The real Jerry Seinfeld stands up

For a while, this comic did a popular sitcom, but he told a Baltimore crowd that's all over -- yada, yada, yada ...

Pop Culture

May 06, 2001|By David Folkenflik, | David Folkenflik,,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

After three years of near-silence -- except for the occasional American Express ad -- Jerry Seinfeld told several thousand of his newest friends this past week that he expects to be out of television for good.

"This is really what I like to do more. This is my job, I did that for 25 years," Seinfeld said toward the end of his new stand-up act at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Thursday night. "The show -- I don't know what that was -- it just sort of happened to me."

Thursday night's appearance was just his second big stand-up concert with new material since leaving the television show that transformed his much ado about nothing into something big. And a lot more has happened to him between then and now.

In the past few years, Seinfeld has broken up with his much younger girlfriend, married a woman who had just married someone else, and become a father. So, not surprisingly, his new act includes extensive riffs on dating, marriage and parenthood.

But insights into how he views his own experiences? Not so much. Instead, his new status as family man serves as a springboard for his material. Seinfeld the reborn standup presents himself as every bit as self-absorbed as his television persona. And his fans, it seems, couldn't be happier.

Take weddings, for instance. They're really just parties that aren't fun at all.

"A divorce -- you tell me you're splitting up, I'm there," he promised. "If I show up late in sweats and a T-shirt, maybe I get my gift back."

"If you're at a divorce, you're very likely at a ceremony that's going to last," he said. " 'They were delightful, charming people and the divorce was a big mistake' -- you don't hear that."

At one point, Seinfeld sounded a little burned by all of the attention his personal life has received, jokingly comparing the press coverage to a proctology exam. (It was one of the few punch lines that weren't fresh: President Nixon made almost the identical joke three decades ago.)

As for his daughter, Seinfeld said, she came as a delightful surprise. "We have a little baby -- which I love. I didn't want a baby. They're immature and lacking in adult responsibility." Then, with just a trace of the sentimentality that afflicts the more manic Robin Williams, he compared her to the unexpected prize in a kid's cereal box.

But even here, his trademark cynicism won out. "Let us make no mistake about why the babies are here," he warned. "They're here to take our place.

"Look at those baby eyes sometimes, and you'll see them say, 'Only a matter of time, my friend. All I've got to do is watch this mobile and wait your tired ass out. Drooling? Yeah, I'm drooling over all your stuff.' "

Stuff, as devotees well know, is Seinfeld's terra firma, his touchstone. Stuff, whether consumer products, trends or pop culture, is all. His targets for ridicule took in Manhattan's Upper West Side, Starbucks, Williams Sonoma, hype over the Oscars, women's makeup, men's hair, movie popcorn, and vacuous workplace expressions. But there was no rancor animating him, just an air of playful disbelief.

He laid into VH1's documentary series "Behind the Music," focusing on the personal struggles of various rock stars. "So not only was this guy able to waste his life," Seinfeld said, "he's managed to reach out from the grave and waste an hour of my life."

One of these documentaries uncovered that Liberace was gay, he reported with mock surprise. That prompted one woman to triumphantly shout out a trademark line from his TV show: "Not that there's anything wrong with that!"

Seinfeld turned to her and replied, "We covered that earlier in the evening."

His focus, it was clear, was on sharpening the new act, not resurrecting the old chestnuts. "It's up to you to decide," he told the crowd. "That's what we're doing tonight. I'm the comedian, but you make the decision -- even though you know nothing about comedy, you're not funny, you don't even work in a related field."

The audience, of course, roared.

Seinfeld's new material, which he's been honing at small clubs, has been introduced with a remarkably low profile, first at a concert in Oakland, Calif., and then with a turn on "the Late Show with David Letterman" in March. He's declining most requests for interviews. Now, he's embarked on a six-city tour of mid-sized cities, starting with Baltimore, and going on to Boston, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Providence and Rochester, N.Y.

It played well at the Meyerhoff. A standing ovation at the end of the show prompted him to bound back to command the microphone at center stage. "I know what you're thinking," he said, adopting a contemptuous tone. " 'How much material does he have? Mister TV.' "

Enough, it appeared. And a few ad libs, as well. When a public relations woman shamelessly plugged the Baltimore TV station that airs his show's reruns, Seinfeld found something new to gripe about.

"The show is on UPN 24?" he asked. "Couldn't I get into the teens?"

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