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Seinfeld at the Theater at Madison Square Garden
It was with great enthusiasm I went to see Jerry Seinfeld last night at the Chicago Theatre. I took a dozen photos of the marquee. I absolutely checked my coat. I ordered an $8 plastic chalice of chilled red wine. I wasn't meeting my maker, but I was encountering a stand-up comic who has informed much of my everyday hack comedy, filled with quips and digs to which I'm often obliged to acknowledge, "That was a Seinfeld
joke." (Here let me also shamelessly mention I cohost a modest Seinfeld trivia night
at a dive bar in Avondale.) I was candidly making the night about seeing Seinfeld rather than seeing Seinfeld's comedy. I was very hopeful regarding the latter, but not totally confident. Because let's not fool ourselves, as fans of something great from long ago, we're always hoping that the great thing will stay the course, right?
At the top of the set Seinfeld smartly endorsed his TV fame so that he could comfortably get on with the jokes. "I bet you're all thinking, where are the other three?" he teased. His recognition of that 90s-sitcom stardom telegraphed a set that was to be footnoted by "If you're hoping for Seinfeld
-like stand-up for the next hour and a half, please recalibrate your expectations." This Jerry Seinfeld is louder, more demonstrative, more exasperated. His notoriety no longer fits inside the Comedy Cellar but makes more sense for Vegas multinight engagements. And that personality needs to be big enough to fit the stage. The observational humor has gone nowhere, don't worry—Seinfeld completely loses his identity without jokes about the ritual of "going out" just so you can arrive at the ritual of "getting back." Instead it's the delivery and grandiosity with which the humor is delivered that might make those familiar with the painstaking intricacies of the TV show's comedy, ahem, stop short.
The source material was mostly on par with the Seinfeld of yore: social mores, growing old, restaurant food, et cetera. The mix between "I don't get this" and "At this point in life, I don't care about this" felt well balanced and comfortably predictable, albeit occasionally delivered with big sudden movements
that might frighten away some. And during the last third of his set, Seinfeld dug into his family life, which was a welcome change of pace for anyone used to the single playboy he portrays on television. I actually perked up when he started talking about marriage and his three kids, if for nothing more than to get some more insight into Seinfeld the guy rather than Seinfeld the comic. For example, the description of how each one of his kids is attentively put to bed, with each one needing to be read another awful book, was a solid bit capped by the hammer: "You know what my bedtime story was growing up? Darkness!" Though bookended by jokes, the insight into the everyday of a man so bent on ridiculing and picking at the stitches of the everyday—especially for a devotee to a show that ended more than 18 years ago—felt supernatural.
Seinfeld performs two more shows tonight at the Chicago Theatre (175 N. State), one at 7 PM and a later performance at 9:30 PM. Tickets are sold out via the Chicago Theatre site, but there are no doubt other ways of obtaining them.