As Jerry Seinfeld acknowledges in his Netflix comedy special “23 Hours to Kill,” he doesn’t have to do this anymore. He doesn’t have to devote endless hours to crafting jokes and rehearsing material before putting on the suit and taking the stage before a sold-out crowd at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan.
He has all the success. He has all the money. He has all the cars. He has the life. Thing is, Jerry feels more comfortable onstage than just about anywhere else in the world. The problem is how to spend the rest of the day — hence the title “Jerry Seinfeld in 23 Hours to Kill,” which sounded so much like a 007 movie to Seinfeld he actually performs a Bond-like stunt at the outset of the special, in which he jumps from a helicopter into the Hudson River. (Lest we doubt that’s really Jerry, as he takes the plunge, the camera zooms in for an extreme close-up in slow motion, and the special ends with footage of Seinfeld repeatedly rehearsing the stunt from a high-dive board at an indoor pool.)
In another bit of unnecessary but entertaining extravagance, a full band worthy of a Tony Bennett concert plays Jerry onstage — and then the curtains close and we never see or hear the band again. It’s just Jerry with a handheld mic, bottle and glass of water on the obligatory bar stool behind him, and off we go, with Jerry congratulating the audience on overcoming the many obstacles they faced after deciding to see the show: “Arranging, planning [with your] annoying friends, many of whom you’re sitting with right now. ‘What about the tickets, who’s got the tickets, do you have the tickets, don’t forget the tickets, did you get their tickets, I didn’t get tickets for them, they gotta get their own tickets, they didn’t pay me for the last time I got ’em tickets …’ ”
The special was filmed last October, but many of Seinfeld’s bits take on an added resonance in the Age of Quarantine. He riffs about the whole notion of going out and says once we are out, we start thinking about when we can go back home, because wherever you are, you have to be somewhere else: “Nobody wants to be anywhere.” He talks about how annoying it is to hear the waitperson at a restaurant droning on about this dish is drizzled with this, and that dish is drizzled with that, and would we like to hear the specials? “If they’re so special, put ’em on the menu!” He marvels at the implied gluttony of the buffet: “Things are bad, how can we make it worse? Why don’t we put people who are already struggling with portion control into some kind of debauched Caligula food orgy of unlimited human consumption?” He rants about the “picture bullies” who insist on getting a group photo after every meal.
It’s classic cranky Seinfeld, but there’s such a spring in his step as he moves about the stage, such a twinkle in his eye as his voice goes higher, to the point where he sounds like everyone’s not-good imitation of Jerry Seinfeld, that none of it comes across as angry. This is the comedy of joyful bemusement.
“Talking is obsolete,” Jerry says. “I feel like a blacksmith up here. I could text you this whole thing.”
But then we’d have at least 23½ Hours to Kill.