One of the hardest things to do as a stand up comedian is to fine tune lines for better effect and this is not just me, it really is all comedians including the great Jerry Seinfeld. It is true he specialized in taking all of those extremely disorganized parts of life and with the mastery of comedy arrangement turn them into a perfectly ordered collection of amusing irritations. With skillfully organized wording, he manages to make the major world problems into domestic irritations.
He was constantly seeking, as we all are to improve delivery until you reach perfection. For many years Seinfeld used in his act the concept that the greatest problem facing mankind was an overflowing toilet.
No matter how extreme the emergency or problematical the occurrence it could not be as bad as a piece of fundamental plumbing being blocked. Then one night in 1991 on the Arsenio Hall Show the host pointed out that with all the wars in the world, criminal activities on the rise and economic deprivation everywhere, how could his major problem be a piece of malfunctioning plumbing.
Seinfeld was quick to point our that as great as these problems are they are “out there” not here not now where these calamities are outweighed by his fear of malfunctioning toilets the problems were all elsewhere. Using the slow, cover all approach to developing the comedy ideas is typically Seinfeld but one I aspire too, expanding and explaining the humor content in the way of a slow movement rather than a torrent, a glacier rather than an avalanche, slowly and surely constantly testing, refining and improving to reach a level which is above the norm.
One of the examples that Seinfeld used is his one liner regarding marriage, it is like a game of chess with a board made of flowing water and pieces made of smoke.
It was one of his favorites but the stumbling block for many in his audience was them trying to visualize a board of flowing water, people just did not understand and many missed the punch line whilst trying to work out the contrived wording. Also the repetition of “made of” was hindering the flow and making people think too much and missing the punch line.
As all stand up comedians he hated losing audiences and spent many hours thinking of alternatives to “made of” as away of explaining the composition of the board. His method was to try new ways, refine wording think, test and rethink. Finally he solved the problem, instead of using the line that the board was made of flowing water he merely described the shape of a chess board with his fingers and leaving out the problem “made of” phraseology sot with the hands describing the shape of the chess board the phrasing became slicker, more pointed and easier to understand the new format with the board of flowing water and pieces of smoke. Several months’ work and testing to leave out four words and increase understanding the story a hundred times easier. Some might think that’s a lucky find – but it comes from countless times of testing that joke to refine it.
The result of testing and trying out on live audiences, that is what I aspire to.
The ability to improve by rethinking every possible angle, and improving every delivery of every line. Just like Seinfeld the anticipation of facing a live audience gives me a real buzz.
I am not sure whether he was really frightened of the audience or not as he once described it as being like the last minutes of facing a firing squad when you face them, back to the wall, with a cigarette in your mouth, waiting for the bullets.
His stage act obviously had great structure but they were not scripted they just followed a similar direction.
This is evident listening to his collection of stories connected by the use of tuxedos. His underlying thread is that tuxedos clothe inherently mean the wearer is the sort of person who should not be counted on, a mini conman and the tux is their uniform. He cites the fact that they are worn by Casino personnel, Head waiters, Beauty show presenters and all these people are not deserving of trust. He admits it is a work in progress but like all his stories he will refine them so that they are timeless.
One Tuxedo story that is finished and he uses is about weddings and all male guests wearing the same suit are actually a safety feature designed by women for women. As it is well known men are not to be depended on the Tux is an identifying uniform so that if the groom decides not to go through with the service all males just move one step to the right and the next one takes over. Pure Seinfeld and a quality level to aim for. I leave you with my favorite Seinfeld one liner.
“I was the best man at the wedding. If I’m the best man, why is she marrying him?”