What to learn from the frugal simplicity of Jerry Seinfeld’s humour

Another day, Joe Biden, the prior U.S. vice-president, issued a ferocious and furious attack on Donald Trump. He said that the USA is on “a very dark path” and called on significant individuals to take a stand.

There was nothing special about the address, really. It only reflects the anger and distaste that’s in the air in that nation.

However, you know who’s not on “a very dark path” and who’s not taking a stand? Jerry Seinfeld, that’s who.

Jerry Before Seinfeld, that has been streaming on Netflix for a couple of weeks, is a fascinating experience to see. Seinfeld, now 63 and exceptionally rich, built his stand-up livelihood and classic TV series around a very particular sort of comedy. It is wry observation and it’s as intensely funny as it’s an extreme avoidance of anything dark or political.

The frugal simplicity of Seinfeld’s humour is a wonder to behold and it’s a tonic to enjoy it. It’s the best form of escapism because the humor is, itself, a deliberate act of escaping morality, anger or controversy of any sort.

The special, part of a package deal Seinfeld created with Netflix, is apparently about Seinfeld’s early years as a comedian, before he was in the centre of a iconic TV series. It promises insight to the “real” Jerry Seinfeld by enabling him to chronicle his life. It does nothing of the type. Instead, it’s the perfect representation of Seinfeld’s ability in observational humour and turning “nothing” into laughter.

It is 20 years now since Seinfeld was the biggest hit on TV. Rewatching it today, absorbing this Netflix unique or Seinfeld’s tiny, slight Web collection, Comedians in Automobiles Getting Coffee, you understand how enormously influential he was. The casual, laconic quality of his humor influenced the NBC version of The Office, Parks and Recreation and countless other show.

What is striking about Seinfeld today is how empty of emotion it is. And how startlingly egocentric the characters really are. They are callous misanthropes and they know it and do not care. There are some individuals, moralistic scholars of this popular culture, who would likely argue that the party of callousness was so powerful that it had been instrumental in altering the U.S. civilization to the point where Donald Trump might be elected president.

That’s a tempting place to take, but it is dubious. It is rather like blaming cultural changes on individuals who simply wish to be likeable and funny.

“I will tell ya the whole story, I’ll tell ya how it happened,” Seinfeld says at the beginning of the special. But that doesn’t occur in the way most comedians tell their life stories. There are no inner demons shown, no bitter failures or lost battles. Just stuff about growing up, secure and happy, on Long Island, and then earning a living from crafting jokes about that life that is secure.

At exactly the exact same time, there’s truth in what he delivers. He points out that growing up as a little child in the 1960s meant a life quite different from what children experience now. His parents were ignorant about nutrition, like most people then, and no child was expected to wear a motorcycle helmet. There’s a long section about breakfast cereals, something he drew upon in Seinfeld the NBC series. Like the cereals he celebrates and mocks, the material is literally insubstantial. But it’s quite funny.

In the special, he stands on a little stage in the little comedy club where he began his career in 1976, and entertains a small crowd. There are interludes where he sits in front of what was his parent’s home and talks about writing jokes. Sometimes he speaks to other comedians, temporarily, and occasionally there’s blurry footage of Jerry Seinfeld the happy child and joyful, wisecracking teenager.

Nothing is disclosed, really. And that’s the point. He says of his youth, “My first words were ‘Leave me {}'” One supposes that is not a joke. He means it. Concerning personal authenticity, he wishes to be left alone to prevent it.

Jerry Before Seinfeld is both funny and intriguing — it illustrates how to not be on “a very dark path” or to “take a stand” and in so doing it exemplifies how to remain sane in a really dangerous time.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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