Jerry Seinfeld at the O2

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Is any stand-up show worth £100. Thirteen years we’ve waited for Jerry Seinfeld, and the sky-high ticket price is still the inescapable talking point.

What the 18,000 or so people who poured into the O2 Arena experienced was, despite the limitations of the impersonal arena, some of the most exquisitely crafted observational stand-up you could hope to witness. Definitive proof that despite his fabulous wealth, Seinfeld has lost none of his common touch, unbeatable comic phrasing or forensic insight that made him the world’s number one stand-up.

Yet even such a superstar has his lulls; his take on relationships, especially, and fatherhood to an extent, bordered on the cliché, with the inevitable mentions of the impossible hypothetical questions his wife asks and the age she takes to get ready. It strikes chords of recognition, but seems old hat, overtaken by years of other comics, perhaps inspired by Seinfeld, overtaking him.

What he does do, however, that few can match, is garnish even these more pedestrian ideas with the most beautiful, witty analogies. When he artfully compares a man’s life cycle to that of a slowly deflating helium balloon, or describing the relationship game as an unfathomable version of chess, you can forgive the familiarity of the initial observations.

More incisive were his big-picture insights on the follies of modern society. If the idea of a comedian complaining about the etiquette of mobile phones and other modern communications makes your heart sink, then you haven’t seen Seinfeld’s sublime take on the much-covered subject, with funny sociological comments about the effect of email and Facebook; a beautifully exaggerated, and surprisingly physical, illustration of the power or impotence a phone can confer; or the searing take on the rudeness of BlackBerry addicts. Here, in this sublime extended routine, he gets to say what so many of us would want to say, and with the sort of impassioned eloquence to which there’s no comeback.

Seinfeld is, then, like you only better ; which is the key to the much-derided, but hard-to-conquer art of observational comedy. The first elusive trick is to take things we’ve all noticed or been irritated by and making them inventively hilarious. The second is to connect the dots we never quite did, and so illuminate our world anew. His routine about how houses are basically glorified garbage processing units is a clear demonstration of this.

From the very start, the youthful 57-year-old had the audience on side – not just because they are in the presence of celebrity, but with a routine describing exactly the motions and emotions of going to the show. It’s instant resonance, but backed with philosophy, telling us how we’ll go out and boast that we saw Seinfeld in an attempt to convince ourselves and others our lives don’t suck. He suggests that isn’t true, but your life will certainly be a little less sucky for having seen him.

There were countless highlights in the fluid, but themeless, hour and three-quarters he was on stage. Topics given the eloquently impatient Seinfeld treatment include weather forecasts, cremation, fat Americans, hapless suicide bombers, the phoney marketing language of ‘hydrating’ and Gatorade branding (OK, that’s one reference that didn’t quite make it through Customs). And when he talks drolly about loafers’ coffee-shop culture he suggests an alternative that’s essentially a caffeine-based version of his sitcom’s Soup Nazi.

It’s all delivered with the peerless comic timing and emphasis you might expect. There’s just enough stress in his voice to underline the points, and occasionally, just occasionally, does pull out the trademark exasperated ‘what’s the deal with..?’ whine to make a point.

Yet although the show was almost consistently funny, with Seinfeld displaying an artisan’s devotion to the craftsmanship of comedy, what it didn’t have the visceral, direct line to the soul that the most powerful stand-up performances have. That’s why it’s hard to justify the ticket price… though you might have been happy to shell out for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a superstar comic express smart ideas in such an artistic, efficient and evocative way.

Review date: 4 Jun 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: O2 Arena

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