In “Jerry Before Seinfeld,” released Sept. 19, Netflix pays tribute to the legendary comedian Jerry Seinfeld with the latest of its original celebrity documentaries. An hour long stand-up comedy show starring Jerry Seinfeld, the program traces the entertainer’s childhood and early career using jokes from his routine and intermittent flashbacks. Although Jerry Seinfeld is best known as the star and writer of “Seinfeld,” one of the highest rated and highest grossing television shows in history, the Netflix special excludes any mention of this work and instead focuses on his lesser known beginnings.
While the title promises to present an in-depth look at Seinfeld’s early years, the amount of time devoted to his childhood is less than expected with the traditional documentary style flashbacks not surpassing ten minutes. Almost all of the special is devoted to the stand-up routine with many of the jokes offering insight into Seinfeld’s personal life.
Like any stand-up routine, this one had a few weak moments, but it compensated by making you sustain a constant grin on your face with several bits causing you to genuinely laugh out loud. Overall, this special humanizes the iconic figure in a manner that endears him to the viewer.
Born into a middle-class Long Island family, Seinfeld had a happy ordinary childhood without indications of future stardom. At one point, he recalls confessing to his unsuspecting parents that he wanted to become a comedian, to which they confusedly asked if he were funny. However, he always had a love of comedy as it provided an escape from the world’s harshness while giving one an effective apparatus for proclaiming that the emperor was, in fact, wearing no clothes.
Upon graduating high school, he worked in construction, but at 21 decided to follow his dream and try his hand at comedy. Luckily for him, New York City was the hottest city in the country for comedy and featured the unassuming yet first-rate stand-up comedy club The Comic Strip Live, where the stand-up routine in “Jerry Before Seinfeld” takes place.
After successfully auditioning with The Comic Strip, he began performing seven nights a week pro bono (although the club did magnanimously serve him hamburgers for lunch and dinner, gratis!) while living in a studio apartment most appropriate for Lilliputians. While this penniless existence would have scared off those who occasionally enjoy food colored green (for reasons unrelated to the fuzzy organisms that attack showers as frequently as they do bread), he loved every minute of it. Eventually, his reputation grew and he was invited to perform on major late-night talk shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
For those of us who still delight in TBS’s “Seinfeld” re-runs, it was heartwarming to see how affable, easygoing, and in love with comedy Jerry Seinfeld truly is. He even keeps handwritten papers with every comedy routine he has ever written. What’s more, “Jerry Before Seinfeld” showcases Seinfeld’s natural talent without any reliance on the supporting cast of Kramer, George and Elaine. While I relish the witty and tedious banter that occurs over coffee at Monk’s, the solo comedy stylings at The Comic Strip are no disappointment.
Film: “Jerry Before Steinfeld”
Release: Sept. 19
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5