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Review: Seinfeld's schtick familiar, but still funny

By Théoden Janes
tjanes@charlotteobserver.com

Jerry Seinfeld returned to Ovens Auditorium on a rainy Thursday night in Charlotte, and gave another master class in live delivery.

The evening’s lesson: If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.

This hilarious, meandering, 85-minute set was essentially the same routine he offered when he performed at the same venue in January 2010, from the opening jokes about the contortions he suspected audience members had to go through to get to his show, right down to the closer, which poked fun at the shameful design of public restrooms.

But it’s all served with incredible polish and a youthful exuberance that doesn’t match his birth certificate, which apparently now says he is 57 years old. Seinfeld may or may not still be the master of his domain, but he’s clearly as much a master of control and timing as he was back in the ’90s, when his NBC sitcom ruled network television.

The man is like the Frank Sinatra of comedy (in fact, “New York, New York” blared as the lights dimmed before the show). Looking dapper in a dark suit, crisp white shirt, blue tie and fresh haircut, Seinfeld took zero risks and was showered at every turn by raucous laughter. It seemed effortless.

He often went for the broadest possible appeal, and spent a good deal of time on the topic of marriage – makes sense, since probably two-thirds of his audience Thursday night is or has been hitched.

Seinfeld’s trademark observational humor exposes all of our ridiculous behaviors and addictions and foibles without ever coming off as mean-spirited or harsh. And of course – perhaps most impressively – without ever coming anywhere near R-rated territory.

With Seinfeld, it’s about details, not dirty words. He brought back a clever run about the fine line between “sucks” and “great” when referring to everything from restaurants to movies; a hilarious rant about “five-hour energy drinks” (“If you need five hours of energy, GO TO BED!”); and a very funny riff on how people seem to start falling apart when their cellphones are almost out of juice.

Still, repeat customers may have had mixed feelings about the show.

On the one hand, it’s a little disappointing that he didn’t do much to freshen the act up save for a few digs at Facebook and Twitter (“Why say a lot of things to a few people when I can say virtually nothing to everyone?”). He also curiously ditched a very funny iPhone gag in favor of a dated joke about Blackberry addicts, and can’t seem to let go of his scorn for the nearly obsolete *69 phone feature.

On the other hand, Seinfeld has had two-plus years to hone and perfect every foot stomp, every arm flail, every wince, every goofy charades, and it’s hard not to appreciate the gusto with which he pulls them off.

My take? Watching him work is like listening to a great piece of music or seeing a classic movie. When it’s art this good, you’ll sit through it – and enjoy it – again and again.

Janes: 704-358-5897.
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