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About a third of the way ago 23 hours to kill, Jerry Seinfeld’s first new special stand-up since 1998 (as featured by Netflix in promotional material, Jerry in front of Seinfeld notwithstanding), which most succinctly captures the spirit of his vision of the comic world. After finishing an animated series of songs that have generated more than a few applause pauses, he stops to take a sip of water, goes back to the front of the stage and says, “Let’s see – what’s up other is boring in the world, besides everything? There may be things we can be happy about, but he won’t waste his time sharing them with you.
Seinfeld has had a career getting mad at the little things. Either way, he managed to be both a successful star and comedian comedian, achieving widespread popularity while remaining the type of upright fundamentalist purist who inspires respect from his peers for being all about commitment to the trade. And while that same old-school nature begins to reveal the occasional obsolete perspective, he’s becoming a bit of an irascible statesman, as if hitting his mid-60s had energized him more than ever. In other words: be careful, Larry David, because your former sitcom collaborator is also turning into a grumpy old man who’s pretty funny.
Jerry Seinfeld: 23 hours to kill
Jerry Seinfeld: 23 hours to kill
Written and interpreted by
May 5 on Netflix
This split – between a more lively and darker comic strip based on its nihilistic perspective on humanity and a guy whose material seems a little creaky by its base in past-their first attitudes – defines 23 hours to kill, who continually swings between the kind of heartbreaking, piercing eyes that Seinfeld has delivered for so long and, well, the others. Right out the door, his opening piece seems to be aimed at the crowd of over 50s, complaining of the pain he is trying to coordinate an evening with friends, whose cars you should take the car, constantly harassing who has tickets, etc. sure. But the soft laughter ends in a kicker hell – “Why are your friends so boring ?! – And with that, he’s on an incredibly grumpy riff on how we always plan for any moment except the present. “Nobody wants to go anywhere. No one likes anything, “he cries all but, and you can almost imagine that the cane in his hand is shaken.
Let’s be clear: the humorist is not afraid of the age factor. In the second half, Seinfeld turns to more personal material, with discussions about how much he likes being in his sixties (“when someone asks you to do something, you just say no”), the nasty parts of being a father and male standing evergreen about the secrets of a successful marriage. (Is it a big spoiler to say that he points out that the woman is always right? I know you are out there, guys!) Some of this stuff from smart women and stupid men is pretty classy, like if they were taken directly from a mid-90s time capsule – and considering it to be Seinfeld’s first special in more than two decades, maybe a part. But his path with an unexpected and sharp turn of phrase remains intact, as when he excores the idea that golf is somehow a real sport. (“It’s also difficult to try to throw a Tic-Tac 100 meters into a shoebox.”)
Most refreshing is the way in which Age found Seinfeld leaning into the dark nihilism that has always laced up his comedy, the dark current of his material has now evolved beyond the point of misanthropy into a full throat disgust for the breed human as a whole. This is best embodied by a riff on how he will never clean up after him at the movies, or in his characterization of people’s behavior at a buffet – “like taking your dog to Petco and letting him shop.” He has always been refreshing and frank about his economic status – at no point does he pretend to be anything but super-rich and disgusting – but his miserability successfully avoids the joy that his wealth should bring him. Acknowledging that on stage could be the only place he really likes to be, he points out that he could literally be anywhere in the world, doing anything, right now. “If you were me, would you be here hacking another one?” In such songs, his rascal comic character shines.
The whole thing is interrupted by a bizarre stunt: in a prerecorded opening scene, the helicopter pilot from Seinfeld announces that there is a delay which will prevent him from arriving at the theater on time. Seinfeld tells the guy not to worry, that he will take it from here. Cut to shot of comedian who literally jumps out of a helicopter, in a wetsuit, and falls almost a hundred feet before diving into the Hudson. (During the credits, we see images of Seinfeld with a diving expert, learning to jump via training jumps from an Olympic-scale platform.) At first, it seems a bit out of the left field. But this is an appropriate metaphor for 23 hours to kill: A rich and famous comic strip, refusing to rest on its laurels, and working overtime to counter the pervasive ossification of its sensitivity by plunging into more invigorating territory.