Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t play by today’s comedy rules. He spent 22 years touring before presenting this hour of jokes on Netflix. Which means if you’re a Seinfeld fan, you’ve heard some of this stuff two decades ago now.
As I wrote in May:
All of which makes Seinfeld even more of a throwback, an anachronism, an “OK, Boomer” kind of act that scoffs at even a sincere attempt at criticism. Which he has mentioned before on his Netflix series, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, saying: “That’s what’s so funny to me about when you get a negative review, which we all get from time to time. And you want to say, they’ve already voted. I’m sorry you didn’t like it. But the vote is — we took a vote that night. And out of 2,000 people — I know you have this job at the newspaper — but it doesn’t mean anything.”
Nevertheless, we persist.
Because Seinfeld cares so much about the craft of stand-up as a performing artist, we should care about and honor or critique the craftsmanship. And because he cares so much, the riskiest thing he does in this hour doesn’t take place onstage; he’d already jumped out of a helicopter in a wetsuit into the Hudson River months before the recorded stand-up performance (end credits footage reveals him practicing off a high-dive platform). Everything he says onstage, in stark contrast, needed years if not decades of rehearsing and honing, thousands of shows in clubs and theaters before he’d commit an hour of them to a special or album. Unlike most everyone else in stand-up in this century, who churn out new hours every couple of years to sell in concert tickets, albums and streaming specials, Seinfeld can afford to only put out his Greatest Hits.
Never you mind that the very notion of an observational comedian holding onto the same observations for decades sounds implausible during an era wherein everyone and anyone can offer up immediate opinions on everything and anything via social media. We imagine Saturday Night Live giving up on any sketch ideas based on that Monday’s news just because all of the other late-night comedians have taken their cracks at it by Tuesday. And yet here’s Seinfeld, continuing to tell jokes he wrote in the year Y2K. Before 9/11. When you could still smoke in restaurants and comedy clubs.
But streaming platforms have taught us, and Seinfeld most of all, that audiences are more than happy to watch the same Seinfeld reruns from the 1990s over and over and over again, to the tune of bidding wars to stream nostalgic sitcoms like the one he and Larry David dreamed up about all of the trivial nothings in our everyday life and turned them into comedy gold.
So Jerry may troll us by noting at 65 (he just turned 66 last week): “I don’t want to grow. I don’t want to change. I don’t want to improve at anything.” He may tease us by hinting that he’s done driving other comedians to get coffee or making comedy specials, and since it took 22 years to film this hour, could you blame him for not wanting to work so hard til he’s 88? He doesn’t even have to work this hard now. But he can’t stay away from the stage. He can’t stop telling jokes. Even if they’re oldies but goodies.