Jerry Seinfeld intends to die standing up, searching for another breakthrough

Someone sent me “Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up” and I see why. The article is a gem of its kind, but the really good parts are all about process, and so many good people’s processes are similar, and time-intensive: “Developing jokes as glacially as he does, Seinfeld says, allows for breakthroughs he wouldn’t reach otherwise.” That’s also a point of Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Perhaps not surprisingly Seinfeld cites the Japanese as an influence:

Seinfeld will nurse a single joke for years, amending, abridging and reworking it incrementally, to get the thing just so. “It’s similar to calligraphy or samurai,” he says. “I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.”

The writer, Jonah Weiner, also makes the article a pleasure when he writes, “There is a contemporary vogue for turning over an entire act rapidly: tossing out jokes wholesale, starting again from zero to avoid creative stasis. Louis C.K. has made this practice nearly synonymous with black-belt stand-up.” “Black-belt stand-up:” was he consciously referencing himself referencing Seinfeld’s Japanese cricket cages, since black belts are associated with Asian martial arts? I don’t know. I do know based on the article that Seinfeld works for his breakthroughs, as I suppose everyone who does anything significant does.

One senses he’d get along with or hate Jonathan Ive. Love and hate are closer to each other than they are to indifference.

The best writers have a sense of monomania, often disguised as proportion, in them, and written sentences invite the editing and reworking Seinfeld gives to jokes.

This detail is merely true: “A sleek Pinarello racing bicycle, which Seinfeld rides around town, stood against a wall. ‘It’s very addictive, that feeling of gliding through the city,’ he said.” I don’t have a “Pinarello racing bicycle,” and according to Google’s fetching of the bike’s price I probably won’t, ever, but something about biking catches my attention, especially in New York, which may be becoming the world’s best place for riding. I do have a bike that feels right, though, and the addictiveness is real. Five miles in Manhattan feels like more progress than 200 in Arizona. The why still evades me, as the “why?” of humor evades us all while still seeming essential to intelligence.

2 responses

  1. Louis C.K. probably wasn’t consciously acknowledging Seinfeld’s comment, but perhaps a more general perception that Asian cultures better appreciate that to do something extremely well, you do have to cultivate monomania. (It’s true in the U.S., too, as the work habits of these American comedians suggest, but we don’t like to admit that our choices have trade-offs.) I’m thinking, for example, of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” a quiet, slow-moving documentary about the man who’s widely considered to be Japan’s best sushi chef. The movie shows the extent to which sushi is his life, and how long his apprentices train with him. (They don’t even touch a piece of fish for quite a long time.)

    Liked by 1 person

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