1:10 pm Oct. 16, 20121
On Thursday evening, after an hour-long stand-up performance at Lehman College in the Jerome Park section of the Bronx, comedian Jerry Seinfeld took a few questions from the audience.
“Will there be a 'Seinfeld' reunion?” asked one person in the audience.
"Once all of our careers are in the toilet," Seinfeld said.
Of course, their careers are (for the most part) not in the toilet at all. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is starring in the popular political comedy "Veep," Jason Alexander works all the time in theater and movies, and Seinfeld himself has so much money that it shouldn't matter.
But he's been around all this time just the same. He's known to drop in to local comedy clubs to try out material even if his upcoming appearance is just a desk chat on "David Letterman," and recently he's been hosting "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," a show that might be best, if still somewhat awkwardly, described as Seinfeld's comeback web series.
In one of its best episodes the host picks up fellow New York comic Colin Quinn and brings him to a restaurant in Red Hook.
“You will not believe what these young kids have done to Brooklyn,” Seinfeld tells Quinn, qualifying the words “young kids” to mean, roughly, 40-year-olds. Upon sitting down to order, Quinn finds out what the “kids” have done: there’s no Diet Coke, and the only soda available is something called “ginger-ade.” A slew of jokes about how things used to be pours forth.
Quinn was the opener for Thursday night’s Seinfeld stand-up performance in the Bronx, the second in the duo's ongoing "Five Borough Tour." And these sorts of jokes, about the insane degree to which the city has changed since the '70s and '80s, were once again front and center.
“When I was a kid, the Bronx was Irish and Italians,” Quinn said shortly after taking the stage. “Now it’s changed—it’s Albanians and Dominicans,” he said; what you can't quite hear is the pause before the punchline, as if to suggest that while the names of the immigrant groups change, in the Bronx and in New York City, the song remains the same. But the L train into Brooklyn? It “looks like a ski lift” these days.
This might have been a show in one of those tough, blue-collar neighborhoods that Quinn so often waxes nostalgic about, but there he was, giving a long monologue against hunting and in favor of vegetarianism.
“Hunting is not a sport,” Quinn said, as though he'd come to the conclusion just then. “It’s not a sport if one side doesn’t even know they’re playing.”
If the United States is so great and free, he asked the audience during one bit, why is it that you only feel free when you're sleeping or commuting? Everywhere else—the office, school—is governed by varying degrees of totalitarianism.
In more gentrified parts of the city, that sort of thinking might be referred to as institutional critique.
But it was really Seinfeld that drew the crowds to Lehman that night, and he showed himself impressively agile for 58. He made a big showbiz entrance, sliding on the soles on his shoes across the wide stage. And he immediately launched into a few Bronx jokes, probably tailored to the venue; he was at his old routine, selling what are really pointed critiques as wry, ironic observational comedy.
“Oh, the pride of the definite article of the name!” he exclaimed of the borough.
Seinfeld is known for changing his material gradually over time, and for his belief that there are some jokes audiences already know that they come specifically to hear; and that getting a routine right is knowing which they are. But over the course of his hour-long performance, Seinfeld only occasionally dipped into old stuff. At one point, a Seinfeld-era joke about similarities between retirement homes and minimum security prisons surfaced but quickly led into a seemingly fresh one about outfitting his mother’s car with “cataract windshields.”
“From the sidewalk it looks like a car of sports mascots coming down the street,” he concluded to nearly unanimous laughs from this mixed crowd, made up of what seemed to be equal parts local, diehard fans who deemed it worth the trek, and a smattering of driving-distance Westchester denizens, who aren't getting their own sixth-borough show.
Later, an old bit about tuxedos at weddings—how their sameness allows the best men to slide over one position and save the day without detection should the groom leave the bride at the altar—similarly opened up room for a lengthy take on the ins and outs of domestic life, nearly all of which was funnier than “The Marriage Ref,” his short-lived NBC panel game show.
After taking his bow, Seinfeld retreated backstage, but was back shortly for that audience Q & A. Another audience member asked, "Will you buy the Mets?" To which he responded that he didn't want to be responsible for that team.
Some continued the evening by stopping in for a bite at the Bedford Café Restaurant, a nearby diner and disco-fry haven. It’s the kind of place both performers would have enjoyed—open all night, the Yankee game playing on the television, and Diet Coke flowing in an infinite stream from the fountains behind the counter.
Those who'd been at the show exchanged and misremembered their favorite moments. A young couple walked in and asked to use the telephone.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” the woman told the manager, “but we’re having trouble finding a cab that will take us back to Manhattan.”