You have got to hand it to Jerry Seinfeld.
For five decades, he has built a career in stand-up comedy starting from the bottom during the mid-70s in such New York clubs as ‘Catch A Rising Star’ and ‘The Comic Strip.’ From there came a steady stream of club appearances, then to regular appearances on The Tonight Show (the Johnny Carson version), and then transcended his act to TV with his NBC sitcom Seinfeld (originally titled “The Seinfeld Chronicles”), which dominated the network’s Thursday night line-up throughout most of the 90s. And when the sitcom went off the air in 1998, after a brief hiatus, went back to his stand-up roots, performing in theatres, stadiums, arenas and yes, comedy clubs. And he even made a return to TV with the popular, yet unorthodox, streaming interview series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”.
And how did Jerry Seinfeld make his indelible mark in the world of comedy? He did it with material based on the mundane, everyday things, ideas and activities that we all take for granted. These were things that we were all familiar with, but never stopped to realize what we do, why we do it, and the full implications behind them. And with Seinfeld’s simple way of twisting, analyzing and dissecting these everyday things, he brought the art of observational comedy to a whole new level, which was all made complete with his unique style of glib delivery.
In his new book, the first since his 1993 best seller SeinLanguage, Jerry Seinfeld has opened the doors to his expansive comedy vault to share some of his best stand-up material from the 1970s to the 2010s with Is This Anything?
Is This Anything?, which is actually a question that stand-up comedians ask each other about a new bit that the specific comedian wants to try out in front of an audience, can also be known as “The Complete Jerry Seinfeld” or “The Evolution of a Stand-Up Comedy Legend”. It’s basically a collection of Seinfeld’s best known stand-up material over the past five decades, and deals with a wide assortment of topics, such as travelling on airplanes, seniors in Florida, being unemployed, socks, children’s birthday parties, clowns, relationship commitment, cell phones, the internet, energy drinks and weddings, to name a few.
Each section begins with an autobiographical introduction about the phases in his life and career that stood out for him during those specific periods; for example, Seinfeld recounts that for two years after his sitcom went off the air in 1998, he basically lived the retired life and didn’t do very much, until he went to the Universal Amphitheatre to see a comedy double bill with Chris Rock and Mario Joyner, which gave him the necessary spark to return to stand-up. Even when you read the material, it reflects how Seinfeld himself evolved as a person outside of the comedy world (especially when you read the last two sections, in which he deals with getting married and being a father).
Personally speaking, reading some of the earlier material recalls the time when I first saw Seinfeld perform in person, which was for the live HBO gala during the 1989 Just For Laughs festival, in which he talked about the chicks and the checks, what goes on in men’s minds when it comes to women, and Tide detergent (“I think if you have a T-shirt with bloodstains all over it, maybe laundry isn’t your biggest problem right now.”). And readers who have shared that same Seinfeld-like experience will get that same reaction. And many of the routines in the 90s section of the book will have readers realize that many of them became the basis for future “Seinfeld” episodes.
Is This Anything? is a book that uncovers a lot of comedy material gems from the man who became the leading figure of stand-up comedy for nearly 50 years and set the standard for future generations of those who want to aspire to – and follow – Seinfeld’s path to success in the world of comedy. After reading this book, you really have to give Jerry Seinfeld a lot of credit for doing the impossible and build a successful career for telling jokes that essentially dealt about “nothing”.