The new Seinfeld is vintage Jerry

His stand-up act is pleasingly familiar

October 12, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Meet the new Jerry. Same as the old Jerry.

Not, as the old Seinfeld would have said, that there's anything wrong with that.

Last night, before a near-capacity crowd at the Meyerhoff for the first of two performances, Jerry Seinfeld brought his newest act to Baltimore. And if it smacked more than a little of the old Jerry we've come to know over the past 20 years or so, absolutely no one was complaining. Least of all Jerry himself, who treated both the crowd and the symphony hall as old friends - fitting, since this is at least the third time he's done his act there.

"So, we meet again," he said after shuffling wordlessly onstage, sans introduction, his hands stuck firmly in his pockets - not the brisk, ramrod-straight Seinfeld lope he's displayed before, but a crowd-pleaser just the same. Greeted with a standing ovation, he glanced around at the glaringly open stage - one designed, after all, to hold an entire orchestra, not just a lone comedian - and quipped, "I generally perform with a little more headroom."

And then came the opening bell, as he gazed out at the audience and invited them to listen "as we attempt together to determine one thing: What the hell is going on?"

With that, the 48-year-old comic set the tone for what would turn out to be a typically hilarious Seinfeld evening, albeit one with a few interesting twists - an acknowledgment of current events that seemed somewhat atypical, although sharply edged and engagingly perceptive, along with a few glimpses into his "private life" that may not have been all that revealing but struck familiar chords with much of the audience.

His first target was the Taliban. Suggesting they have a ways to go when it comes to waging war, he noted, "The only thing these people have been able to come up with is, `Why don't we blow ourselves up?'"

(Not surprisingly, both Seinfeld and his opening act, fellow New York comic Orny Adams, poked fun at the current unpleasantness. Adams, who shares the bill with Seinfeld in the coming movie Comedian, alluding to his moptop hair and disheveled appearance, noted "It's not easy getting through the airports looking like this nowadays.")

Seinfeld's riff on Osama and his buds proved just the thing to prime the audience for what proved to be nearly 80 minutes of vintage Jerry, complete with observations on such everyday topics as marriage, old age, the human propensity for staring in the mirror, cheese pizzas, tattoos and TV news.

Noticeably absent were any of the buzzwords that originated on his much-revered sitcom, the one that dwarfed everything else on TV for eight years. There was no talk of big salads, mastering one's domain or shrinkage - although, interestingly, the biggest crowd reaction of the evening came when Seinfeld referred to himself as "your strange little TV friend."

No, this was a night for topics that, while new in specifics, were very much of the Seinfeld universe in spirit - observations that pointed out the strange, logically inexplicable things people do. Like sit.

"The human body is so perfectly designed to be seated," quoth Jerry, to approving, knowing laughter from his audience. "All people really want from life is to go from chair to chair to chair."

So determined are we to remain seated, he noted, that when someone tries to squeeze past us in the movie theater, we'll contort ourselves in any manner necessary to avoid actually standing up. "I will not un-sit," our brains insist, said Seinfeld. And everyone at the Meyerhoff knew it was true.

Those not lucky enough to see Seinfeld last night can get a taste of what they missed when Comedian opens in theaters in the next month or so. The documentary watches as several of the bits he used last night are honed to near-perfection through comedy-club appearance after comedy-club appearance; one bit, about cheese and pizza, changed even between last night and the time the movie was finished, being grafted onto a spiel on people losing weight.

Comedian shows how hard it is, being Jerry Seinfeld, comic. Last night, the man showed again how easy he can make it seem.

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