It’s Jerry’s World

(818 words)

Rare people make incredibly difficult things look incredibly easy.  In one episode, Seinfeld attempts to impugn an entire continent, with utter impunity.  And he pulls it off; makes it look easy.

Jerry Seinfeld was being interviewed on stage last week.  They asked him if anything like “Seinfeld” could ever happen again.  Would the entire country ever tune into a single TV show, the way they had with his epic sitcom?

Not a chance, I thought.

“Sure,” he said, “it could happen again.  It just has to be funny enough.”  I guess that’s why I sit in the virtual audience.

They asked him where his sense of humor came from.  He said he was never interested in normal everyday things.  It was all very odd to him, he said.

What exactly did he mean by that? asked the interviewer.  “Any of it”, he said, looking around the room waving his arms.

We’re Just Living In It

Jerry isn’t, exactly, a humble guy.  But, if all of America knows a person by their last name, and that person is not the president, they get to brag a little.

But he was serious; and not wrong.  It could happen again.  It just has to be good enough.  He seems to follow his instincts, keeping his own counsel.  He’s not impressed with all the technology and changes happening.

He shows me people still want to hear stories, and people still want to laugh.  If it’s good enough, they’ll tune in.  He keeps things simple, so he can focus on his passion for comedy.

There’s a video showing a time on the red carpet when another huge star, who was legitimately star struck, ran up to him while he was being interviewed and leaned in for a hug.  Jerry shuffles back, just out of reach, saying “no, thank you, no, thank you.”

I’ll never know if that was comedy or just Seinfeld being Seinfeld.  The actor ran away with hands over her mouth, mortified.  Jerry turned back to resume the interview.

Disbelieving, but amused, the interviewer asked what that was all about.  Jerry just said, “I have no idea who that was.”

Not That There’s Anything Wrong With It

On stage they asked if he was concerned that the politicization of everything was making it hard for comics to do comedy. He said no. When one door closes another one opens.

In one episode, Jerry and George are mistaken for being gay.  He said while that was edgy at the time, it isn’t now.  And that’s a good thing.  There is a role for comedy to open us up.  But it has to be the right time.

Laughter heals wounds, but only when everyone is laughing.  Hard to disagree with that.

Different Strokes

Jerry’s shtick is to feign disbelief.  He’ll act surprised at little everyday absurdities as a way of bringing our attention to what’s funny, so we can see it too and laugh.

A biography of Johnny Carson was published by Johnny’s lifelong attorney last year.  He tells the story of his job interview with Johnny.  Johnny’s partner opens the meeting by saying, “kid, Johnny Carson is the unhappiest person I know.”

That doesn’t sound like Seinfeld.

Johnny dominated people; roasted them and was roasted by them.  He teased out their insecurities to create comedy for the audience.  It was like a cult of personality.  And it was a lot tougher.

Jerry’s approach is completely different.  But the times are different.  Popular comedy is more sensitive and inclusive.  Jerry is a man for his time.  But, he’s as much philosopher as comic, which makes him a man for all times.

There is nothing brutal or crude about his approach.  That takes a lot of skill–to get laughs without being shocking.  Then again, what percentage of Carson’s audience were combat vets from WWII?

The comedy changes with the times.  America, maybe, needed something a little edgier in those days.

Public Philosophers

It’s said that France has public philosophers while America doesn’t; that that’s one big difference between the two cultures.  This was one of the ways they explained our disagreements and differences in our responses to 9-11.  Remember freedom fries?

I can’t agree.  I think Jerry is our country’s Voltaire.

Jerry isn’t calling for revolution, though.  He’s just saying, in his own way, it’s all going to go just the way it should.

I wouldn’t doubt it if I’m biased.  I grew up with his comedy.  Thursday nights were for Seinfeld; get the homework done before primetime: 7:00 to 7:30.

Will my nieces and nephews still think Seinfeld is funny?  I think so.  He notices what’s human in us.  That doesn’t change.  Shock jocks have to stay current, poking fun at particular people or choices they’ve made.

But philosophers, like Jerry, show us how some things change, and others don’t.

I hope he makes another show like that.  One America can all watch together.