08 October 2009

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

Wow. 50 posts. I'm proud. Good luck getting through them all, folks.

In my previous two posts on Jerry Seinfeld, we took a very Seinfeldian approach, looking only at the central character's actions. To some extent, we examined in Part Two how other characters treat Jerry's stand-up, but all in all, they were self-centered posts. In my final look now, I will examine his character through the lenses of three other fictional characters- First his nemesis, Newman. Then through another Comedian, Edward Blake of the graphic novel Watchmen, finally through cartoon characters, notably Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker. Let's begin our descent:

Newman, Poet and Dramatist:

The easiest way to look at Newman is through the notion that he is Jerry's arch-nemesis. The Lex Luthor to Jerry's Superman if you will. In the comic book world, the best villains are diametrically opposed to their protagonists (Which I just spontaneously posted about here). Actually very akin to the Luthor/Superman relationship, Newman/Jerry is based on jealousy, hate and twistedly opposed ideology. Luthor is envious of Superman's Kryptonian gifts, he believes the Man of Tomorrow should not be allowed the powers of a god and thus works his own gifts, intellect in order to supplant who he perceives as his better. In much the same way Newman is envious of Jerry's comical talents and success, himself being a gifted dramatist and poet. Newman's talents however, go unrecognized while Jerry gains fame and fortune. This eats Newman's insides much as Luthor's intellectual gifts pale in comparison to Superman's astounding feats.

There are many speeches in the series which demonstrate Newman's gift for dramatic rants (which are commonly presented as jokes, another way that Seinfeld, being the creator of the show and therefore universe, is able to twist and mock his rival's gifts). The best rant, though is in "The Finale" (S9,E23) wherein he calls Jerry's life a fantasy world and accurately predicts its downfall. This accurately sums up much of the cause of Newman's hatred and jealousy of his neighbor. He hits this same chord again in "The Calzone" (S7;E20) when he comments to George that he dislikes him for hanging around with Jerry all day "laughing and wasting their lives." Newman as a poet sees comedy as a waste or corruption of oratory skill. This poetry, along with another rant is demonstrated without much humiliation in "The Bookstore" (S9;E17). We can contrast this with one of the few very sentimental moments in Seinfeld, the William Butler Yeats poem Kramer attaches to Elaine's birthday present in "The Deal" (S2;E9). Jerry's disdain and awkwardness in this moment of true emotion represents a lot of the strife that exists between comedian and poet. Add to this Newman's unrequited love of Elaine ("The Soul Mate" S8;E2) and you've got quite the pickle barrel on your hands.

Newman's strange relationship to David Berkowitz aka Son of Sam is also curious. He claims to have took over his postal route and double-dated with the murderer("The Diplomat's Club" S6;E22). When the police come to arrest him in "The Engagement" (S7;E1) he only responds, "What took you so long?", same as Berkowitz. What does this mean? Newman in a bizarre twist, as all of these are jokes, obviously, represents the serious side of Seinfeld. The fact that his seriousness is continual played up for laughs should only serve to more bitterly embolden the poor portly fellow to destroy Jerry and rule the world! Or something.

Edward Morgan Blake, Absent Friends:

There's a lot here that I'll try to cover. The Comedian in Watchmen (1986) represents many different things. His essence and title are perfect as a reflection of a ignorant and potholed society. Rorschach says it best,
"Blake understood. Treated it like a joke, but he understood. He saw the cracks in society, saw the little men in masks trying to hold it together. He saw the true face of the twentieth century and chose to become a reflection, a parody of it. One else saw the joke. That's why he was lonely." (Chapter II, p. 27)
This quote not only accurately describes The Comedian, but Jerry Seinfeld. Virtually all of the humour in both his stand-up and television show deal with examining the cracks and gaps in society. It is meant to deal with everyday occurrences and laugh at those "trying to hold it together" - people controlled by societal norms. The Seinfeld character however, is free to break social norms in ways like idly chatting at a funeral and getting more upset that his friend may not have said "Hi" to him than the death present ("The Face Painter" S6;E23). This is just one of many examples that you can examine in my first two posts.

Seinfeld and Blake both realise that life moves on. They get the big picture and are not hung up on death or other "real family" problems ("The Maid" S9;E19). There is of course some huge discrepancies here. Jerry's nihilism comes in forms like breaking up with his girlfriend over soup or making fun of fake Jon Voight cars. Blake's detachment from life comes in forms like killing Vietnamese women pregnant with his child and beating up a crowd of protesters. Both men have an uncanny understanding of their world, however. Jerry is often able to understand and comment on the world around him ("The Checks" S8;E7, "The Abstinence" S8;E9, "The Bizarro Jerry" S8;E3. Yes, these are all the same season, I swear there's others!).

There is also some connection between Rorschach's journal entry that contains the above quote also references The Comedian as Pagliacci, the clown character that features heavily in the eponymous Opera Jerry views in "The Opera" (S4;E9). In that episode Crazy Joe Davola, who had a pending pilot with NBC and can be seen as a more disgruntled version of Jerry, perhaps a comedian truly unbalanced by his emotional suppression (see the end of Part One).

Woody Woodpecker, Troublemaker:

There is again a direct connection between Jerry and this cartoon character in "The Mom & Pop Store (S6;E8) when Tim Whatley calls him a "troublemaker," a moniker Kramer previously applied to Woody. Finally Jerry gives Woody's trademark laugh. Jerry consistently acts this way and is also very Bugs Bunny-esque. He routinely makes fun of those around him, jokes about his current situation and more importantly, is never flustered by the chaos in his life. Bugs is notable for always being cool and calm under pressure, unlike some one like Daffy (read: George) who buckles and screams (For a great look at this dichotomy check out "The Chinese Restaurant" S2;E11 and "The Apology" S9;E9).

Moreso in the later seasons, Seinfeld's style became much more abstract and "bigger" with less and less stories revolving around "everyday" annoyances, the mantra of the earlier seasons. This is due in part to the leaving of co-creator Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld's stepping up to the role of sole executive producer in Season 8. Thus we see Jerry's mind on display as lead actor, writer and producer in zany, cartoony situations such as "The Pothole" (S8;E16), "The Merv Griffin Show" (S9;E6) and "The Frogger" (S9;E18).

Well, that's all I have to say about that. I'd like to thank Wikipedia.com for much info concerning episode numbering, Seinology.com for some accurate quotes and Alan Moore for inventing The Comedian. G'Night Everybody!

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