Thursday, September 28, 2017

Seinfeld On Stern | Lefsetz Letter

There’s something wrong with him. We keep thinking Larry David is the odd one, but it’s Jerry.

Used to be Howard had no friends. Now he hangs with the rich and famous. And to be honest, you want to too. Not to brag, but to hear the stories. When Stern laments being unable to go to dinner at McCartney’s house you can hear the pain in his voice, the same pain you’d have if you had the opportunity. But you don’t. That’s what fame will deliver….opportunity. And that’s what psychoanalysis will deliver…friends.

But Jerry refuses to go to the shrink. Believes it’s a sham.

But he’s happy all the time, thinks everything is great, and it pisses his kids off.

Now it’s hard to explain 80s TV. Especially late night. When only Letterman was doing a comedy show, whereas Johnny was truly interviewing people. But you’d watch for the comedians, knowing that if they were good, Johnny would motion for them to take a seat, where they normalized. And this was before the goal was to have a sitcom, everybody was just doing their act.

And that’s where I noticed Jerry Seinfeld. It was his routines and his delivery.

And it turns out those took a lot of work.

No one’s willing to do the work. Sure, you’ve got to have talent, but you’ve got to WANT IT! And few do that badly, because of the sacrifices.

Jerry had no friends and stayed home watching television. Believing there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if only he could get there. This is contrary to the ethos of the modern day parent, the one with means, it’s all about enrichment and applying yourself so you can get into a good school and then go to a good graduate school. And I hate to say it, but it’s true…they end up beating the creativity right out of you. That’s one of the reasons so many of the greats are dropouts, not so much that they couldn’t wait to go down the path of their career, but they knew school was holding them back. I went to an institution of grinders. I’d like to tell you my cohorts at Middlebury are household names, but that is not true, except for Eve Ensler, who wrote “The Vagina Monologues,” they’re all just stand-up members of society, and we need those, but life would not be worth living it were not for the comedic standups, and the rest of the entertainers.

That’s what Jerry tells Howard. Instead of castigating himself over and over for his flaws, he should remember he’s a ray of light in his audience’s otherwise empty day, people live for entertainment, forget the haters, it’s about their deficiencies. (Well, that was mine, Jerry seems oblivious to the haters. And that’s how he’s gone through his whole life, oblivious, according to him, but he is sensitive to the audience…)

So Jerry had a joke that didn’t work. But then he twisted it around it got howls.

The essence is you’re nobody, meaningless, irrelevant, why would someone be calling YOU? And that’s the truth, none of what we do matters. You think it does, but it doesn’t. And when we’re reminded of this, we laugh.

And Jerry talks about the craft of a joke. How mixing up the words, getting it right, makes all the difference. And you can write a joke, but can you DELIVER IT? On stage? While waiting to see if it works? Jerry abhors comics who don’t leave that silence, who go right into the next joke, you’ve got to find out if what you said is…FUNNY!

And Jerry never expresses remorse and is unafraid of making pronouncements. He seems unable to feel guilt, and is always thinking about punch lines. The goal is to be sharp, witty, he doesn’t want to lay back and watch, he wants to PARTICIPATE!

And now he goes over to Howard’s for lunch, and vice versa. And they talk for hours. And while you’re listening, you realize that’s what you want too. Listening to their conversation was the highlight of my day. Sure, they’re both famous, but the way they played off of each other, explored, that’s what friendship is all about. You don’t want to talk about work, but feelings. You want to marvel at the absurdity of life. And every day Jerry calls his friend Barry and they do this for an hour or two. I used to have a buddy like this, but then his new wife and I didn’t get along and that trashed that.

So you end up envious of Jerry, even though you don’t want to be him and certainly are not him. Nothing fazes him. He lives in a tank of observation. And life is worth observing, because it’s so bizarre. You want to tell someone about the quirks and experiences of your day. Which Jerry does to Barry, with all the profanity absent from his act, with the opinions that would ruin his career and marriage if known. But you remember privacy, don’t you? And trust? Barry’s not gonna reveal what they say, it’s between them, and only them.

And when Jerry says it’s a miracle that people get along at all, at first you doubt that. Then he asks if you’ve ever driven cross-country with someone for ten days, and says at the end of the trip YOU HATE EACH OTHER! Why is it we overload on people? Why is it we can never find someone like us we like 24/7? Why are we ultimately so alone? What is wrong with our lives that we’re looking for insight from entertainers?

I don’t know.

But I do know if you’re servicing the public, don’t think about what they want, but what you want. Sure, judge their reactions, but when you play to the norm people know, they don’t have that heightened response, wherein their heart pitter-patters.

Larry David was the genius of “Seinfeld.”

But Jerry Seinfeld is the genius of standup.

You realize while you’re listening to this conversation. Larry thinks about situations, arcs, whereas Jerry thinks about insights. Which is why they were such a good team.

But the joke is they’re as good separately as they were together.

But Larry can relax and have friends, be somewhat normal. Whereas Jerry is always one step away, pretending to be normal, because he’s not.

And that’s why we can’t stop paying attention.



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