Seinfeld reaffirms laughter is good medicine

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - 23:03

I was a little down during October because surgery to repair an arthritic thumb had prevented me from getting into the hills during most of the month’s gloriously sunny days. But my son David talked me into going to the Seinfeld performance in Anchorage Oct. 25. It turned out to be just about the best Rx anyone could ask for, as we and thousands of others convulsed with laughter, non-stop, for more than an hour.

I’ve been a Seinfeld fan for years, but never saw him in person, and this was his first visit to Alaska. He got right into what it’s like being an Alaskan, with exhaust steaming from pickup truck exhausts, studded tires and big coats. And he quickly won the crowd by declaring Alaska “the most beautiful state in the nation.” If I were less familiar with Seinfeld’s type of material, I would wax cynical and think he tells this to audiences everywhere. But despite the fact his material is generously laced with exaggeration, one of a comedian’s most valuable tools, it tends to be truthful and honest. We believed him.

His monologue covered common, everyday subjects, but from that unique Seinfeld perspective. He pilloried new information technology such as the new mini-Pad, pleading with Apple and the other companies who make these devices to give us a month without introducing something new.

He wondered why in the 21st century, a voice on the telephone still had to remind us to wait for the beep, noting that primitive tribes in remote regions of Africa have probably grasped that simple fact.

Married comparatively late at age 45, with three small children, he reviewed the ups and downs of matrimony with great agility, noting that until he was married, he didn’t know that his voice had different “tones.” “I don’t like that tone,” his wife would say, while he had no clue what the “tone” was. He received waves of laughter as he described women, his wife included, who awkwardly lapse into a throaty imitation of a man’s “tone.”

Seinfeld lambasted our preoccupation with beverages, from a host of bizarre energy drinks to an infatuation with coffee. He noted how people strut around with their extra-large double mocha coffees, holding them up as if they were some kind of trophies.

One of his funniest bits was his recollection of when Pop Tarts came on the market when he was a child. He was astounded that such a perfect food could be invented, and earnestly believed that all other food should be eliminated in favor of this small, rectangular treat that had about as much nutritive value as the box in came in.

David and I left the Sullivan agreeing that we often forget just how healthy and therapeutic laughter is, and that in our busy, everyday lives, we sometimes forget that simple fact. He noted that Seinfeld had managed to carry the night without putting anyone down or resorting to unnecessary profanity.

My brother-in-law Skeet, who died a couple of years ago at age 90, never overlooked the importance of humor. It was fun going places with him---even ordinary places like the grocery store or Costco, because he always had something evocatively humorous to tell a clerk or anyone else he met. He was especially skilled at self-deprecating humor, or laughing at himself. Getting new eye glasses at Costco, for example, he said to the clerk after putting them on: “They surely help me see better, but will they make me any smarter?”

For as long as I remember growing up and then with my own family, there was always humor in our house. Of all the people in my immediate family, I think it was my sister, also deceased, who loved to laugh the most. Like Seinfeld, she had that unique ability to find humor in just about everything -- and in many ways I think it’s a gift.

Humor doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and I include myself. I might occasionally spot an ironic situation or something that strikes me as funny, but to stand in front of audience for more than in an hour and keep them laughing, or to write a weekly Star column with non-stop humor, would be beyond my ability.

My son and I came away from Seinfeld with a renewed determination to try harder to make those around us laugh. We agreed that in today’s troubled world, it’s something we owe each other as human beings.

Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Steve Martin and other great comedians of our day are handsomely paid for their performances. But I’ve seen interviews with these folks and they all express the same sentiments: They love to make people laugh and are uplifted by the energy they receive from audiences.

I think wanting to make ourselves and others laugh is in our DNA. And perhaps with a little effort, we can all become better at it. It’s about time for me to drive down to Jitters to get my big coffee drink so I can feel important.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To reach Frank: [email protected].

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