After comedian Mario Joyner finished warming up the crowd Friday night in Shea’s Performing Arts Center, he left the stage. The lights dimmed. But no disembodied voice tried to whip the crowd into a frenzy. No one had told the audience to put their hands together. No one said anything.
And then, suddenly, Jerry Seinfeld ran across the stage, and the ovation rained down.
When a guy has been coming to your house regularly for more than 20 years – sometimes several times a day – he no longer needs an introduction.
The man who raised observational humor to an art form, whose eponymous sitcom will always be in the conversation about the greatest television shows ever made, has come back to his stand-up roots with glorious and hilarious results.
Almost everything about Seinfeld is familiar: his name, certainly, thanks to that show; the long face and the caricaturist’s dream of a toothy smile that fans first saw when he rose to fame as a stand-up comedian in the 1980s; and that roller coaster delivery, punctuating each carefully chosen word and so brilliantly satirized on “Saturday Night Live” in a parody game show he hosted called “Stand Up and Win.” (Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?)
What isn’t familiar is the material. Seinfeld could fall back on the classics. He could tell the same airline and missing sock jokes he told 30 years ago and have the audience tell them along with him – like baby boomers at an Eagles concert – and probably still collect tens of millions of dollars per year. But he doesn’t. As has been well-documented, Seinfeld does not stand pat. There is only newer material that he develops painstakingly.
After a brief exchange with a person who wanted to chat – “Be quiet! I’m doing a comedy routine!” – and some sound problems, Seinfeld launched into a lengthy soliloquy about the perils of planning an evening out and our constant search for chairs and places to sit down.
“What is my next chair going to be?” he asked. “As soon as you get up and out of bed, you want to sit down to breakfast.”
OK. It was a night of jokes about nothing. But nothing was ever this funny.
• The joy of bed. “Bed is the straight royal flush. Nothing beats bed. That’s why it has names like king and queen.”
• Five-hour energy drinks. “That’s a weird amount of time, isn’t it? Who’s working 1 to 6. If you need five hours of energy, go to bed.”
• Coffee and the way we parade around with it like we just won an award. “I believe I have the right of way here. I have a gigantic coffee.”
• Technology, including On-Star to help when people lock their keys in the car. “On-Star should be called Moron-Star.”
He still draws from a deep well of pop culture and readily familiar situations. He still makes you laugh out loud while simultaneously wondering why you never thought of that.
His touchstones also reflect his age and his life. The man who portrayed a perpetually immature character who was hilariously never able to maintain a relationship for more than an episode or two on his show has been married for 14 years, has three children and will turn 60 on his next birthday.
He joked that he did not get married until he was 45 and he never understood why his friends chose to be betrothed. As a single man, he found married men to be “pathetic and depressing.” As a married man, he finds single men to be “meaningless and trivial.”
The night ended with him answering questions from the audience. Someone asked him if he had any favorite episodes from “Seinfeld.” He mentioned three: George inadvertently poisoning his fiancee with wedding invitations; Kramer hitting a golf ball into a whale’s blowhole; and Jerry stealing an old lady’s marble rye.
He didn’t need to say more.