Jerry Seinfeld is still a comedy king, but seems to be increasingly annoyed at the world.
Forty years ago this Wednesday, a then-unknown, almost-25-year-old from Long Island took the stage of the long-gone Bijou Café in Center City Philadelphia as the opening act for British singer-songwriter Joe Jackson, who was then on his maiden U.S. tour.
I can’t remember exactly how many belly laughs I let loose during that standup comedy set, but I do remember thinking (and subsequently writing) that this young man was destined for big things. But the Jerry Seinfeld who sold out two performances Saturday night at Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa wasn’t quite the same guy who made such an impression on me so very long ago.
Don’t get the wrong idea: Seinfeld remains a generational comedy giant whose eye for the absurdities of everyday life remains as unerring as ever, and the laughs came early and often during Saturday’s late performance. But there’s a different vibe in his act these days.
It used to seem that the megastar comic who turns 65 April 29 reveled in his examinations of life’s many annoyances and mysteries, from ineffective TV weather forecasts to the puzzling tradition of putting wanted posters in post offices. He always appeared to be enjoying the jokes as much as the audience.
But now, Seinfeld seems to be following in the footsteps of a fellow standup deity, the late George Carlin. Like Carlin in the latter stages of his career, Seinfeld comes off as more interested in complaining about things (e.g. smart phones, DIY home repair centers and non-menu “special” meals offered by restaurants) than playfully and slyly upbraiding them.
Granted Seinfeld wasn’t nearly as pedantic and, well, pissed off as Carlin was toward the end, but Saturday night, he delivered much of his material with a cranky, “get-off-my-lawn” attitude. That his familiar Noo Yawk singsong vocal delivery has been replaced by a growly, lower-register bark only reinforced his “angry old man” countenance.
Still, there was much to enjoy during the hour-plus turn. Among his most notable routines were those focused on casino buffets (which he described as the site of “debauched Caligula food orgies”); Pop Tarts (“They can’t go stale because they were never fresh”); energy drinks (“If you need five hours of energy, go to bed!”); modern technology (“The only reason people exist is that phones need pockets to ride around in”) and the anachronistic postal system (he suggested that in order to speed up the delivery of letters, carriers should “open the letters, read them and email us what it says”).
And, as always, Seinfeld’s still-flawless, gold-standard timing and delivery exponentially enhanced the routines.
But the crucial element of joy was absent. While that didn’t sink the presentation, it certainly diminished it.