The post’s title is the name of a trope, and while you may not know it by this handle, you have probably run into it. Perhaps from someone combining the terms “old hat” and “just” — or maybe using the more continental “cliché” (ooh la la) about something once revered as ground-breaking. The trope arises from not recognizing the originator of ideas now in common use. For example, Airplane! and Die Hard seem lost among all the similar films that followed.
But this post really isn’t about the trope or the Seinfeld TV show. The title just makes a neat kick-off point and offers some connective tissue. I really do mean I don’t find Jerry Seinfeld all that funny. Ironically, I think the man is a comic genius, and I have high regard for his comic acumen. Yet his stand-up routines leave me cool.
So this post is actually about stuff I don’t find funny (and why not).
There’s an interesting connection between how I take Jerry Seinfeld and his stand-up and how I took his TV show. I intensely disliked every character on that show — wouldn’t have let most of them into my house! But the writing was so ground-breaking and brilliant that I couldn’t not watch.
(I’ve heard some claim terms such as “grammar nazi” derive from Seinfeld, but I don’t think that’s true. The idea of “[insert name] nazi” goes back further and already existed for the writers on the show to use.)
While it may not be true for everyone, I watch shows with stories I like involving characters I like. The latter, perhaps, being the more important. If I don’t like — or worse, actively dislike — too much of the cast, I find it hard to be engaged. I watch shows with people I wouldn’t mind knowing.
But back to Jerry Seinfeld and his stand-up comedy. I’ve seen him speak about comedy, and he understands it on a deep theoretical level. And I don’t mean that in any sense of “only theoretical.” I mean that he understands comedy on all levels — a real pro in the art and craft.
I once watched a 30-minute show where he and Bob Costas sit down and analyze one of the funniest comedy bits ever: Abbott and Costello‘s classic Who’s On First? dialog. The show is a gem; Jerry knows comedy!
My problem is that his stand-up follows a pattern of comedy that’s difficult for me.
Someone once asked me if being a film student ruined watching movies. The question is a bit like asking a music student if knowing music ruins listening to it. Knowledge may raise the bar of what you consider good, but it can also give you things to watch and appreciate that others don’t notice.
If a movie sucks, I may be able to enjoy the set design, lighting, camera work or even good actors trying to make the best of bad writing or directing. So really the answer is both yes and no — it depends.
My problem is that knowledge can ruin certain kinds of humor for me.
Jerry Seinfeld centers a lot of his stuff on the “dumb things people do” comic theme. A key role of comedy is to illuminate our dark corners, to speak about things we find hard to voice, and to get us to reexamine ourselves. As such, the ‘dumb people tricks’ theme can be comedy at its best.
My problem is that Jerry Seinfeld, for all his comic genius, seems very out of touch with science and technology. A lot of the “dumb things” he points out actually have a very good basis in physical fact. Once you know this, the “dumb” part just isn’t there, and the joke falls flat.
At least for me.
Jerry is saying, “Isn’t it silly (and therefore funny) how we…”
But I’m thinking, “Well, no, not really (silly or funny), because…”
And then I turn into the guy who explains why the joke isn’t funny.
The humor works for most people because they lack the “how things work” background that deflates the humor. “Yeah!” they think, “That is silly (and therefore funny)!”
So this, for me, is one place where knowing stuff does kind of ruin things. There is humor I know in my head is funny, but which doesn’t strike my funny bone.
The whole thing taps ever so slightly on a “that’s not funny” nerve I have regarding ignorance. I blame a lot of the world’s woes, large and small, on ignorance.
Remember that Dickens did the same in A Christmas Carol with the avatar children of Ignorance and Want. Of the former he wrote, “but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom.”
So I have a thing with ignorance. Don’t find it funny.
Humor that depends on the characters being dumb or careless or incompetent or clumsy ranks pretty low on my scale (unless it’s really well done). Even as a child I was never a big fan of slapstick.
I’ve actually had to stop following some humor blogs I liked. The bloggers line of humor depended too much on ignorance or slapstick. I’m often pretty sure the blogger is a lot more on the ball than is made apparent in their humor.
I get it. I totally get it. It’s the art of good humor. It’s Jerry Seinfeld.
My problem is it’s hard to read a blog and not comment. A big part of reading a blog is the ability to interact with the author. It’s great to be able to discuss points of the post.
But jokes based on ignorance, I just can’t keep my mouth shut. I have a need to be sure everyone is clear about the misinformation in the joke. (Because these days I’m never so sure everyone is and I fight ignorance every chance I get.)
But explaining someone’s joke? Just stamp “Asshole” on my forehead.
So I’ve found discretion the better part of valor and stopped following blogs where I find myself in an uncomfortable posture. Isn’t just humor blogs, either. There are some well-meaning bloggers with pleasant blogs that somehow bring out the worst in me.
If I find myself too often in opposition with a blogger’s posts, then I figure it’s best to move on. It gets old being the grumpy guy at the picnic; I’m pretty sure I wasn’t missed!
 I started this article long ago, and it’s been sitting in my Drafts folder. I had planned to link to the Seinfeld Is Unfunny page on the TV Tropes website. Unfortunately, that site has become obnoxious with ads (just like IMDB, another formerly wonderful site). So no links. The trope isn’t relevant to the article anyway.
 I’m generally opposed to “that’s not funny” nerves — they violate my sense that almost nothing is off-limits to comedy — so it’s embarrassing to discover I have one.