One of the worst things that can happen to your favorite stand up comic is wild, unbridled success. Once they start selling out arenas, the end is near.
There's something about reaching the top that triggers that self-destructive part of the brain that's usually a bit more pronounced in all great stand ups.
Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle, Dane Cook, and Andrew Dice Clay all saw the peaks and pits of their careers come within months of each other. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Louis C.K. and Kevin Hart seem to be riding the same massive waves that have crushed other comedy careers with relative ease. We're all crossing our fingers in hopes that they can maintain their balance. And Chris Rock has been able to remain a relevant force in the comedy community.
There are others too, but these are, unfortunately, exceptions.
To comics, success is counter-intuitive. The reason people are funny is because — for most of their lives — they've been unsuccessful. Comedy belongs to the underdog. It's the one useful nugget that's forged from scarring middle school experiences, date-less proms, divorce, and death. Comedy feeds off pain, and its appetitive is never ending.
So what happens when that pain is gone, and rejection is nowhere to be found? What's a comic to do when starring out over an ocean of adoring faces, or a conference room of nodding, grinning network executives?
There are two choices: Hit the reset button, or burn out.
Thankfully, Jerry Seinfeld hit the reset button. After choosing to end what was the most successful sitcom ever in 1998, Seinfeld took a break from it all. He continued to do stand up for a while after Seinfeld ended, releasing his album I'm Telling You for the Last Time in 1998. Then, after that, it was a whole lot of nothing.
It looked like Jerry — as have so many other comics coming off nauseating career highs — was checking into the comedy retirement community, where he'd lounge for eternity, only to be dusted off once a year to present an award at the Oscars.
But what looked like an eternal sleep was merely hibernation. Flash forward 16 years (we don't have to talk about Bee Movie) and take a look at the Jerry Seinfeld of today. Go ahead, drink it in, baby.
Seinfeld, now a youthful 60-years-old, strutted onstage at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida, last Friday. In many ways, he was the same comedian America grew to love in the '90s. That classic Seinfeld vibrato is still strategically peppered throughout his set. His delivery is precise. His observational material remains sharp and the bedrock of his act. He moans and complains and by the end of the joke has everyone on his side. The familiarity of Seinfeld is comforting, and by the end of his set, fans will feel like they've just sat down for a long lunch with an old friend.
But in many ways, Seinfeld was a very different comic on that stage than he was twenty years ago. For one, he was much more active. Maybe it's all that coffee he's been drinking lately, but Seinfeld has never been more physical on stage. One of the night's jokes put Jerry flat on his back, completely splayed out, lying on the stage. When's the last time you saw a '90s Seinfeld bit end like that? The 2015 Seinfeld thrusts and squats his way through his act like never before. Someone forgot to tell him he's getting old.
The pace of his act feels faster. He runs through certain jokes like an auctioneer, hitting each beat at a frenzied pace. That laid-back delivery Seinfeld used in his early days is still there, but it's surrounded by a much more diverse arsenal of material.
Jerry Seinfeld is back, which begs the question: Did he ever leave?
Perhaps none of those aforementioned comics are really "gone." Maybe they're just biding their time, enjoying some of the darker corners of fame while they recharge. Let's hope so.
Seinfeld was always funny. It's just that he wasn't always in our faces reminding us of that fact. How quickly we, as fans, forget the laughs.
If you're lucky enough to see Seinfeld on tour these days, savor those laughs and remember them. Because if great comics have taught us anything, it's that we only get to enjoy them for a brief period of time.
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