A couple of days ago, I mentioned our family’s attending a recent Jerry Seinfeld concert, during which his opening act was heckled and I identified with him to the point of remembering the main reason I did not want to be a comedian. Again, just remembering the incident ignites a “Not for me” reaction in my highly sensitive intestinal area.
Having attended another Seinfeld concert three years before, it became quickly apparent that the comedian was reprising a substantial portion of his 2012 material in this concert. But, as my daughter Anna astutely observed, imaginably through repetition during the interim, Seinfeld had “tightened his old material up.”
Jerry Seinfeld has an identifiable stand-up approach. He races onstage without introduction and goes straight into his act, infusing his material with what to me at least was an inexplicable urgency.
Seinfeld accompanies certain moments in his act with an underscoring physicality, his more demanding maneuvers demonstrating an admirable limberness, which I also took note of in my post about his 2012 concert (which, regular readers will be unsurprised to hear, I am unable to locate.)
Jerry’s contentual stock-in-trade involves, primarily, two areas of exploration.
“Area of Exploration Number One”: Conversational colloquialisms. Jerry mentions the disconcerting over-inclusion of the word “ass” during verbal interactions, as in “Blow it out your ass” and “I’ve got it coming out of my ass” (as if the person had stored a certain category of item in his ass and had accumulated so much of that particular item, “I’ve got it coming out of my ass.”
Jerry also observes that if you repeat the same word twice in the same sentence, it accords it a heightened intensity. As in, “It is what it is.” “A deal is a deal.” And “You are what you are, and you do what you do.” (That last one is mine, but I feel it comfortablly belongs.)
“Area of Exploration Number Two”: Contemporary behaviors and institutions, in which Seinfeld includes the wheezing comedic punching bag, The United States Postal Service, albeit to unexpected effect.
Seinfeld is sarcastically surprised that an institution whose modus operendi includes “licking and walking” would have difficulty staying afloat in the Twenty-First Century. He goes on to mock the agonizing humiliation of the Postmaster General coming on TV, explaining the necessity of raising the price of postage stamps another penny. The routine builds to a climax with Seinfeld’s proposal that the Post Office simply opens our mail, reads it, and then e-mails us what it says.
Charging us a penny for the service.
(Note: The preceding recreation was not verbatim, as I was not taking notes during the concert. Plus, kudos go to Jerry Seinfeld for his difficult-to-reproduce, vocabularial specificity. It’s like he picks every word, phrase and descriptive with a tweezers.)
Jerry Seinfeld’s concert made me laugh, though not always hard, and not all the time. As with the earlier outing, I perceived in Seinfeld’s performing M.O. a stylistical distancing.
There is something impersonal about Jerry’s approach. He will momentarily open up, like when he mentions his three children, while withholding personalizing details, such as their names, their ages, and their sexes. He has a wife, but the revelation her name as well appears to be on a strictly “need-to-know” basis.
In my view, backed by the corroborating evidence of two concerts, Jerry Seinfeld treats the audience like a mirror, in front of which, after thoroughly memorizing it, he smoothly and professionally delivers his act. Tiny slips are apparent, after which he instantaneously, and without comment, continues his recitation.
“Hey, the guy’s hilarious!” Is the rebuttal response, the accompanying pejorative “Asshole!” being entirely understood.
I agree. Jerry Seinfeld’s act evokes enthusiastic laughter.
But where is the engagement with the audience?
At this point, by way of contrast, I was going to mention, as my preferred style of comedian – if not human being – Bill Cosby.
When I was working on The Cosby Show, Cosby capsulized his comedic philosophy:
“You know when you’re in a restaurant and you see this guy telling a story and all the people at the table are laughing. I wanted to be that guy.”
Bill Cosby included his audience in the proceedings, making the overall experience warmer, to me deeply funnier and consequently more rewarding.
One last, revelatory comment.
I try to duplicate Cosby’s approach writing this blog. Generating the feeling that we are all in this together, you, reading and reacting, and me, talking to each of you individually, fully aware of my excesses and inanities.
“Did you really need to include that?”
Not really, but I wanted to.
A not dissimilar practitioner in this regard is Amy Schumer. Whose HBO Special I recently watched. (Alternating back and forth between her curiosity about her vagina and a C-SPAN lecture delivered by historian Joseph Ellis concerning the Founding Fathers’ letter-writing techniques. Call me “Mr. Eclectic!”)
Wherever you stand on her body of work – and her wardrobe selection for her performance – Amy Schumer knows how to connect with an audience. (Although I wish her act were as enjoyable as her audience’s reaction to it made it appear.)
Paralleling Cosby’s mythical roundtable raconteur, Amy Schumer felt like the funniest girl at the pajama party. (Putting me in the position of the eavesdropping brother hiding in the closet.)
When you get down to it, it may simply be a matter of taste.
I like to laugh.