The list of undisputed stand-up comedy royalty is a short one. Names like Richard Pryor, Woody Allen, George Carlin and Bob Hope will always ring true for comedy fans. Of course, this impressive list should also be augmented with some of the newer greats such as Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Ricky Gervais and Mitch Hedberg. And perhaps the bridge between this new generation of comedians and the old standard is Jerry Seinfeld.
Seinfeld is a household name at this point due to starring in and creating the “greatest television program of all time” according to TV Guide. And his staggering 36-year (and counting) stand-up career doesn’t hurt his clout. This incredible pedigree prompted his appearance last night at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee. It was quite the spectacle, so much so that when the initially booked show sold out, a second show was set up for all those who missed out on the initial run of tickets. In short, Seinfeld was in prime, sneering observational form, and it would be hard to imagine any show-goers driving home asking themselves, “Did I laugh enough tonight?” Of course they did.
For those who have become fans of Seinfeld through the sitcom phenomenon, you may think you know what to expect given the interspersed routines within the show. If you are anything like me, you always found these TV bits to be the low points of the show (barring a few particularly memorable jokes), which may have caused a bit of skepticism in prospective ticket buyers seeing Seinfeld in his natural habitat. But after pulling the trigger, buying the tickets, and seeing his unadulterated routine, I can easily say that those fears were entirely abated within five minutes of the start of the show. Seinfeld’s material, when separated from his seminal sitcom, has much more effect, much more “meat” to it and is more edgy and vicious. It also represents less of a self-caricature of the clichéd “Have you ever noticed…?” bits.
Of course, as an observational comedian, Jerry touts plenty of material that fits under the observational umbrella, but his wit and tongue are much sharper when he is not at the mercy of television censors. The real genius of his comedy lies not in his observations, but in the way he expresses them, in ways the average person would never think of, or could never personally put into words the way Seinfeld does. He is like that little part of the brain we all wish we had that runs around inside our internal vocabulary and finds exactly the right diction and syntax to express a point humorously and wittily.
Seinfeld latched on to his hatred of Twitter, referring to Tweets as “140-character turds” that we “expel onto the Earth.” He stated that he was sure the 140-character limit was important as it makes the Tweets easier to slide through the sphincter that is Twitter. Seinfeld also took a dig at Facebook, claiming it stretches the definition of the word “book” farther than anything before it and stating that looking at a friend’s drunk photos from Spring Break hardly deserves any association with reading Moby Dick.
On a related note, Jerry talked about how he misses the days when people used to be able to talk face-to-face. Now, as a society, we will do anything to put a screen and a keyboard between ourselves and the person we are conversing with. In a refreshing take on the tired trope of marriage in stand-up comedy, Jerry took to misandry instead of misogyny.
In a particularly humorous bit, Seinfeld referred to married women as women who “own and operate a man.” Jerry did express his happiness in being married and his pride in being a father, but he followed this “aww” moment up with a quip that once a woman has a child their maternal instincts kick in, while men walk out of the delivery room muttering, “What the hell do I do now?”
Seinfeld even touched briefly on the weight problem in America, but said he believes there is not such a problem, that we will not have a problem until Americans are so overweight to the point of being like “olives in a jar.” His propensity for creating these humorous mental images is what lends him his great comedy talent.
Jerry played a surprisingly energetic show for being all of 58 years old and having to tell the same jokes for two consecutive performances; he literally ran and skipped out onto and around the stage during his set with more energy than I see around campus daily. His material was fresh and perceptive and has kept up with the times quite nicely, even if some might find his views of Twitter and technology antiquated. The only gripe to be had about the set was that it was simply too short at around an hour, but I will take quality over quantity any day.