Friday, June 06, 2008

Seinfeld on Telling a Joke

Seinfeld’s Debut
To celebrate his graduation from college in 1976, Seinfeld worked up a comedy routine and went into [Manhattan] to try it out on open-mike night at Catch a Rising Star. It was an inauspicious start. Nervous, he froze up on-stage, jumping from one joke to the next by simply announcing the subject: 'The beach.' 'Driving.' 'Shopping.' When he was done, emcee Elayne Boosler cracked, 'That was Jerry Seinfeld, the king of segues.' ...

Completely Unprepared
'I was completely unprepared for how difficult it really is when you first go on,' Seinfeld remembers. 'I hadn't really memorized it. I thought I could just get up there. I could always make my friends laugh, and I thought maybe it won't be that difficult a transition.' The debacle sent Seinfeld back to the drawing board. He wrote new material, memorized it, and began performing at a less-intimidating place--a restaurant on West Forty-fourth Street called the Golden Lion Pub. ... The preppie-looking kid with the toothy grin got his first big laugh with a riff on being left-handed. 'Why are 'left' words always negative?' Seinfeld mused. 'Two left feet. Left-handed compliment. On TV, ever see a crook named Righty? You go to a party, there's nobody there, where'd everybody go? 'They left.' ' ...

Studying Jokes
Seinfeld [soon] was known among his friends as the professor of comedy. He studied jokes and worked diligently on new material. He made sure he spent at least an hour a day writing, compiling his ideas on a pad of yellow paper. 'Jerry was the first one I saw who understood the importance of craft,' says Larry Miller. ...”

Humor in the Small and Everyday
He became known for 'observational' comedy. ... He seemed to delight in taking the tiniest things and inflating them into giant soap operas. Like his fantasia on the secret life of socks:

Sock it to ‘em
"'I admire socks. They have great ambition, great drive. How many times do you do a big load of laundry, you go to the dryer, you take out your socks, you count them up--one of them got out! He escaped. He took off on his own. What are his chances out there? I don't think they're good. Sometimes you see a dirty sock by the street there, just one sock. It's a sock that didn't make it. I don't know how they escape. They have their own ideas. Sometimes they'll hang on a sweater--that's like a freight car to them…”

Sources: Richard Zoglin, Comedy at the Edge, Bloomsbury, Copyright 2008, pp. 217-219.

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Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Jerry Seinfeld