with Jerry accepting nothing less than perfection from himself. “That is a tough, tough f***ing gang they’ve got out there,” he said after a bad set. “Every comedian has a f***ing excuse. It’s the candles. It’s the smoke. ‘Get those candles out! I gotta go on.’ I make no excuse. I just wasn’t good.”

Seinfeld had it, got rusty after his show ended, but applied comedic Rust-Oleum to return to the pinnacle of his profession, and through this show that to meet the de facto maxim of any comic—BE FUNNY—it takes put-your-rear-in-gear-and-never-give-up hard work.

So, yes, when Seinfeld grabbed his first mic during that documentary, he sucked a bit, losing a few watts on his divine-comic halo, but that was then.

Time and persistence have converted the incandescent halo to a where-are-my-shades? LED beacon that was shining in full brilliance when the fifty-six-year-old Seinfeld brought his act to the Adler on Friday night for the 3rd time since 2005.

I was seven rows from the stage; my wife, about the same number from the top of the theater, as I was unable to secure another “reviewer’s ticket” for her, but it was still a family affair nonetheless, and we compared notes afterward, laughing about the uncanny parallels to our own family life, content that with Seinfeld, there is no such thing as a bad seat in the house.

Opening the show after a half-hour delay, which the house didn’t explain, but which he described as, “We had to wait for the drugs to kick in” was Mark Schiff. He seemed angry with a lot of things. Doctors being the only people who can get away with saying, “Get undressed. I’ll be right back,” wishing he had that power. 99-cent stores: “You know you’re not doing well in life if you return stuff to the 99-cent store.” But his irritation received consistent laughs throughout his 30-minute set, causing a woman behind me to laugh so hard she sounded like she needed an inhaler.

But if Schiff got a respectable reception, the near-capacity crowd, doubtless restless from the delay, drew from energy reserves when Seinfeld burst onstage, responding with a standing O before he’d even spoken a word. Donning a suit and tie, he struck a pose, arms outstretched, trademark wide-eyes no extra charge. He, too, offered no explanation for the delay, launching full-throttle into his set.

A sampling:

On worrying about getting ready to go out, driving too fast, choosing clothing, getting out on the town and making it back home successfully: “We must overcome all these things to convince ourselves that our lives don’t suck.”

On restaurants specials: “If they’re so special, put them on the menu.”

On wishing restaurants would stop drizzling this and that on food, and what they should say instead: “’It’s chicken with juice dumped on it. You want that?’” Pause. “Yes, I do…. I can’t cook. That’s why I came in here.”

On ratings systems: “Sucks and Great are the only two ratings people use any more,” he said. If you’re walking down the street and your ice cream falls on the ground, what do you say? “Sucks. (Then) (w)hat do you say? Great!”

On why people don’t go to the gym: “I think we don’t want to stand up.” He thinks that’s why God gave us an a**. “It’s a seat cushion growing out of your body.”

On Five-hour Energy: “That is a weird amount of time. Who’s working one to six?”

On what people are really saying when they favor email over face-to-face conversations: “’Look, I don’t want to see your face. I don’t want to hear your voice. I’m only interested in my half of the conversation.’” When people ask him, ‘”Can I have your email address?’” He responds: “No, just say it now.”

On having three kids all under the age of 10: “It’s like having a blender, but you don’t have the top for it.” You can use it, but there’s always a mess.

I had heard the bit about answering machine messages on “Comedian,” but it was still funny, and since the documentary grossed next-to-nothing at the box-office, I imagine it was new to many in attendance.

The crux: Why do answering machines tell us to leave a message after the beep? Further, why do they tell us to include in said message content our name and number? “We are all up to speed on the beep,” he said. You don’t hear anyone leaving messages saying, “‘This is a woman. Goodbye.’”—or—“‘He’s dead. Call me back.’”

Bit after bit, Seinfeld killed on everything, frequently launching into his classic cracked-and-screamed falsetto when delivering a punchline.

There was an awkward pause once when he transitioned between topics, but that was the only noticeable break in laughter during the 40 minutes of his set I was able to stay for due to my deadline. Remember the needing-inhaler woman? Yeah, during Seinfeld, I considered turning around to see if someone was strangling her.

When in the presence of greatness, what can we say that doesn’t sound trite? Here’s my attempt:

I got to see arguably the greatest stand-up talent of this generation. No, let’s trash that TALENT word; it gives a false sense of accomplishment. From the trenches of comedy clubs in 2002 to the machine-hitting-on-all-cylinders I saw Friday night, there’s only one award I can think of that Seinfeld deserves more than anything for his eight years of re-dues-paying.

Most Improved.

 
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