Jerry Seinfeld hit the stage last night at Carnegie Hall and was never better.
Granted, after last night's set he will probably not be asked to host either the Academy Awards or the Emmy Awards anytime in the future, but I guess he doesn't care about that.
Seinfeld organized close pals Chris Rock and George Wallace, as well as New York comic legend and head Friar Alan King, comedy icon Bill Cosby, Saturday Night Live alum Colin Quinn and SNL regular Will Farrell to put on a night of comedy to benefit the Robin Hood Foundation. Robin Hood, once the favorite charity of John F. Kennedy Jr., will distribute the proceeds to needy families in New York including survivors of the World Trade Center disaster.
But it was Jerry's night. It was just two years ago that he performed his farewell show on HBO, giving up the material that had made him famous and made his TV series a hit. With I'm Telling You for the Last Time, Seinfeld seemed to indicate that his old observational humor was going out to pasture.
In the interim he got married and had a child. Some wags suggested from his stand-up bits around town that he was confused about where to go next in his quest for bits. But fear not. The Seinfeld who was once a laser beam is back and more accurate than ever.
The new Seinfeld is much like the old, only better, more mature and improved. He takes pot shots at old people, but also at married life, at everyday things and at language. Closing last night's show after so many talented comedians, Jerry seemed energized and more on his game than he has since the heyday of the Seinfeld series.
The confidence paid off. He didn't mind making reference to his marriage, and suggested (tongue in cheek) that there might be trouble in paradise. "She doesn't like the tone of my voice," he said. He also avoided playing the "Do you think I'm fat shell game" and "Do you think my friend is pretty" roulette often initiated by wives.
Seinfeld's tone actually was very positive and without rancor until he hit the subject of the Oscars and Emmys. Then there was a trace of the bitterness — maybe call it edginess — that made his TV character straddle the line between sympathetic and a little warped. He called the nominees "attention-starved losers," then added he could only feel that way since "I've already won those awards."
As for the Oscars, he said that award season in general was an "idiotic progression" and that the public is "fascinated that someone acted, that he pretended to be Bob Jones." The nominees "win, they're crying, they thank their parents."
Seinfeld's penultimate sequence had to do with the words "suck" and "great" being nearly the same as in, "Isn't that great?" being interchangeable with "That sucked." What always works best for Jerry is this linguistic juxtaposition, and this particular set-up is nothing short of brilliant. Classically reminiscent of some of his old material, but fresh enough to capture the imagination, Seinfeld seemed almost to take a page out of Lily Tomlin's book by daring to be smart and making the audience go with him.
For a comic who rarely uses off-color language, Seinfeld's final bit was a surprise, but it played to the sold out audience, which included former President Bill Clinton, Today show weatherman Al Roker, and J Records founder Clive Davis. Seinfeld said he did not think the World Trade Center should be rebuilt as it was. "There should be three towers," he said, "and a word on each one: "Go. F---. Yourself." The audience cheered.
It was not, however, Chris Rock's night. Opening the second half of last night's show, Rock started strongly and seemed to get the audience on his side.
"Are you ready for war?" he asked the audience. "You're not ready for Brownsville. Or the Bronx." He suggested that American scientists should clone Usama bin Laden so we'd have one to use against the terrorists. These bits worked.
Also amusing was a kind of insider's rap joke: "Send Suge Knight over. He'll kick bin Laden's ass and take his publishing."
But when Rock announced that we'd "lost" to the terrorists, the air went out of his act. Trying gamely to recover by saying we'd "lost this game but not the series" didn't help. This was followed by a long sequence that was anti-government and pro-drugs. Or at least the audience seemed to take it that way. And Rock was in deep water without a paddle.
Things only got worse as Rock waded into pro-choice abortion jokes. Why such a smart, talented guy would choose this subject at Carnegie Hall of all places is beyond me. But when he announced that he went to abortion rallies to pick up women "because you know they're [promiscuous]" things soured. "Abortion should be legal until the kid's 6 years old and you see that first report card" also didn't win any fans. Rock was even heckled by someone at the rear of the Carnegie orchestra section. It was probably a first.
Head Friar Alan King opened the Carnegie show. I'm an unabashed fan, so what can I say except that he was a superb choice. King stayed in familiar areas — family, marriage, old age — and some of his jokes were older than the Hall. It didn't matter. He also appropriated Susie Essman's joke about him from the 2000 Friars Roast about his ego being bigger than his prostate. It worked, but it was more disarming coming from Susie.
Bill Cosby was the class act of the evening, the gentleman's comic. Sitting center stage on a folding chair, 64-year-old Cos stuck to anecdotal humor about his impoverished childhood. "We had a TV," he said, reminiscing about the days before cable. "I was the remote. Rabbit ears took 10 years off my life."
Conspicuously nice, Cosby did tell one "black" joke about Ray Charles concerning blindness. He recalled going to see in a Vegas hotel room in which the lights were out. Charles didn't know and didn't care until Cosby said something. Then the musician responded: "Why don't you turn on the lights?" Like most of Cosby's stuff, the beauty is in the telling not the punchlines. But it was great to see a master at work.
Page Six in the New York Post did pick up a story from this column about Yoko Ono not inviting the former Beatles and Julian Lennon to the TNT tribute last week. Today Ono refutes the item and says they declined her offer.
Maybe that would seem plausible if there had been even the slightest reference to any of the above during that two hour charade. But I can tell you the feeling in Radio City Music Hall as thing progressed was palpably anti-Beatles. And Ono's answer to Page Six indicated that she'd received a letter only from Ringo Starr, and not from the other Beatles.
Yoko told Page Six: "Ringo sent a sweet letter to me explaining how it conflicted with the schedule of his concert tour . . .”
But according to pollstar.org and Ringo's own Web site, his summer tour ended on September 2 in San Diego.
Mariah Carey's movie Glitter will most likely end its wide run in theatres this Friday. Today's box office report will show a total take of less than $5 million. The wonderfully bad tour de force is down to playing in just one theater in all of Manhattan. Fear not for Mariah, she will go on as a hit singer. And one day the true story of how Carey was undermined by outside forces may yet surface... Meanwhile, Kevin Costner announces today a change of talent agencies. He's left J.J. Harris, the agent who made his career pre-Dances with Wolves and then tried to salvage it with Thirteen Days for Creative Artists Agency. CAA will do the best they can, as I'm sure Harris did, too. But Costner's worst enemy is himself. Once perceived as a gifted actor, he became a pariah through bad personal choices. What Costner needs is an image makeover and some good advice about scripts. A comeback is still possible.