Even before he takes the stage, you wonder: Why is he still doing this?
His classic '90s sitcom still earns millions in syndication. His new NBC show The Marriage Ref is coming back for a second season. And he just closed a deal to make $1.5 million in London for one 90-minute show.
Then you see Jerry Seinfeld step on stage, greeted with a rush of enthusiastic howls from a sold-out crowd of 2,180 and you know. That's like asking why Keith Richards is still hacking on guitars across the globe or Picasso kept creating art until he was put in the ground.
Because whatever else he does in life, Seinfeld was born to make people laugh by talking into a microphone — as proven by his bravura performance Friday at Ruth Eckerd Hall; the first of three sold-out shows that conclude today.
Whether the subject was hating Facebook ("They don't make a 'get outta my Facebook,' do they?"), despising TV weathermen ("There's no five-day forecast; they're just yankin' us on that one") or certain senior citizen walking aids ("Let me just say, if you need brakes on your walker, perhaps you've been misdiagnosed"), Seinfeld has no equal in making the mundane sound breathlessly hilarious.
And if all else fails, he deploys The Shriek.
You've heard it at middling levels on his long-gone TV show, exaggerated since Seinfeld's demise by every two-bit impressionist between here and Vegas. But there's no substitute for The Shriek in person — Seinfeld's trademark technique of boosting a punch line into the stratosphere with a yelp somewhere between a fire engine and you mother's most piercing holler.
"E-mail is not mail," he offered in one of many anti-technology rants. "Mail comes ONCE A DAY! Mail lets you live. The e-mailman NEVER LEAVES."
And his bit about a certain coffee shop chain: "Chock full o'Nuts — how long is that going to go on before somebody says WHERE ARE THE NUTS?"
But the night's best laugh lines came courtesy of Seinfeld's talent for summing up the absurdity of life with a succession of artfully crafted lines. "Men don't expect to be happy; they just want to be left alone," he cracked. "A man wants the same thing from his wife as he wants from his underwear: a little support and a little freedom."
Ever the professional, Seinfeld even found a way to work local references into the act, praising Clearwater's fine weather ("I'm 56 years old; it took me that long to figure out why people move here from New York") and gilding his rants about the inaccuracy of most TV weather reporters with snide references to WTVT-Ch. 13 forecaster Paul Dellegatto.
Rewarded with a standing ovation after 80 minutes, the legendary comic spent his last few minutes taking questions from the crowd, gently ridiculing one woman who asked about his tie color ("Yeah, THAT's what I spent hours working on; no concern about the quality of the comedic material … it's more of a fashion show up here") and deftly handling the zillionth time someone asked about a Seinfeld reunion.
"It's a possibility at some point," he said, feeding an almost palpable anticipation from the crowd, "once all four of our careers are in the toilet. … And we're working on that pretty hard right now."
Not by delivering standup gigs like this one, Mr. Seinfeld. All this will earn you is another few thousand fans enthralled by the sight of a master practicing his craft.