Jerry Seinfeld is definitely not the hardest working guy in comedy. Coming up quickly through the stand-up scene in the 1980s, he earned himself a sitcom, nailed it, and then basically retired. Other than a few passion projects (The Bee Movie, not great, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, pretty great), Seinfeld rode his first wave about as far as it could carry him – floating into rich and respected middle-age like a friendlier, less damaged BoJack Horseman.
Seinfeld really doesn’t need to do a Netflix special (something he makes clear within the first five minutes of 23 Hours To Kill), but after 21 years spent mulling over new material the empty stage was too tempting to stay away from. Granted, it’s a much bigger stage than the one he started on – swapping the grimy brick backdrop of an underground nightclub for a lavish brass band in New York’s 3000-seat Beacon Theatre – but this is exactly where Jerry belongs.
Seinfeld’s first TV appearance was on The Tonight Show in 1981, which makes him as old to us today as Bob Hope was to him back then. He might not be comedy’s hip young thing anymore, but 23 Hours To Kill makes you realise that he never really ever was – settling so comfortably into the role of elder statesman that all his old gripes about cereal, aeroplane food and personal space make so much more sense when you hear them coming out of the mouth of a 65-year-old. Never swearing, never talking politics, and never taking pot-shots at anyone else, Seinfeld’s brand of angsty wordplay has always been sweetly old-fashioned and hilariously out of date – stood in the Beacon spotlight in a nice suit with a glass of water in his hand, he’s basically the “old man yells at cloud” meme turned into a screechy millionaire.
Perfectly timed for the lockdown blues, this is just what we need right now. There’s a weird opening stunt involving a helicopter that looks like it was only there to amuse Jerry, but the rest is a pretty solid hour of sweating the small stuff. High-pitched, self-obsessed and crafted within an inch of its life, this is old man moaning of the highest order.
As ever, it’s the unimportant things that make the cut. Drizzles in fancy restaurants. The pointless gaps under toilet cubicles. The perfection of pop tarts. How all dads dress in the clothing style of the last good year of their lives. Buffets are “emotional problems on a plate”, texting is preferential to talking (“why would I want to get information from a face when I can get it from a nice clean screen?”) and people who use the phrase “it is what it is” are just contributing to “the vast suck-iness of human life”.
The second half dips when he starts overworking lazier comedy tropes like marriage and “the female brain” – playing solidly to an audience of golfers and misogynists the same age as him – but it doesn’t take him too long to get back to cornflakes again.
“I feel like a blacksmith up here!” he yells at one point, after ranting about camera phones or bad movies or the price of stamps, and it’s true that he does seem like he’s from a completely different world to practically everyone else with a Netflix special. But then that’s all part of what makes Jerry, Jerry. He might have a lot more money, a bit more waffle and a few new things to moan about, but he’s still the same king of comedy he always was.