Sure, it doesn’t really make sense that Jerry Seinfeld full-on stunt leaps out of a helicopter and into the Hudson River in the Bond-themed intro to his new Netflix special, “23 Hours to Kill.” But I appreciate the fact that he does it — and at age 65 no less — and I’ll tell you why.
For a while now, Seinfeld has reminded me of the gvir, or rich guy, that I’d read about in stories by old Jewish writers like Isaacs Babel and Bashevis Singer (this was back before I discovered Netflix). They’d have double chins and strut around the shtetl with an air of self-importance — just like Tevye lyrically wishes he could do in “If I Were a Rich Man.”
Seinfeld’s newer but already eight-year-old series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” though entertaining, didn’t do much to change my mind, what with him driving rare cars and springing for whole sandwiches at delis.
And it’s sort of understandable. After co-creating and starring in what may well be the greatest sitcom in television history, a person can be forgiven for getting a little complacent. (I think that based on his set in the hour-long special, Jerry might pin any changes on married life rather than the staggering success, but he’d be wrong.)
Seinfeld doesn’t say straight out how much he’s worth in “23 Hours to Kill” (I looked it up, it’s $950 million) but he may as well when he rhetorically asks the audience, “would you be up here if you were me?” Still, despite the faux cynicism and the fact that he can clearly afford not to be there, he is up onstage, and he’s visibly excited about it.
Did I laugh at all the jokes? No, but I laughed at a couple, and smirked a few more times. Back in 1998 Seinfeld famously claimed to “retire” all his old material — and that might technically be true, but his bits on the difference between “great” and “sucks,” and “it is what it is” basically rest on the same chassis as his old wordplay-based classics like “kids up, parents down.”
Many of the jokes may be derivative of his earlier stuff (and I’m trying to remember why the bit about schlepping out of the house rings so familiar — that one might be Bill Burr), but at the same time, the energy he brings harkens back to his heyday, too. Honestly, he’s downright exuberant.
And there are some beauties. His description of all-you-can-eat buffets is a verbal work of art that reflects his perfectionism. If anyone doubted the authenticity of the plot thread in “Seinfeld” season two’s “The Heart Attack” where Jerry scrawls a perfectly-phrased joke on a scrap of paper in the middle of the night and is on the verge of tearing his hair out when he’s unable to read his own handwriting, well.
It’s easy to scream for originality when we’re so inundated with entertainment that the industry doesn’t even bother trying to package TV or movies as anything more than “content.” I’m frankly impressed that Seinfeld even bothered trying — and though the subjects he touched on are surely familiar, they’re elevated by his polish and conviction. His signature screech has gotten a touch hoarse, but all I hear is earnestness — rehearsed as it may be.
All right, so maybe I’m an easy mark. I like it that when Seinfeld says there’s no place he’d rather be, I believe him. But I’ve got good reason to. After all, my dad’s 66 and I don’t think he’d jump of out a helicopter just to make me laugh.
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