Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld
Do you like Jerry Seinfeld’s jokes? for a linear timeline of his jokes through decades, sourced from routines, tv shows, and never-performed material, for jokes that read almost like a story with a very natural flow and connections between them
Since his first performance at the legendary New York nightclub “Catch a Rising Star” as a twenty-one-year-old college student in fall of 1975, Jerry Seinfeld has written his own material and saved everything. “Whenever I came up with a funny bit, whether it happened on a stage, in a conversation, or working it out on my preferred canvas, the big yellow legal pad, I kept it in one of those old school accordion folders,” Seinfeld writes. “So I have everything I thought was worth saving from forty-five years of hacking away at this for all I was worth.”
For this book, Jerry Seinfeld has selected his favorite material, organized decade by decade. In page after hilarious page, one brilliantly crafted observation after another, readers will witness the evolution of one of the great comedians of our time and gain new insights into the thrilling but unforgiving art of writing stand-up comedy.
I went through a phase in The Covid Times of watching Seinfeld for what was my first time, barring miscellaneous episodes I saw pieces of over the years at a hotel or flipping through channels. There’s a segment in each show with a bit of Jerry doing a standup routine on a topic that usually relates in some way to the plot of that episode. In this book, I recognized some of those little segments that I had heard in the show. There is definitely material that you may have heard or read elsewhere included in this, because it’s a pretty comprehensive collection of it all. If you’re an avid Jerry Seinfeld person, this book will have some new stuff, and a lot of familiar stuff.
The organization of this made it a lot easier to read it straight through. It’s set up with jokes from each decade of his career, and this contextualizes a lot of it in ways that makes it helpful to remember. Some thoughts I had while reading this:
“Oh, this was before the internet.”
“Oh right, misogyny wasn’t seen as so socially problematic.”
“Oh, yup, 9/11 definitely changed some things.”
So some of these didn’t age flawlessly though none of it truly slid to the line of offensive (that I remember anyway…). They correlated well as they transitioned from, for example, jokes about tv to newscasters to office water cooler talk in ways that made sense conversationally, as they were intended to be told. The jokes are still pretty funny if you like that style!
Each section also includes a brief premise from Jerry about where he was at in life at that point, and you can often see that coloring some of his work. For example, it’s pretty clear when he gets married and when he has kids, because it’s much more specific jokes than in the past when he had more vague content about marriage and relationships. There’s also a copy of an award acceptance speech in there that made me laugh, but in a different way than the traditional “jokes” did.
Sometimes reading a joke book straight through can become a tiresome experience as formats repeat (think about reading 50 knock-knock jokes in a row and they lose their punch, if they ever had any), and as content is done to death (yeah, I get it, airplane food isn’t good!). That didn’t happen here! Well, okay, maybe occasionally, if I wasn’t really vibing with a topic (usually stuff about men v women that was a bit… uneducated, we’ll say). For the most part though, it was easy to go through without it wearing or feeling repetitive.
Overall, I got a really good sense (I think) of Jerry’s style and views on comedy and the world. And of course, I smiled and laughed a lot through it. 🙂