At the risk of uttering heresy, I don’t find Jerry Seinfeld to be very funny.
I’ve always found his voice to be like sandpaper. It just rubs me the wrong way.
I also never thought much of Seinfeld. Aside from my aforementioned annoyance with the title character, I never cared much for Costanza, Kramer, or Elaine. I did make a point of watching the final episode just to be sure it was going off the air never to return except in re-runs.
In recent years, Seinfeld has returned to the limelight with his hit web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. But what’s so funny about President Obama? Unless you think, like I do, that the Obama presidency has been one long bad joke.
Yet Jerry Seinfeld is synonymous with New York, which makes him absolutely golden with my Dad. I can’t tell you how many times Dad has brought up scenes from Seinfeld as life lessons during which I would invariably roll my eyes.
In December, New York’s Beacon Theatre announced that Seinfeld would be their comedian-in-residence with monthly performances in 2016. When I saw that one of those performances fell on April 14th, I knew I had to act. You see, April 14th was my Dad’s 75th birthday. You only turn 75 once and as I have previously written, Dad came very close to not getting there. So my Dad is about to turn 75 and Jerry Seinfeld is performing at a theater within walking distance of his apartment. This would be his birthday gift. Seinfeld might not be my cup of tea, but I’ll take him over Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who were debating that very night in Brooklyn with no Larry David in sight. Besides this was my Dad’s night.
This is not the first time Dad and I have been to the Beacon. We previously saw some Doo-Wop featuring Dion as well as Bob Dylan, whose show featured a couple of Frank Sinatra songs. When Dad and I reached our seats, Blue Eyes was playing in the background.
We were soon joined by a couple who, when I heard the better half’s voice, had to be from the Midwest. It turned out they were from Indiana. They were in New York for their children’s dance recital and wanted some time to themselves. They were having lunch at Fairway Market across the street from the Beacon and saw that Seinfeld was performing and took the plunge.
All of this made me think of Ted Cruz’s infamous “New York values” remark. While I understand that Cruz is referring to media and cultural elites, it turns out that some of these media and cultural elites aren’t viewed as an anathema by Middle America. You don’t get more New York than Jerry Seinfeld, yet he is just as welcome in Muncie as he is in Manhattan. Typical of my Dad, he gets into conversation with this couple and asks them, “Do you know what he’s going to talk about?” The couple replied, “No, what?” “Nothing,” said Dad.
The evening began with veteran comedian Mario Joyner. A long-time collaborator with both Seinfeld and Chris Rock, Joyner understands his role explicitly. He spent a good part of his time exhorting the late arriving crowd to come on in. But make no mistake. Joyner was quite funny whether he was talking about people going to Home Depot thinking they were master carpenters, or saying the homeless in California were far more laid back than their Big Apple counterparts, or offering backhanded compliments. “A young woman told me I looked good for my age,” said Joyner, “It sounds like a compliment until you remember that people used to say, ‘You look good, period.” Joyner added, “It would be like me saying, ‘That dress looks good on you…for someone your size.’”
When Joyner’s set ended I figured it would be a few minutes of dead air. Given that Seinfeld lives in the Upper West Side, Dad figured he might have been late walking to the theatre, but out came Seinfeld to enormous applause. He immediately launched into a soliloquy about going out and how it was like having a second job. Half the time you don’t want to go, but you bought the tickets so you have to go. But by the time you get there you already want to go home.
Seinfeld is rich, famous, and perpetually annoyed. His least favorite word is “hydrate” and he’s utterly befuddled by all the energy drinks that abound including 5-Hour Energy which he describes as “Meth-lab Hawaiian Punch Jell-O shots” And for what? Seinfeld asks, “Who works from 1 to 6?” And if you’re tired? “Just go to bed.”
Like many people, Seinfeld is no fan of the U.S. Postal Service, which he likens to “a dazed and confused distant branch of the Cub Scouts.” He went on to say, “I love how the postal system has this financial emotional meltdown every three to five years that their business model from 1630 isn’t working anymore. I can’t understand how a 21st century information system based on licking, walking, and a random number of pennies is struggling to compete.” Notwithstanding his friendship with President Obama, there’s a conservative lurking somewhere within Seinfeld’s being.
In this day and age Seinfeld says we maintain two lives — our own and our smartphones’. The last time I was at the Beacon with Dad, I did not have one, but I do now and am virtually inseparable from it. In fact, a few seconds after turning onto Columbus Avenue, Dad realized he had left his smartphone back at the apartment and had to go back to get it. Thankfully he just had to walk a block or so. I’m glad he doesn’t live in New Jersey, for this and many other reasons. So Dad was in hysterics when Seinfeld went into his shtick about smartphones, especially when as he ran out of battery power he dropped to the stage floor and said, “Tell everyone that I love them and I’ll talk to them tomorrow.”
What was so refreshing was Seinfeld refraining from blue humor. This isn’t to say there isn’t a place for it. But in today’s comedy there doesn’t seem to be room for anything else. Toward the end of his act, Seinfeld said he didn’t have a bucket list. “I replace the b with an f and that’s my list.” Dad was impressed with Seinfeld’s subtlety.
Much to Dad’s delight, Seinfeld came out for an encore and answered a few questions from the audience. The topics ranged from his first joke, boxers or briefs and the presidential elections. To the final question, Seinfeld replied, “Gee, there are so many great choices,” he said to much laughter before departing the stage.
Dad was right. Jerry Seinfeld spent the evening talking about nothing. But for my Dad it was an evening of nothing that meant everything. As for me, nothing never meant so much.