In 1927, Ivan Pavlov created his theory of classical conditioning. In his famous experiment, he found that if he rang a bell every time he fed his dogs, the sound of the bell alone would cause the dogs to salivate as they associated that noise with someone giving them food. I bring this up not just to demonstrate that I still remember something from my Intro to Psychology class freshman year, but because I think the same thing has happened to me. I may not drool every time someone rings a bell, but I may have been conditioned to laugh simply at the sound of Jerry Seinfeld’s voice. After watching his show Seinfeld more times than I can count and seeing him live and on various talk shows, the timbre (or is it tamber?) of his voice gets me every time. He could be reading a phone book and I think I would burst out laughing simply because I am conditioned to do so. I’m pretty sure that Jerry Seinfeld is ridiculously funny, but I may actually not be smarter than a dog in this instance.
Last weekend I went to see Seinfeld do his standup show; this was my third time seeing him live over the years. He actually blows into town with some frequency, so I try to go see him every other time that he makes an appearance so I don’t go broke. One of the things that I like about Jerry is that he obviously isn’t touring for the money – he already has enough to buy Planet Earth – but simply because he loves it. He also isn’t content to rely on his old material and doesn’t usually tour unless he has almost a completely new set. As someone who seems him fairly frequently, this is much appreciated. While there was some material that was recycled – one joke he did actually was in the opening of an episode of Seinfeld – 95% of his observations were completely new to me.
Though his life has changed radically since he was on TV regularly – he has since gotten married and had three kids – this simply provides new fodder for the comedy machine that is his brain. The topics that he covers in his set reflect the place that he is in his life and at nearly sixty years old he has proven that he is a comic that can adapt with the times. His observations are still dead on and hilarious, but have now graduated to marriage, childrearing, Twitter and society’s reliance on cell phones. As someone who has her smartphone pretty much on her person at all times, I could particularly relate to his material on people’s obsession with the life of their cell phone battery and the panic that ensues when said battery is close to dying. It is indeed a symbiotic relationship; in his words “when the battery’s going down, you’re going down with it.” He also was pretty spot on with the changing role of the telephone – when he was a kid, the phone would ring and people would rush to answer it; now a phone rings and people are suspicious and annoyed. These aren’t earth shattering insights, but they are so relatable and accurate that it doesn’t matter. You laugh at the recognition of the sameness of many of our conditions. It’s nice to know that a billionaire and I think the same way and have the same problems.
His thoughts on marriage elicited many knowing nods from the sellout crowd; his analogy that compared marriage to being on a game show got some very big laughs. He’s picking easy categories like “what we might have watched on TV this week” while his wife is selecting something along the lines of “things we said in an argument 5 years ago.” In Jerry’s mind, his life is like always being a contestant on “Were you listening to me?” and every week he if forced to square off against the returning champion (his wife). According to Seinfeld, “All that marriage is is two people trying to stay together without saying I hate you.” That got a big laugh, which makes me a little depressed that the statement was so relatable.
The show wasn’t all “Jerry Seinfeld – husband and father.” Over the course of his 75 minute set, he also touched on the creation of Pop Tarts, the U.S. Postal Service, energy drinks (and the enormous variety of beverages available in general), the audience logistics that go into attending his show with its early start time (“7 pm? When are we supposed to eat?”) and public bathrooms. Seinfeld injected more physical comedy into this appearance than I’ve ever seen him do before and while it was a departure, it was a nice supplement to his material. Jerry is at his funniest when he is faux angry and he did that a few times over the course of his set. There is something about his voice going up several octaves and his pretend irritation that just slay me. His material is mostly PG, but I also noticed that he threw in a few mild curse words here and there, which was new. Maybe Jerry is getting edgy in his “old” age.
Some other quick thoughts:
- Comedian Mark Schiff opened for Seinfeld and was perfectly fine, though I was glad that he was only on for about 15 minutes. He had some funny material, but I wasn’t sold on his delivery. It was too “summer resort in the Catskills” for my personal taste.
- It was a very interesting mix of people in the audience; Jerry really does reach across all ages and incomes.
- I met someone at the show who had never seen an episode of Seinfeld. How is that even possible???
- I love Jerry so much that I actually watched a Mets game when he was in the broadcast booth. The fact that Seinfeld was able to get people to tune in to a Mets game in September says something about his appeal. I assure you that I wasn’t watching for the Mets. *ZING!*
- Jerry mentioned his webseries Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which drew some applause but also some confusions as many people in my section didn’t know he had a new project. Keep up people!
- During his encore, Jerry did a Q&A with the audience and told a very funny anecdote about running into Wayne Knight (“Hello….Newman”) at a diner in New York City and how that chance encounter blew the minds of some Australian tourists who were also in the diner. (“The show is coming to life!!!”)
- That timbre vs. tambre joke in the opening paragraph was a deep cut from Seinfeld. So kudos to you if you got the reference.
All in all, I had a very good time. I didn’t laugh quite as hard as I have at some other comedians that I’ve seen (Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Jim Jeffries), but I was laughing and smiling more consistently. When it comes to comedy, Seinfeld really is “master of his domain.” He is so good and makes standup look so easy that it is both impressive and frustrating. He’s just too talented. If you are a fan of his show – and who isn’t? – you should definitely go to see him if he comes to town. You’ll leave in a better mood than when you went in. I may have been conditioned to love Seinfeld and everything he does, but at least I was conditioned to love one of the greats.
Jerry Seinfeld is currently touring through March of 2014. Dates are available here.