When I got my advanced screener (or, advanced streaming file, I guess) for Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill I remember looking forward to it (I mean, I look forward to anything that can pass the time these days) and also a little ho-hum in a, “another Seinfeld comedy special?” kind of way. And then I looked it up and Seinfeld hasn’t actually done a straightforward comedy special since 1998’s I’m Telling You for the Last Time – which was basically a special in which he took his “greatest hits” from over the years, made a special out of them, then retired those jokes forever. (Well, “forever,” even though we will still seem them in the earlier episodes of Seinfeld for all eternity.)
Now, Seinfeld has had a couple of more ambitious, more hybrid specials, where there’s comedy mixed with a larger story. Born out of I’m Telling You for the Last Time came 2002’s Comedian, which is a documentary about Seinfeld trying to come up with new material and how difficult it is even for someone seemingly at the top of his game. Then in 2017, there was Jerry Before Seinfeld, which is probably the closest we’ll come to a Jerry Seinfeld biopic than a true comedy special.
So here’s Jerry, just on stage at the Beacon theater, giving us some much-needed comedy right now. I have a weird relationship with comedy specials. I genuinely like watching them, but it’s no substitute for being in the audience. And I’ve seen Jerry Seinfeld perform live three times and, you’ll never believe it, but he’s pretty good at what he does. And every single time he’s got the audience in the palm of his hand.
As is the case with 23 Hours to Kill, as the audience is obviously having the time of their lives and, I assume, I would be, too, if were in that audience. But, watching at home, I felt a disconnect, and I don’t even think it’s Seinfeld’s fault, because the truth is I can’t sit in an audience right now and, of course, Seinfeld’s opens his set with jokes all about how going out sucks and that everyone in attendance should be heralded for putting up with all the hassles that go along with going out for the evening. It’s a very “February 2020” type of joke, that, now, three months later, doesn’t really apply anymore as I scream at my television, “What are you talking about, Jerry! I’d do anything to be able to go out. What kind of nonsense is this?” But, alas, Jerry from the much more social past can’t hear my warnings about how lucky he and his audience are right at this very moment.
Seinfeld then delivers some jokes about how he could be anywhere in the world right now, but instead he chooses to still do standup for a living. Which is actually a pretty good point. Seinfeld, now 65, certainly doesn’t need to be doing standup. And it’s pretty remarkable that after the success of Seinfeld that he really did hang up his sitcom spurs and never came back. Because, over history, people on top have a hard time staying away. It was much more likely Seinfeld would have had a new show in 2002 called something like It’s Jerry Time, or whatever, than walking away from the situational comedy for, now, 22 years. I mean, even Michael Jordan came back for those two years with the Wizards. And Lucille Ball had two shows after I Love Lucy.
The second half of the show is more of a statement about what it’s like for him, a man, to live with his wife, a woman. There’s some antiquated stuff here (to be clear, nothing that seemed controversial or anything; just more we don’t hear this kind of stuff very often anymore) but then we remember Seinfeld is 65 and, well, he has some grievances. Though, there’s one segment about “the man voice” that his wife does, which is that one we’ve all seen where the voice is lowered as much as possible as “the guy” says stupid things as his arms, bent at the elbows, swing side to side as if he’s marching in place. After Seinfeld sets the scene he delivers in the classic Seinfeld tone, “Who is this man? Where have you seen this man?”
So, yes, I have no doubt if I were at the Beacon that night, I would have had a rip-roaring time. And if we can ever be in an audience again, there’s a very good chance I’ll go see Jerry Seinfeld perform comedy for the fourth time. I very much recommend his show. But 23 Hours to Kill, though a pleasant watch, just seems like a victim of bad timing. A couple of months ago, yeah, I’d be nodding along with Jerry as he tells me why going out of the house is for suckers. Because, in this reality, all I wanted to do in the world is go back to a time where I could be in that audience.
‘Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours To Kill’ debuts on Netflix today. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.