I've always been a Jerry Seinfeld fan, and was intrigued by his new Netflix special, "23 Hours To Kill," after having an interview with him on Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast. (It is a really good interview, even though much of it is Maron trying to get Seinfeld to be more introspective than he has any intention of being. Just the tug of war is worth listening to.)
And so, last weekend, I watched it. All 60 minutes of it.
A few days later, I watched on YouTube, I watched a new Dave Chapelle special - a 27-minute standup routine recorded earlier this month in an outdoor Ohio venue where the audience was small, masked, and appropriately distanced. The set is called "8:46" - which is, of course, the amount of time that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee pressed on George Floyd's neck, killing him and setting off an extended spasm of protests, demonstrations, and national self-examination. (Prosecutors now are saying that it was actually 7:46, not 8:46, But no matter.)
To be fair, "8:46" isn't really a stand-up routine, because that would imply that there are jokes. It really is more of an extended monolog, or even more accurately, a 27-minute scream of agony, delivered with raw emotion and bitter intelligence. I find Chappelle's "comedy" in general to be problematic - he often can be sexist and homophobic, but he also manages to hone in on certain truths in a way that makes him hard to turn away from.
That's certainly the case with "8:46." The set plays like a workshop version of a monolog still in development, but there's also a sense that this is exactly what Chapelle is going for - there is no finish for the nation's race problem, and so there is no finished version of this routine. Chapelle wants to talk about racism and victimization in all their complexity, and he wants us to feel his pain. We do.
If it isn't comedy - or even stylized satire of the kind that Lenny Bruce or George Carlin excelled at - it struck me as powerful, visceral and very much of the moment, however difficult the moment happens to be. And impossible to turn away from.
I cannot say the same about the Seinfeld special.
At a time when the nation is enduring multiple challenges, "23 Hours to Kill" struck me as utterly tone-deaf. Clearly taped before the pandemic closed the country down (maybe they should've held it for a year and let memories of current traumas fade a bit), the special seemed both familiar and stale - it is like Jerry has morphed into Shecky Greene. (Younger MNB readers - meaning anyone under 50 - have no idea who he is. But he was huge in Vegas in the sixties and seventies.) Seinfeld is telling the same kinds of jokes that he always tells, and there's no sense of spontaneity or discovery. There's no question that he is a craftsman … and he gets more laughs in a minute than Chapelle gets in his entire 27 minutes. Now 65, Seinfeld probably can keep doing this act for another couple of decades.
But the one that will stick with me is Chapelle's 27 minutes of pain turned performance art.
My wine of the week: the 2018 Chateau La Fleur Clemence from Graves, France - a white Bordeaux that I found to be surprisingly light and perfect with grilled salmon.
That's it for this week. Have a good weekend, and I'll see you Monday.
Stay safe. Stay healthy.