30 September 2009

Posts about Nothing: Jerry Seinfeld; Nihilism of the Comedian, Part Two

Hola! Welcome to Part Two of my look at Jerry Seinfeld. There are a few more elements to his character that we need to discuss, firstly, a continual look at his basic character flaws, this time focusing on his Condescension and Egoism, then an examination through the lens of other characters, in particular, his Comedy and the Reflection of Newman. Let's get to it:

"A Simple Joke for a Simple Man"

So says an enlightened George Costanza in "The Abstinence" (S8;E9) criticizing both Jerry's sense of humour and basic personality traits. In addition to his rampant insensitivity and emotional repression, Jerry has an enormous Ego among other very juvenile traits that he not only admits, but relishes in. Throughout the aforementioned episode, which deals partly with Jerry trying to get a gig at his former Middle School he often reverts to juvenile behaviour, most likely partly due to its inherent comedic nature. This explanation also serves for much of his egoistic behaviour. A great general rule for examining Jerry is understanding that the joke always comes first.

The line gets blurred however, mostly because either Jerry finds himself in juvenile situations (see "The Race" S6;E10 or "The Library" S3E5), or because he jokes so much that it actually becomes his reality. Kramer in "The Mom & Pop Store" critiques Jerry as having a "Peter Pan Complex." As shown quite literally in "The Pez Dispenser" (S3;E14) Jerry has an inability to do anything high-class or "serious," everything always ends up as an opportunity for jokes, even at the expense of others' pride. In this way, not unlike his emotional suppression, Jerry works to cut down the egos of others, while serving his own (also see "The Opera" S4;E9).

Jerry seeks to boost his own ego on numerous occasions. While I already mentioned his perceived confidence with women in Part One, there are also a few phrasings, presented as half-jokes that also show this extreme amount of inner confidence. In "The Face Painter" Kramer has a problem and says, "Jerry, you're a smart guy, right?" Jerry responds with full bravado, "No question about it." Quite to the point of his Jerry-centric personal world in "The Blood" (S9;E4) Elaine begins a story to which Jerry interrupts, "Is this about me?" Elaine says, "No." Jerry then curtly replies, "Then I'm not interested."

This confidence however, is severely shaken a handful of times, most often when dealing with Elaine, with whom there is admittedly a grand amount of unresolved sexual tension (not to mention "the other," see "The Stake-Out" S1;E2, "The Deal" S2;E9, "The Mom & Pop Store," "The Serenity Now," and "The Finale").Jerry jokes constantly to deal with the few real problems he has, such as the severe blow to his perceived masculinity Elaine gives him with the revelation that she faked orgasm in "The Mango" (S5,E1). Examine the subtext of this phone conversation as Jerry covers his real feelings:

Jerry: Hello... Oh hello Elaine.

Elaine: So we're having dinner tonight?

Jerry: I don't know, I'm not really in the mood.

Elaine: Why? What's wrong? You're not still thinking about this afternoon are you?

Jerry: What, the grilled cheese? Nah, they always burn the toast.

Elaine: No, the other thing.

Jerry: Oh that. Well...

Elaine: Oh come on, Jerry. Making to much of a big deal about it.

Jerry: Yeah I guess. So you wanna meet at that place at seven thirty?

Elaine: Okay.

Jerry: All right.

This same sort of joking fear is also present ironically in "The Deal" which showcases Jerry and George half-concerned over ending up in prison, all joking of course. Jerry's such a comedian, always joking to deal with very personal problems. I must again point out the brilliance of Funny People (2009) that really nails this regard. Essentially that movie and Seinfeld really examine the psyche of joking, which more often than not covers up dangerous or uncomfortable truth. Whereas Seinfeld never really deals with this truth in a serious way, being the ultimate Comedian show, Funny People does and everyone should watch it. There's my Apatow plug. Let's move on.

In bizarre irony, Jerry does seem to be very self-aware of his ego. In "The Pledge Drive" (S6;E3) his girlfriend Kristin critiques him for lack of sentimentality after he throws out her thank you card. Jerry is unapologetic but admits the flaw without regret. This repeats itself in "The Serenity Now" (see Part One) as well as "The Foundation" in which Jerry states that he has had no growth since his failed engagement, then girlfriend Dolores (Mulva) calls him immature. He also has a kind of raw honesty at times if he can underlay it with a joking tone, as he tells his girlfriend in "The Reverse Peephole" (S9;E12), "I dont go dancing because it's so stupid." Again in "The Susie" when George is talking about about the Yankees Ball in the Coffee Shop, Jerry responds, "Can't be worse than this." Jerry is not afraid to detract and denounce that which does not fit with his ego yet simultaneously at times admitting his low self-worth and ultimately miserably self-focused life. It becomes a hard line to follow at times, the measurement between how self-aware Jerry is of his own ego and how content he is with his lifestyle. The answer turns out to be simple- that Jerry is extremely content with a miserable self-focused lifestyle, which in turn fuels the ego. Fun stuff.

Worth noting here of course is "The Invitations" (S7;E24) where Jerry dates someone exactly like himself at first to his endless glee and later with the horrible realisation that he hates himself. His ego-fueling can only carry him so far and then he is ultimately torn up by seeing a very flattering version of himself. It is fitting punishment that he should end up with someone so soulless and unrepentant towards humanity as himself, but ultimately because this cannot fit into his (and by definiton her) ego-trip, hence the mutual break-up seen in "The Foundation."

"What's the Deal with Airplane Peanuts?"

There are numerous references to the nature of Jerry's comedy act in Seinfeld, most of them negative. There are also a few occasions where Jerry the Comedian enters Jerry's real life, which further crosses the lines of reality. It is interesting for me to watch "The Seinfeld Chronicles" (S1;E1) and observe how stiff and awkward Jerry's acting is, but at the same time, how incredible his comedic timing and stage presence is during the stand-up interludes. Anyway, a basic rule in the Seiniverse is that Jerry's act is awful.

In "The Stranded" a fellow partygoer is passively dismissive of Jerry's act. Other characters either make fun of or tiff on Jerry's comedy include George in "The Race," Newman in "The Millenium" (S8;E20) and his own girlfriend Marlene in "The Ex-Girlfriend" (S2;E1). In particular Marlene nails Jerry with the most accurate criticism, calling it "too much fluff." In "The Abstinence" Jerry is booed by a junior high school crowd. Rough. Furthering this trend with his own parents, in "The Wallet" Jerry's parents do not believe that Jerry makes money with his act. This belief continues with many of the retirees of Del Boca Vista in "This Cadillac, Parts 1 & 2" (S7;E14 & 15) where Jack Klompas in particular is derisive towards his act and does not believe he could afford to buy a Cadillac.

In the Seinfeld Universe most of the supporting characters do not think highly of Jerry's profession, thinking its easy or just mundane - which is exactly the point of the show. In "The Phone Message" (S2;E7) Kramer gives Jerry some possible joke material, all terrible suggestions but retorts, "That's as good as anything you do!" This trend continues in this continues in "The Summer of George" (S8;E22) where George presents a joke about the guys in the pit at an awards show, that is the kind of humour George believes that Jerry does. Later in this episode, as George tries to make a decision between playing frolf or helping Jerry, he envisions Jerry's dumb joking and frolf is the easy winner. George identifies Jerry through his jokes, and thus thinks lowly of him.

This mockery continues in "The Puerto Rican Day" (S9;E20) wherein George shouts out a line while watching Blimp, a movie about the Hindenburg disaster, "That's gotta hurt!" He says he's a performer, just like Jerry. The following has some good commentary on Jerry's act:

Jerry: That's not what I do.

George: Isn't it?

Jerry: Maybe a little. I guess it is.

Kramer: You know Jerry, you haven't worked a room that big in a while.

George also critiques the laser pointer guy as having no craft in his humour which is somewhat analogous to Jerry's views on hack comedian Kenny Bania. We can further examine these guys' views on each other in "The Butter Shave" (S9;E1). George admits he likes Bania's act. Bania is basically a dumber version of Jerry. This hints at a fact in the Seiniverse, common people may just be too dumb to like Jerry's act while all the higher ups in the world (ie, The Tonight Show, NBC) believe that Jerry is very talented and proceed to give him money and a career. Also in the "The Butter Shave," Jerry purposely does a shitty version of his own act to throw off Bania, neverminding that this blows a possible shot at another pilot.

Kramer, very interestingly, also impersonates Jerry's standup when Jerry is out of his apartment in "The Bookstore" (S9;E17). This perhaps hints at a unconscious yearning of Kramer's to actually be Jerry and live his life. This would fit in with Kramer's constant need to visit Jerry's apartment, eat his food, use his table, etc. This unconscious desire of course comes to a head in "The Chicken Roaster" (S8;E8) when the two friends actually quite literally switch apartments as well as personalities.

Alright, some last minute things here, in "The Burning" (S9;E16) Jerry playfully jokes to girlfriend Sophie that he's a comedian when he cant figure out her "it's me." There are thousands of other times that Jerry jokes in real life or says or thinks he's funny (see "The Jacket" S2;E3, any of the "Who is this...?" episodes for starters). I'm also fond of Jerry pretending to kill George in the hospital when Elaine walks in ("The Heart Attack" S2;E11).
"Elaine?! What are YOU doing here?!"
Finally, of course the ultimate criticism, while the Comedian is a of sex in Romania, Jerry is "no comedian" ("The Gymnast" S6;E3).

Well, I ran out of time and space again. Tune in later this week for the exciting (maybe) conclusion (maybe) to this needless drawn out article! So long!

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