Going Through a Seinfeld Episode

Looking at comedy artistically ruins it.  It makes it too complex and transparent, which inevitably leads it to lose some of its comedic value.  The best thing to do is to simply say something is funny.  Seinfeld is funny, but there’s something about the technique of it that makes it special, and above the bar of the sitcom standard.  In the next few paragraphs I am hoping to break down in some way what makes it so brilliant, by looking at a single episode: The Jacket.

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The Jacket (Season 2 – Episode 2)

Every Seinfeld episode opens, interludes and finishes with snippets of stand-up routines from co-writer and co-creator of the show Jerry Seinfeld.  Now, the routines are hit and miss but they add a nice pause from the show, and I’ve always viewed them separate to the Seinfeld universe.  I see these bits as the actual Jerry Seinfeld, and not his show portrayal.  They often hint the content of the episode, and in the opening he is talking about his dislike for buying clothes.  And as always the theme song plays in background as the episode starts.

The first scene is set in a clothes store where Elaine makes a joke about how sales assistants never find anything in the back.  This use of observational humour is a constant of the show, where Seinfeld effectively tells the jokes he would say on stage through the characters.  Consequently we are quickly put into a place of humour, and not necessarily plot.  Jerry extends the joke, to excruciatingly funny lengths.

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Next comes a dialogue with a stranger that sets up a later plot; someone telling Elaine how much they admire her father as a writer.  It is established early how difficult it can be to be around him, and allows Jerry to make the joke about how talented people are tougher to socialise with.  Then comes the premise for the majority of the episode: Jerry finding the ‘perfect jacket’.  Despite this the joke behind the premise comes a second later, when he questions the price.  Basically the joke is that the jacket is so expensive, you can’t even guess the price.  This gives the writers chance to play with the worth of material possessions and how much someone is willing to pay for something so trivial. Not only this, but the pink lining is brought up by both Jerry and Elaine, something that will be repeated throughout the show.

It cuts to Jerry sat watching the TV in his Pyjamas, whilst also wearing his newly purchased jacket.  This is single shot comedy that is used seldom in Seinfeld, but is effective as we can all relate in not wanting to take off something we have just bought. It continues with him feeling the jacket and getting up to check himself out in the mirror, again extending the humour.  Kramer comes in randomly as usual, with one of his less flamboyant entrances.  The price instantly becomes the talking point, further pushing it as the major joke of the episode.  Kramer catches the price tag and is awe, but the audience is still unaware of what it costs.  Interestingly its the mystery and speculation that makes it so funny.

The following scene opens with George entering the apartment, presumably the next day, enacting his common popular culture humour.  He is singing a tune from Les Miserables’ that he cannot get out of his head.  Jerry comes through with his new jacket on and George is of course blown away.  The legend of the jacket is set in stone.  They have an interplay about how the jacket has changed Jerry’s life, which again plays with the power of something so menial.  George then says possibly my favourite every Seinfeld quote:  “Can I say one thing to you? And I say this with an unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality…” …”Absolutely”… “It’s fabulous”.  The delivery is perfect and the writing being so eloquent makes it even funnier.  From this, the price comes up and George is guessing higher and higher frantically.  He is getting typically sweaty until he walks out after he learns it was more than a thousand dollars.  This piece of physical humour is beautiful to watch and Jason Alexander’s portrayal of George is masterful in every way.  He returns straight away in absolute hilarity.

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After this we come to scene where Jerry and George are meeting Elaine’s father (Mr Benes), and this is a showcase in the pairs wit.  Lawrence Tierney brilliantly plays Elaine’s miserable father, who is a perfect foil for George and Jerry’s timing.  The comedy comes from Mr Benes not being able to fathom the pairs difference to him.  In comes a look into generation gaps and how separate people can be in their attitudes to life.  Jerry and George are trying to dig themselves out of the stupid things they are saying, line after line.  For example, Mr Benes proclaiming that he doesn’t need a weather guy to tell him when it’s going to rain.  His delivery is so drab that even the simplest of conflicts are funny in this scene.  Another classic quote comes when Mr Benes is wondering which one of the two is the comedian; he says: “We had a funny guy with us in Korea. A tailgunner. They blew his brains out all over the Pacific. … There’s nothing funny about that”.  This quote highlights the writers juxtaposing the pairs lighter tones with Mr Benes’s more morbid one, which creates this wonderful awkward humour.  Due to this, Jerry and George think about just leaving him before Elaine arrives.

Thankfully for them, Elaine shows up soon later, explaining that she’s late because of something she had to do with Kramer.  This is was set up in a small moment earlier and shows how these characters are written so well, because they are still affecting the humour and plot away from the main action.  They are leaving for the restaurant, it’s snowing and Jerry has his new jacket on.  Mr Benes tells him they are not taking a cab, so Jerry turns the jacket inside out to protect the suede, revealing the pink lining.  There is a laugh at the new look, and then a bigger one as Mr Benes is disgusted by it; refusing to walk with him if he has it on.  Jerry’s face drops as he realises his new jacket will be destroyed by the wet snow.  This is a punchline that has been set-up since the opening scene and lands remarkably well.  The legend of the jacket has been firing all the way through the episode and now it has been killed.  It is incredibly funny.  And to make things worse for Jerry, the final scene is Kramer and Elaine poking fun at him.

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This is certainly in my top 5 Seinfeld episodes because every scene is full of laughter. The pacing of the episode is perfect and each moment in the plot allows for simple, yet genius writing.  Seinfeld is the best sitcom ever made for many reasons, hopefully made a little clearer by what I’ve written.  The situations are golden, the characters individually compelling with their humour and the simplicity of it all allows the comedy to come forward.  I recommend the show to anyone.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 & A Sitcom Set-up

I haven’t written anything on here in over a month and haven’t been particularly inspired by any films lately.  The first Guardians of the Galaxy was pretty dull post cinema.  There is something about a big-budget blockbuster that makes it lose its shine on the re-watch on a smaller screen.  In the cinema (I saw it in iMAX 3D) it was entertaining and the visuals were actually quite mesmerising, but watching it again felt like a chore.  I got about half way and thought ‘I’ve seen this, so whats the point’.  There is a limit to most of the Marvel films, even ones as edgy as the first Guardians.  Now, coming out of the sequel, I felt like the film may have more longevity.

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For a start, it is far more character driven than it is plot driven.  The plot is thin and loose and writer/director James Gunn is focusing more on the interplay between the characters.  A lot of this, like many major films, appears like added fat, however there are certain arcs that are interesting.  For example Yondu played by Michael Rooker is a conflicted criminal with far more baggage than first seems.  He is equally compassionate as he is evil, and the criminal underbelly he is a member of is probably the most intriguing part about this world.  This character driven plot allows the film to have more compelling set pieces, because they basically mean nothing.  If there is no plot behind an action scene, then the director can play with it more due to it not really needing a place to end up.

One way that Gunn does this, is through a comedic set-up, and in a way a sitcom one. There is a scene in this film where Rocket (Brad Coops) and Yondu are held captive by the hilarious space pirate Tazer-face.  To escape, they need the help of Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), who is free because he is ‘too adorable to be killed’.  What follows is Rocket and Yondu trying to explain to Groot what they need to escape (Yondu’s head thing) and he keeps coming back with the wrong thing.  Okay, so firstly, why is this scene here?  It is here because it leads to another set piece (a mass murder one), but mostly so that Gunn can present something to the audience.  He can present something that is both funny and incongruous to the rest of the film.  The whole scene plays out like a sitcom-misunderstanding premise.  It is like watching a scene from Seinfeld or Porridge, and it had the whole screening in fits of laughter.  James Gunn is presenting a piece of art here, a moment to strike a particular emotion from the audience, rather than piece in a puzzle that reaches a ‘satisfying end’.

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All of the best films in history have been about the journey and not the destination. Guardians of the Galaxy is an anomaly in a bloated Marvel Universe, where the writer/director has creative control over the project.  And in this sequel, he plays around a lot more with it.  He is able to craft a film of his choosing, and mould together scenes that are expertly put together and humorous in content.  The greater themes of loss and mortality never really land, but I think it’s remarkable the scope of film-making that is achieved in this cluster of a space adventure.

The Leadmill Comedy Club

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You know, I’ve discovered recently that people actually review comedy.  I haven’t quite got my head around this yet, because it fits into two categories in my opinion: funny or not funny. Therefore I write this with hesitation, or a caution to the reader, as my thoughts come very similarly to Mark Kermode reviewing a comedy.  If it makes you laugh, it’s pretty good.

The 3rd of August 2016 saw me going to Leadmill comedy club.  First of, Leadmill is one of my favourite places on earth.  It’s a place that swapped a bag of skips for free entry to a club night, and it gives out Red Stripe for 30p every now and again.  Not to mention the great music, free tacos and top atmosphere.  Before this turns into a really awkward ‘clubs to go to’ piece, just know that it’s a really cool venue.  The headliner was Paul Tonkinson, who I was slightly familiar with and yes he was funny.  Incredibly so, and he’s got this weird mix of smart comedy with that Yorkshire style.  Essentially you get all the cliche’s (hilarious ones) of a working class northern comedian, blended in with some charming satire.  A particular bit where he played Brexit through an impersonation of Europe (just French) was notably comical.

With this semi-famous headliner you get three other acts, who are either touring comics or paving there way through the scene.  One of those being the compere, who basically just did his job without really creasing you.  Then there is the other two, where a real divide happened. The first of the two (David Whitney) really made me laugh.  His style is described as political satire and ‘proper filth’.  All I can say is that he was equally both and I was not surprised to see that he’s got a strong reputation on the circuit.  Next was a guy with a great name but not a great set, Winter Foenander.  This is about as near death as you could get and it was almost at that point when you feel desperately sorry for the guy. The thing is is that he did have some humorous lines but by then it was kind of awkward to laugh, or move, or make a noise.  Overall though, the stem and meat of the whole comedy was really enjoyable, whilst mostly sober.

I wanted to write this without talking about the actual comedy, but it’s ended up with me saying ‘funny’ a lot.  There’s just no other way to look at it.  The Leadmill have had people like Sara Pascoe and Mark Watson to the event, so you get the sense that it’s quite prestigious.  And the highlight of the evening has to be the Copacabana tables.

 

A real comedy website that makes far more sense than this, where @brucedes writes is: http://www.beyondthejoke.co.uk/