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Under different circumstances, Jerry Seinfeld’s new Netflix special, 23 Hours to Kill, might be something of a letdown. The comedian breaks no new ground; he braves no uncharted territory. Yet in a world living at arm’s length, the trivial observations about intrusive friends and exhausting social engagements that are his stock-in-trade suddenly feel as comforting as a mediocre meal at a convenient corner diner.
His amiable gadfly routine turns unintentionally nostalgic when he waxes cranky that the only good thing about going out is how quickly it breeds a desire to get home. Who among us doesn’t long to be wearied by other people again!
There’s no doubt that if Seinfeld were a young up and comer, some of this material would be dismissed as clichéd. Hacky even. His musings on matrimony, especially, are about as cutting edge as Henny Youngman’s old, “Take my wife, please” bit. And yet, the man poised to become comedy’s first billionaire knows how to sell corny as classic better than just about anyone else standing up in front of a mic today. And occasionally, his swims through familiar waters end in some pretty deep pools.
Who among us doesn’t long to be wearied by other people again!
“When I was single I had married friends. I would not visit their homes,” he confesses. “I found their lives to be pathetic and depressing. Now that I’m married, I have no single friends. I find their lives to be meaningless and trivial experiences. In both cases, I believe I was correct.”
I should note here, while Seinfeld’s latest routine is officially rated PG, there’s enough bad language to merit more caution than that. It may be mild compared with most big comedy acts, but it still jars to hear ol’ Jer taking the Lord’s name in vain. He’s taught his fans to expect better from him.
It’s too bad, because when he’s at his best, his insight into humanity’s foibles and inconsistencies are as incisive as ever, like his impression for what a commercial for texting might have been like when the technology was first introduced: “Want some human contact but kind of had it up to here with people? Try text. Need to get someone some information but don’t want to hear their stupid voice responding to it? You need to be on text!”
Even as we chortle at the truth of it, we want to press our noses against the TV glass to see the audience sitting close together, sharing this moment of hilarious recognition.
As Seinfeld has always pointed out, the only thing more grating than being around other people is not being around them: “If you take a plane out of New York and you look down at the city, what do you see? Why, there’s nothing but open, empty, beautiful, rolling land out there. Nobody’s there. Yet we pack in tight. Uncomfortable. On top of each other. Traffic. Congestion. That’s what we like!”
We may not all like congestion, but we were all made for fellowship and to bear the petty offenses of those other annoying humans. We miss them when they’re gone.