“He’s neurotic and anxious, wandering around the stage as if he’s lost his front door keys, shouting at us, shouting at himself, shouting at the complexities of everyday life.” – Siobhán Kane’s take on Jerry Seinfeld at The O2 on Sunday night.
I have come to realise that three of my favourite men in the world have names that end in “y”; Woody, Larry, and Jerry – I am not sure if that is a coincidence. What isn’t coincidental is the fact that thousands of us flocked to the 02 Arena on a windy Sunday night to see this man from Brooklyn; yet Seinfeld instantly tears down any adoring impulse, pointing out that he has basically ruined our day. That getting here, for this, was the focus of our day, the pinnacle, the completion – and now here we are, staring at the man who is to blame, the man who stole Sunday away from us.
It’s a lovely way to start (“I’m here to address you directly, finally”), and there are few better people to spend time in the company of, though the crowd was ably warmed up by support Mario Joyner, who some might remember from things like, MTV’s Half Hour Comedy Hour, Chris Rock’s wonderfully mad Pootie Tang film, and two Seinfeld episodes where he plays two different characters (first in the episode The Engagement, and the second as “Maroon Golf” in The Puerto Rican Day Parade). He seamlessly flows from rants about over-zealous seat attendants, who demand seat trays to be flipped up when landing “I’ve never heard of a plane crashing because of a seat tray”, to struggles with technology, suggesting that the only good invention for mobile phones was Caller ID “sometime in 1989 – no-one’s ever had a good idea since then”, but that they took away their good work by “allowing Caller ID Blocking – why would you do that?”
Then Seinfeld runs on to the stage, peering out into the crowd, telling us that we are “quite impressive”, our city is “quite impressive” – things are “quite impressive”, it brought to mind Larry David’s “pretty good” – two simple words that somehow, because of enunciation and tone, become funny. I don’t really know why Seinfeld is so funny, he just is. He’s neurotic and anxious, wandering around the stage as if he’s lost his front door keys, shouting at us, shouting at himself, shouting at the complexities of everyday life.
Everyday life is his muse. Not wild, dramatic situations, but simple circumstances that he unfurls the nuances of. Everything is a drama under Seinfeld’s microscope. From the way our bodies are shaped, “our asses are like seat cushions, we are slowly evolving into chairs” to nostalgic remembrances of the poor quality of food when he was growing up, “eating Shredded Wheat was like wrapping my lips around a wood chipper”. His grasp on language is always engaging and naturally brilliant in its rhythm and delivery. He could be reading a shopping list and would still somehow compel; perhaps it’s the nervous, dissatisfied energy he brings to bear on everything he says.
There are a couple of local colourings to his act, “I was at the gym here, and the sign said “do not operate this equipment under the influence of alcohol”. I have never seen that before. And that is all I’m saying”, which led in to a long, winding rant about how the world is slowly becoming obsessed with beverages, “you gotta hydrate Jerry, hydrate!” to musing what kind of a person would drink something that had both alcohol and caffeine in it, “I can’t imagine a situation where you would want to be both trashed and sober”.
Sometimes he veers into softly philosophical terrain, like a wisecracking Brooklyn Kierkegaard, since his entire thesis is reflective truth. At one point he talks about how all of us present are here “trying to forget about the world for a while….and convince ourselves that our lives don’t suck”, mimicking us all the next morning, walking to work or wherever, thinking “my life doesn’t suck so much because I was at the 02 last night, watching Seinfeld”, it seems like a small observation, but its ripple effects are wider, lending the space for him to tell us that the “greatest lesson he has learned in life” is that “things sucking and being great are pretty close”.
There was a lovely moment about the husk-inducing effect of technology, with social media getting a black eye, “Facebook? That’s the final whoring out of the word ‘book'”, and though he admits to using some of this new technology, loathes himself for it, giving Twitter the other black eye, while ruefully saying “you grow up wanting to say everything to someone, and end up saying nothing to everyone”. He also decried the use of everyone being so public all the time, aghast that people are almost allowing themselves to stalk and be stalked “online”, yet if that behaviour was brought into the “real world”, “well, that’s what Cease and Desist orders, lawyers, and mace are for”.
Nuance is a key word in Seinfeld’s comedy; his obsession with language, tone, interpretation and the eclectic situations such differing interpretations can bring; almost any episode of Seinfeld explores this idea. And in his stand-up, he continues that exploration, and now that he is a little older,and married with children, he has extra experiences to mine for entertainment. At one point he gleefully talks about all the hypothetical situations that his wife sometimes thinks of “to see how I will react”: “what if I faked my own death and you found out about it, what would you say then?”, describing marriage generally as “trying to stay together without saying the words ‘I hate you'”, a horrible, cynical, but brilliant piece of comedy, going further to suggest “okay, it’s harder to be a mother, but at least you have instincts”, describing his position as the father in the household like “a day old helium balloon”, with friends constantly trying to get him to do the worst thing he can think of – play golf (“why would I want to try and hit a tic-tac into a shoebox?”); yet you get the impression that it isn’t that he doesn’t like being a father or husband, he is just a very neurotic man. “Since I’ve been married, it’s all been about tone, “why are you using that tone with me?”, “I don’t like your tone” – this is my normal speaking voice, but I am not allowed to use this “tone” at home, that’s why I’m here with you tonight.” He is not being cruel, it’s just that his main loyalty is to the observation, however far-reaching and uncomfortable.
So much of what he talks about is awkward, and brilliant because of it; his life, like most of ours, is built on awkwardness, and as if by poetic coda, he comes out for a small encore, a short Q&A with the audience, which is also built on awkwardness, since people start shouting questions and statements randomly, which went something like this:
Audience Member 1: “Your trousers are too tight!”
Seinfeld: “What? My pants are too tight? [starts fiddling around with them] Is that better? No? I don’t know, what are you gonna do?”
Audience Member 2: “Is Kramer a racist?”
Seinfeld [laughing, but clearly regretting this part of the show]: “No, it was just a comedic error”
Audience Member 3: [shouting] “LARRY DAVID!!”
Seinfeld: “What? Larry David? What about him? He’s great, we’re friends”
Audience Member 3: “Who’s funnier?”
Seinfeld: [laughing] “I think we’ve both done pretty well”
Audience Member 3: “Fair enough”
Seinfeld: “Actually, I’m working on a new show at the moment, and he’s going to be in quite a bit of it, but I can’t say too much about that right now”
Audience Member 4: “Who’s your favourite Seinfeld character?”
Seinfeld: [laughing] “I like them all, but maybe…..Newman [huge cheers]. I was actually in a coffee shop a while ago, and there were some Australians in there, they came up to me, and couldn’t believe they were “seeing Seinfeld in a coffee shop”, so I was signing autographs and having pictures taken, because I’m actually a very nice guy, and then honestly, Wayne Knight, who played Newman came in to the same coffee shop, and the Australians thought they were on the show or something.
The thing about Newman in the show, was that when I answered the door to him, I would open it wider for him than any other character, for obvious reasons, and he would do this little sidestep, almost like a dance as he walked in, and then I would stare into his beady little eyes, where I would see all the evil that existed in the world….”hello….Newman!”
And with that he was gone. Awkwardly.