Comedians in Cars Getting Cranky, by Tyler Smith
Like many people, I’m a big fan of Jerry Seinfeld. Not only is he responsible for quite possibly the greatest sitcom ever made, but his comedic sensibilities – those of exasperated amusement with the world around us – influenced an entire generation of stand-up fans. Truly Seinfeld is one of the titans of the industry.
However, the problem with titans, mythologically speaking, is that they seem blind to the actions of newer generations and are, thus, brushed aside by beings they never thought would be as powerful as they are. And this is the position that Jerry Seinfeld, on his show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, has taken.
My metaphor may be a little strained, but I’m trying to take my cues from Seinfeld himself, who has never been afraid to speak about comedy in the loftiest terms imaginable (“In comedy, we are also out to save the world”). And while in the earlier episodes of Comedians in Cars, Seinfeld seemed content to hang out with his old friends and swap stories, the conversation has turned increasingly philosophical. As Seinfeld surveys the turbulent times in which we live, he has begun to vent his frustrations with different views of what is and isn’t offensive.
Some might be put off by this, but I’m not. I also believe that comedy is incredibly important, and that words like “offensive” shouldn’t be thrown around so casually by audiences. Comedy often means taking a risk, making light of something and hoping that you’ve tapped into some sense of commonality with another person. This can often fail, but, when it works, there is a connection between comedian and audience that is truly electric.
Where Seinfeld starts to sound a little curmudgeonly is when he stops talking about what he does – or doesn’t – consider offensive and instead moves to what he considers funny. In the recent episode featuring Tracy Morgan, Seinfeld scoffs at the idea that comedy reveals truth by saying, “Funny is funny. Funny has a certain life to it, a certain magic to it. If you only needed truth, people would just read the paper and howl.” Seinfeld soon launches into his problem with younger comedians. “We’re not interested in amusing anecdotes from your journal. Okay? So you went to the doctor and there was some confusing – I don’t care. Make something up.”
There is nothing wrong with discussing one’s personal theory of comedy, especially when that one is Jerry Seinfeld. But, just as he would be reluctant to dismiss a bit because it could be seen as offensive, I feel that he shouldn’t judge other comedians because they, through their comedy, are trying to achieve some kind of truth. And when he says that ‘we” aren’t interested in amusing journal entries, he begins to take his personal preferences and make them universal.
There is nothing wrong with Seinfeld not being interested in what younger comedians are doing. Frankly, it’s not that surprising, given the comics he cites as inspirations. For him, it’s not about truth or honesty; it’s all about the funny. That’s perfectly fine, except he seems to deny that other forms of comedy – the anecdotal kind, for example – can achieve the level of funny that he appears to require.
The result of all this is strangely ironic. Jerry Seinfeld, so outspoken about those who might choose to limit comedy in the name of political correctness, finds himself putting comedy itself into a small box that he, and he alone, labels “funny”. This is all very unfortunate, as it gives credence to the idea that, as an artist gets older, they become less relevant to the larger culture and will condemn those that might do things a slightly different way, even if their goals are the same.
I choose to believe that this isn’t the case, and that Seinfeld isn’t necessarily intending on coming across like a crotchety old man. But whenever somebody attempts to limit and label art, they will always become just a little bit less vital to the artistic discussion. And when that somebody is a titan figure like Jerry Seinfeld, there’s nothing funny about it.