Something wasn’t quite right at the very beginning of Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up comedy show at Ovens Auditorium on Saturday night — at least, as far as Jerry Seinfeld was concerned.
“I don’t believe it!” he shouted, after striding onto the stage to thunderous applause. “What an impressive accomplishment this is on your part! You got out of the house, and went somewhere!”
But without warning, he suddenly swiveled his head to look stage left to say to an unseen figure, in a more measured voice: “Down a little bit, Kevin. Kevin? Kevin. Kevin? Just bring it down a little bit.”
A few seconds later, Seinfeld launched back into his introduction, which emanated from the speakers at an ever-so-slightly lower volume: “You have to talk with people when you go out at night. You have to make arrangements. You have to decide who’s going, which car, how do we get there, who’s paying the eight dollars for the parking? Eight dollars for what?? Some pavement?” (He’d done his research — parking at Ovens did indeed run drivers $8.)
The request for a technical adjustment was a rare break from character for Seinfeld; though, frankly, it’s just one more example of the 64-year-old comedian’s famous perfectionism.
He’s talked openly in interviews about how he’ll work on, then rework, then tinker with a single joke for years — which is why if you’ve looked up his routines on YouTube, or attended any of the three other shows he’s done in Charlotte this decade, you might find many of the jokes he performed on Saturday night familiar.
That intro, in which he congratulated audience members for getting out of the house? He does that everywhere, every time. The jokes about all-you-can-eat buffets, Hungry Man TV dinners, Pop-Tarts, Flex Seal, 5-Hour Energy shots? None of them were new.
Perhaps as a result of this obsession with getting jokes just so, there was even a datedness to some of them, like the legendary bit about Sun-Maid having “recently” come out “with their very first chocolate-covered raisin after 80 years in the raisin business.” Sun-Maid was founded in 1912, so doing the math would suggest he first told this joke in 1992 (though I can’t find a clip that old, there are certainly videos online of Seinfeld telling this joke many years ago).
Seinfeld also joked Saturday about traditional circuses, and wondered why they’re still around ... even though the only one that truly mattered — Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s — went out of business more than a year ago.
And yet his punchlines were as hilarious as ever.
On the raisins: “Can you imagine not thinking of that for 80 years? What was the moment for some Sun-Maid raisin executive, after another tough raisin weekend struggling to popularize the g------ raisin? Finding him or herself on line at a movie theater candy counter and going, ‘Hmm, Raisinettes. That’s interesting...’”
On the circus: “Parents think kids like it. Kids think, ‘I guess my parents needed me to see this for some reason.’ No one has the guts to stand up in the middle of the circus and go, ‘What the hell is this even supposed to be??’”
In an appearance on David Letterman’s Netflix series this past spring, Seinfeld addressed the fact that critics sometimes like to point out his penchant for repeating jokes by saying: “Yes, that’s why I do them — because they work.”
I was actually thinking about this as I was flipping around channels the other night and stumbled upon “Die Hard” on HBO; even though I’ve seen it 147 times, even though I know when every burst of gunfire is coming, even though I can recite all of John McClane’s lines verbatim, it sucked me in. Again. Because it works.
Because great entertainment is great entertainment.
So I laughed a genuine laugh on Saturday night at this marital joke I’ve heard from Seinfeld at least a couple of times before: “A lot of wives complain their husbands do not listen. I’ve never heard my wife say this. She may have. I don’t know.”
And at this Seinfeld favorite about the movie-theater experience: “I’m not picking nothing up. I’m the one that threw it down! ... It’s the deal between us and the movie-theater people: The deal is, you’re ripping us off. In exchange for that, when I’m done with something, I open my hand — and let it roll down eight rows.”
And at this one (even though it, too, feels slightly dated): “All you see on the street are people with a drink in one hand and a communication device in the other. ‘I just had a latte, I’m going to get a green tea, I’ll meet you at the juice bar.’ When we were kids, you got one sip from the school water fountain and could run for 28 straight hours.”
This is not to say I wouldn’t like to see Seinfeld’s material evolve just a little bit more. He’s so clearly a master observational humorist, but with the world changing a mile a minute, I feel like he’s missing opportunities to say things about technology (beyond his fine-tuned older material about texts, emails and cellphone photos) and about kids today, especially since he has two going on three teenagers of his own.
I also thought that his set — at 72 minutes in length — felt a mite short considering ticket prices for orchestra seats were close to $200 apiece. Oh, and I was disappointed that he didn’t close with an audience question-and-answer session, which he’s done here in the past.
But in the end, as Seinfeld himself has said, any criticism I weigh in with could easily be considered irrelevant.
“To me, what I love about comedy is no one has to talk about what happened,” Seinfeld told Letterman in that Netflix special. “We all felt it and saw it. So we don’t need the critics. I love when a critic reviews a stand-up comedian. You want to go, ‘I’ve left town already with the money. I don’t care what you think.’ It is the ultimate democracy. The laugh is the vote. We’ve decided as a group. I don’t decide. They decide.”