For the first time in his spectacularly successful career, Jerry Seinfeld on Saturday night brought his musings on the ridiculousness of the human condition to Israel. It’s no easy task performing highly nuanced, cultural-reference-filled comedy on foreign soil, even for a presumably English-adept crowd, and not knowing exactly what they’ll get and what will baffle them. But if Seinfeld didn’t absolutely “kill it,” he had the sold-out crowd laughing almost throughout, nodding ruefully at some of the pinpoint observations, and baying for more at the end.
Undauntedly delivering intimate stand-up material in a high-ceilinged, 11,000-seat basketball stadium, he was good from the first line — a raucous, faux-disbelieving, isn’t it wonderful, “Oh my god, I’m in Israel!” And though the hour-long set involved such endlessly mined comedy seams as marriage, parenting, eating, mobile phones and death, Jerry Seinfeld is one funny man and found gold in them all. He took questions at the end, and someone called out to ask what he’d be doing if he wasn’t a comedian. “If I wasn’t a funny person, I would be a serious person, like yourself,” Seinfeld shot back. “And nobody,” he told her, after the requisite comedic pause, “nobody comes to see a serious person in a room of this size.”
His first riff, like many that followed it, went to the heart of how absurd we really are — all of us humans, that is, though at this stage he was referring specifically to us in the audience. “How proud you are” to be here, he told us, correctly — so pleased with yourselves, he noted, simply for having gotten tickets. (Laughter.) Not too bothered about whether the show would be any good. (Laughter.) After all, he self-deprecated, “are the other three going to be there? No. So what’s the big deal?” (Laughter and applause.)
He described trying to get his spoon through his mother’s sludgy oatmeal as akin to ‘rowing in the hull of a Greek slave ship’
Speeding from the particular to the general, he pointed out that when we’re at home, we want to be out. And here we were now, he helpfully informed us, out. Trouble is, no sooner are we out, than we want to get home again. Such futility. Of course, he was just as bad, he admitted. He didn’t have to be here either. But, “I got nothing!” So here he was.
While his warm-up colleague, Mark Schiff, had presented a set that was uncomfortably long on the shortcomings of women and marriage, Seinfeld –15 years hitched, to Schiff’s 25 — was more admiring. Women have the best brains, he asserted — so smart that they’ve consumed all the facts and have now moved on to the hypotheticals. Such as the accusatory: “If you fake your own death, and I find out about it, what will you do then?” As with so much of his set, the gestures, body-language and timing sold that zinger.
What about men? Well, “a man is really nothing more than an extremely advanced dog.” (Huge laugh.)
He has some beautiful lines, does Seinfeld, famously honed through endless live trial and error. He defined marriage at one point as “two people trying to stay together without saying, I hate you,” lampooned the desperate economic struggles of the US postal service with “a business model from 1630,” and described trying to get his spoon through his mother’s sludgy oatmeal as akin to “rowing in the hull of a Greek slave ship.”
He sagged a little in the middle, running out of steam in a section about Gatorade energy drinks and alcoholic coffee. But he regrouped quickly, and was particularly, wickedly funny when venturing into email territory — the preferred means of communication of those who don’t want to make phone calls because, really, they want to say what they want to say but are not remotely interested in hearing you.
Alone on the vast stage with just his microphone stand and a small table with water, Seinfeld, 61, threw himself into the set with far more physicality than he ever showed in that TV show you may have caught back in the day. His parental “procession” following the children to their bedrooms at night was spot on. He even lay down and died for us at the end of a “real life/mobile phone battery life” skit.
By way of an encore, he told us that he loves doing stand up comedy — he’d had nine years when he was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, and nine years of smash-hit TV, and could then have done pretty much anything he wanted. And what he wanted was to come back to doing stand-up, for audiences like “you lovely people in Tel Aviv on a Saturday night.”
Then he took those questions, and the resonant name “Newman” was immediately shouted out. That allowed Seinfeld to tell us that he’d recently been waiting for a friend in a diner — “as ironic as that sounds” — when Wayne “Newman” Knight coincidentally walked in, to the open-mouthed amazement of a group of Australian fans who thought the TV show was “COMING BACK TO LIFE” before their eyes. Knowing exactly what the Tel Aviv audience wanted, he went on to recall how he’d always open his apartment door wide for Newman’s appearances in the show, and stare into those “beady little eyes,” those repositories of “all the evil that has ever existed.” And then, he’d grudgingly sneer, “Hello, Newman.”
Those four bitter, familiar syllables got Seinfeld his biggest, warmest applause of the night.
He doesn’t make you love him, Jerry Seinfeld. He doesn’t try to. But he certainly makes you laugh.