What makes Seinfeld funny?
Not Jerry. Such moments hit Seinfeld as a random scene strikes a photographer. He calls time and hauls the moment under his microscope. You can almost see him carefully arranging the slide, zeroing in, pulling back, and then writing and rewriting until he’s wrenched out every possible laugh, and in the proper sequence, meaning the biggest laugh last.
He explains the process in this candid video interview with the New York Times. The piece begins with a warning that no one will care about his writing process. If so, I’m an exception, and it has nothing to do with the fact that we were born four days apart in Brooklyn 59 years ago, and went to nearby Long Island high schools, graduating in 1976.
No, what I find fascinating is his eye for snagging the humor in the mundane that the rest of us let slide as we rush to work, struggle to stay in shape, and battle to ensure that the house, car and kids remain in good working order.
This focus on what all of us are thinking and none bothers to articulate is what made the TV series so popular. “Seinfeld” is the most profitable 30-minute show in history, generating $3.1 billion since the last episode 15 years ago, according to the International Business Times. Pretty good for a show about nothing.
Seinfeld is stand-up’s Michael Jordan, by all accounts obsessed with out-working the competition instead of coasting on natural talent, and unwilling to buy into anyone else’s definition of success.
At a recent show in Baltimore, he appeared to be having as much fun as ever, going on about waistlines, Pop Tarts (did you know there’s an actual website), men and women, and how lazy we’ve all become. He says 90 percent of our brain is devoted to food and sex, with 10 percent left to handle everything else. It’s hard to argue.
The always-personable Seinfeld is smoother now than during the show’s heyday, when his inability to keep a straight face was distracting. In Baltimore, he seemed more in control, yet still young at heart. The great pitcher Satchel Paige said once, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” I’d put Seinfeld at about 35.
It still seems fun, which clearly is important to the comedian. If you didn’t think they were having fun making the show, by the way, check out the blooper reel from any season.*
It’s possible that Seinfeld can’t help how he sees the world. In this he trumps Jordan, for the mind stays sharp long after the body stops shooting jumpers. This is also why Seinfeld has outlived the expiration date that dooms most comedians. I can see him crafting new material for years to come, and hope he continues to help us keep laughing as we turn grey alongside him.
Read more posts by Steve Piacente, a former print journalist and correspondent. Steve is a blogger for JenningsWire.