“When you’re in a car, you’re inside, and you’re outside, and you’re moving, and you’re completely still — all at the same time.”
Such wry words of wisdom filled Jerry Seinfeld’s scintillating performance at Stand Up for a Cure’s benefit for the American Diabetes Association. Judging by the hilarity that Seinfeld unleashed the night of April 17, just after Colin Quinn’s very funny opening set, diabetics in the Manhattan crowd likely giggled their glucose back to normal. Endorphins surely gushed across the cerebella of the audience’s diabetics and non-diabetics alike.
In knee-slapping, breathtaking fashion, Seinfeld demonstrated that he is — if anything — sharper, quicker, and wittier than when he dominated American popular culture. As his eponymous NBC series left the airwaves on May 14, 1998, Seinfeld ruled the ratings, and viewers from coast to coast begged him not to go.
Seinfeld’s program actually contributed a glossary full of words and phrases to the American lexicon. “Yadda, yadda, yadda” was an obscure formulation until it appeared on Seinfeld. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Seinfeld walked away at the top of his game. Now 58, he is fit and trim at a self-reported 172 pounds. He has been married for 13 years and is the father of three children, something he considered nearly unspeakable at age 45.
“When I was single, I had married friends,” Seinfeld said. “I would not visit their homes. I found their lives to be pathetic and depressing. Now that I am married, I have no single friends. I find them to be meaningless and trivial individuals. In both cases, I believe I was correct.”
“Marriage is not chess, it’s checkers.” Seinfeld elaborated. “But the board is made of flowing water, and the pieces are made of smoke.”
In spite of his domestication and lack of a demanding weekly network production schedule, Seinfeld has done anything but go to seed. His rapid-fire 70-minute set at The Theater at Madison Square Garden (a comfortable if dimwittedly named venue) teemed with Seinfeld’s trademark observations about life’s easily missed minutiae. The Brooklyn native has a stunning ability to isolate things that have stood out in the open for decades and discover hidden facets about them as if they were artifacts that just landed on Earth after a NASA deep-space probe. Among his meditations:
• “The seat is the biggest part of the achievement of going out to a show,” Seinfeld noted. “My job is to distract you slightly while you enjoy sitting in a different chair.”
“Your whole life is chairs. If you think about it, you go from one chair to another chair to another chair. Your whole life is just home chair, car chair, work chair. As soon as this show is over, you’re going to stand up — ‘Alright. Let’s go sit down somewhere. Where are we going to go? We don’t want to be standing around. Where can we go and sit down?’”
• “The mission of the beverage industry is to come up with a drink for every micro-moment of the human experience. Alcoholic coffee drinks. Alcoholic coffee drinks. How rare is that set of circumstances when you need to be whatever the opposite of tired and sober is? ‘We’re gonna get trashed and alert tonight!’ . . . ‘I know my car was all over the road, officer. I saw every second of it.’”
“Five-Hour Energy Drink. You ever see those little bottles by the cash register? Five hours! That’s a weird amount of time. ‘I’m working 1:00 to 6:00.’ What the hell does it feel like suddenly to find yourself in deficit of five hours of energy? ‘Give me five hours of energy RIGHT NOW!’ . . . If you need five hours of energy, go to bed!”
• Seinfeld also explained how beverages make decisions so you don’t have to.
“You order one beer. That beer orders the next beer. Next thing you know, the beers are driving, and you’re in the back seat going wherever they are.
‘Where are we going?’
‘To get more beer.’
• Turning to telecommunications, Seinfeld discussed *69 service.
“Sixty-nine? Is that the number they picked for this thing? Can someone explain to me how that slipped through the entire organization? There’s not one person who works at the phone company who went to junior high school? How can that possibly have happened? 69? Really? ‘We can pick any number we want . . . 68!’ I can’t wait to hear what they’ve got for three-way calling.”
• “Can we stop calling e-mail ‘mail?’ Is there any real relationship between e-mail and the postal system? One is this hyperkinetic, super digital, hyper-speed form of communication. The other is this dazed and confused distant branch of the Cub Scouts. They cover the streets in embarrassing shorts and these jackets with meaningless patches and victory medals.”
Seinfeld has buffed his routine to a glimmering sheen. What appears totally spontaneous and off-the-cuff actually is the product of months and months of writing, practice, delivery, and rewriting. (The 2003 film Jerry Seinfeld: Comedian documents the meticulous method behind his brilliant madness.) Nonetheless, Seinfeld’s act never feels labored or forced. His on-stage demeanor is as easygoing as an evening between flannel sheets.
At one point, about half a dozen slivers of confetti slipped loose from the ceiling and slowly trickled down beside Seinfeld’s face. Without missing a beat, he perfectly ad-libbed: “I’m the presidential nominee.”
At the end of the show, Seinfeld expressed his appreciation for the audience’s enthusiasm by fielding a few questions.
One gentleman asked if he ever spent the night with Elaine on his sitcom.
“Let me explain to you something about Elaine, George, and Kramer that you may not be fully grasping,” Jerry Seinfeld replied. “These people, while being very amusing and enjoyable, are in reality fictional characters. They are not really real as you and I are real. I am the only character who survived the end of the show.”