On the evening that ends Yom Kippur, when the imprecations for inclusion into the Book of Life are over – as well as, for some of us, the 27-hour-long fasting period, which I participate in without specifically knowing why – it has become a tradition for our family to host an annual “break fast.” (To be distinguished from “breakfast” which, you likely know, is the first meal of the day, as well as “fast break”, which is an up-tempo basketball maneuver. I gather the three of them in one place, in hopes that future generations will come here for clarifications of those distinctions and I will therefore become “Immorrrrrtal.”
Among the invitees was a longtime friend (and co-worker) who graciously offered to attend, along with her equally swell husband. She inquired if she could also bring along her twenty-ish son, who aspired to be a comedian, hoping I would have time if it was agreeable to me – and it was – to share my thoughts with him about comedy.
Like I had any valuable “words of wisdom” about comedy, he thought, scoffingly. Though it turns out maybe I did.
When I return from the synagogue the majority of the guests are already assembled – munching hors d’oeuvres while I was still angling for my personal survival. Almost immediately I run into my friend and her comedy hopeful offspring, whom, after welcoming them to the “break fast” I have no subsequent contact with until they were leaving. (Although a quick glance revealed he “looked funny.” Don’t ask me what that means; he just did. It maybe partially means that his father is in finance and I sensed no vibe of a “serious investor.”)
In the course of the evening, benefitting from a pre-party meditation session, plus the rabbi’s sermon that we are all universally “connected”, I became a masterful host, spending individual “quality time” with virtually all of the assemblage. You know how you have this idea of yourself as “Me, at my best”? Well, that particular evening, I was close. Something about being “actually present”, but don’t press me for particulars.
My daughter Anna had invited along her friend Stacy, an accomplished writer and an early “correspondent” on The Daily Show. Anna always makes me tell stories, and in the context of I no longer recall what, she told me to tell the story “about Seinfeld.”
So I did.
I imagine I have already mentioned this once or twice but pretend you’re Tracy who had never heard it before and you’ll enjoy it a lot better. (Other writers require “suspension of disbelief” to be appreciated. I require suspension of “I already heard that.”)
Years ago, I read a brief announcement in the Los Angeles Times saying that Jerry Seinfeld would be appearing on the upcoming Emmy Awards ceremony. The announcement went on to mention that Seinfeld had been nominated for an Emmy the year before – for Seinfeld, it goes without saying, but who ever says, “It goes without saying” without saying it anyway? Jerry Seinfeld, however, had not been nominated for an Emmy that year. This preceding tidbit was not included in the announcement, but could be inferred from the fact that the announcement had not included that he had been.
What comes instantly to mind – if your mind is my mind – after reading that announcement is an inquisitive “Hmmph.”
As in, “Hmmph. Jerry Seinfeld was nominated for an Emmy last year but was not nominated for an Emmy this year.” This was followed by a ruminative, “How could that possibly be?”
The unavoidable but unimaginable answer is that last year, Jerry Seinfeld had portrayed “Jerry Seinfeld” in a manner worthy of Emmy consideration but that this year, he had been demonstrably less successful in doing so.
Somehow, we must therefore conclude, Jerry Seinfeld had become less proficient at portraying himself.
I don’t know how many readers subscribe to the Los Angeles Times. I just wonder, among those subscribers who had read what I read, how many of them thought it was hilarious that Jerry Seinfeld, at least by the standards of the Emmy Nominating Committee had inexplicably “lost a step” when it came to the difficult challenge of “playing himself.”
(That’s the significant part of this narrative. A tangential though personally meaningful element is that I was then working with a man who had directed dozens of Seinfeld episodes, I wrote a “Seinfeld has apparently forgotten how to play himself” monologue, I submitted it to the director – “cause I thought he might possibly be interested”… is the story I like to tell about that – and then, at the Emmy Awards ceremony, Jerry Seinfeld repeated those exact comedic sentiments during his appearance on the show. I have no idea how that happened. Though I can report the “bit” was enthusiastically received.)
End of the “break fast” celebration, my longtime pal and her family are saying goodbye. She asks me, since I had not gotten to spend time with her son, if we could meet for lunch or something to “talk comedy” some time in the future.
I said sure. But then – because it was that kind of evening – I am inspired to blurt out all I actually have on the subject.
“Comedy is seeing what other people don’t see, saying it back to them, they go, ‘Oh, Wow!’, and they laugh.”
Ipso facto, that “Seinfeld Moment.” I read a blurb in the paper and something pops into my head. If people laugh at it,
I will still have lunch with them, though I fear it may be anti-climactic.
What exactly is there left to say?