Jerry Seinfeld's Nitpicky Schtick Seems More Comfortable in His Older Age

You risk losing a little respect from the alternative comedy community if you publicly admit that you like watching Seinfeld or the comedian for which the show is named. 

Jerry Seinfeld seems like a comedy relic in the modern annals of comedy, where boundaries are tested and observations are presented to poke holes in heady topics like sex, religion and politics. Seinfeld doesn't challenge the way his audiences think about anything topical or political. In fact, he embraces his stereotype, like when he made a cameo on The Daily Show in 2011 to help host Jon Stewart find other ways to make fun of fundamentalist whackjob Marcus Bachmann, the husband of ex-elected nutjob (the "ex" only applies to the "elected" part because she's still nuclear grade crazy) Michelle Bachmann and the leader of a Christian Minnesota clinic that pushes gay reversion therapy, for his "center square gay" tendencies.

According to Seinfeld, those are all distractions that keep us away from important topics like why the idea of "going out" is a stupid concept or how Pop-Tarts are mankind's most groundbreaking culinary achievement. Yet he transcends the stereotype of the hacky comedian who presents a never-ending stream of jokes about airports, and he does it by being funny. That's right, my alt-comedy loving friends. I think Jerry Seinfeld is funny. It's not the kind of funny that makes you wonder if you're hyperventilating. It's a subdued funny that hovers between amused and giggly during his one-plus-hour set. 

The 62-year-old comedy icon hasn't taken the traditional route that most TV stars of his caliber have embarked upon when their final episode aired. He didn't try to leverage his celebrity into a movie career that grew tired before it had a chance to turn stale. And yes, he did write and provide a voice for the animated Dreamworks film Bee Movie, but Tim Allen put out so many forgettable, unfunny films in the pursuit of maintaining his relevance when Home Improvement ended that Seinfeld's one and only non-documentary film is at least admirable. 

These days, Seinfeld splits his professional time between doing live stand-up to sold-out crowds and starring in and producing a talk show for the web network Crackle called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, a shortened Top Gear for comedy fans and gearheads who don't care what pompous opinion Jeremy Clarkson has about automobiles they'll never be able to afford. Seinfeld made a stop at the Winspear Opera House for two sold-out shows last Saturday as part of the annual benefit for CitySquare, the local nonprofit dedicating to fighting the causes and effects of poverty. 

Seinfeld bolted to the microphone following his intro and wasted no time bursting the giant, pride-filled balloon swelling up inside everyone who considers going to a comedy show as a form of charitable "sacrifice." He then segued into a series of bits about "going out" that lead to the thesis statement of his comedy philosophy. 

"Some people say life's too short," Seinfeld says. "I think it's too long." 

The Seinfeld we know from his long-syndicated show that's still netting him millions almost 20 years after its final episode seems more fitting in his old age. The young Jerry spent a lot of time commenting on or complaining about all those little things that nag or interest him and his narcissistic friends, but he never really fit the mold of a crank because he was constantly overshadowed by the perpetually pathetic tirades of his best friend George Costanza, played by actor Jason Alexander. 

Seinfeld has embraced his personality in a way that served him very well in his years as a young comedian but fits like a glove in his older years. He's not the stereotype of the grumpy, old man. He just veers between the cranky old guy who lives to complain and the clever guy who can take the most mundane and accessible aspect of our lives and make it seem illogical. Hearing him talk about our obsession with constant hydration or indestructible cameras that you can wear on your head fits so well with him at this stage of his life that you can't help but at least be amused. 

"Life is barely worth sitting through once," Seinfeld says to the crowd. "Why would you want to go through it twice?" 

Of course, he never ventures into blue territory or any of those naughty words that put George Carlin in a Wisconsin jail cell in 1972, especially not at a charity event at the Winspear Opera House, where everyone looked like they were attending a casual attire wedding. He did flirt with blue material with a couple of bits as a clever way of waking up pockets of the audience. One involved the creation of the "*69" call block feature and the other described the new name he gave to his "Bucket List." You can probably figure out the punchline's basic concepts, but his wording was quite clever.

The real joy of watching Seinfeld perform is his execution. Even with such strict, self-imposed rules that would make a struggling comic stay with their day job, he is still relentless with his material. He juices every topic for something clever, and he's more physical than an observational comic has a right to be. He seems very spry for a person who has probably eaten more than the FDA's recommended lifetime allowance of sweetened cereal. His show is constructed like a tightly wound Mr. Show episode. Even his segues have to have a joke that at least makes the audience chuckle before he moves on to the next hunk of material. 

He may only pine about the militaristic nature of cookie packaging or the subtle marketing plot of Swanson's TV dinners, but it's still being delivered by a seasoned comedian who clearly cares about the intricacies and nuances of executing live comedy. You can enjoy watching Seinfeld alone on a stage and still be a comedy snob. 
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.