Bizarro Jerry Slays Gotham

Jerry Seinfeld jogged a serpentine path through the cramped maze of tables at the Gotham Comedy Club on West 22nd Street. It was 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 7, and Mr. Seinfeld was making an unannounced appearance in the middle of a largely excruciating night of Manhattan midweek stand-up comedy.

As soon as his name was announced, the crowd, which had been verging on slumber, reacted as though Jesus had come to save them. They stood hooting and screaming as Mr. Seinfeld, dressed in an eggplant-colored sweatshirt and wrinkly khaki pants, took the Gotham stage.

Mr. Seinfeld tried unsuccessfully to repress a smile as he sopped up the adulation. He looked like he had put on some weight. “You saw me on TV a lot,” he said finally, sighing and pausing for the cheers. His gold wedding band glinted in the stage light. “Now I’m here .” Big cheers, and a pause. “I see I made a mistake somewhere. What the hell am I doing here ?” A huge eruption. “I was big, baby !”

By “here,” Mr. Seinfeld was speaking about something larger and more ephemeral than the dark, packed, beer-splashed comedy club in which he was standing. Here was the jet wash of almost a decade of network comedy superstardom. Here was a 3,400-square-foot duplex in the Beresford on Central Park West, as well as Billy Joel’s old 12-acre Amagansett beach house. And certainly, here was marriage to a publicist named Jessica Sklar–another man’s wife at the time he met her– and impending fatherhood.

And if comedy is just a palatable form of the truth, then Mr. Seinfeld often seemed to be saying, during his 45 minutes onstage, that being here was not all he had hoped it would be.

“The glory-boy event” is how Mr. Seinfeld once characterized stand-up comedy, and up on the Gotham’s stage, he seemed to be deciding whether a 46-year-old man could participate, too.

Having retired his old jokes about McDonald’s, cab drivers, sky diving and laundry detergent in a 1998 HBO special, Mr. Seinfeld tried out the new material, and compared to the old schtick, it seemed a little angry and a lot more jaded.

If the crowd noticed the darker subtext of Mr. Seinfeld’s act, they did not mind. They stayed with the routine all the way, cheering him with an enthusiasm that indicated he could have recited Keats and still brought down the house.

Mr. Seinfeld started with jokes about moving to Manhattan and choosing between the Upper West Side and Greenwich Village. “When I got back to the city, I didn’t really know where I was going to live,” he began. “The whole uptown now is just zoned as a human reproduction center. Every corner is just … babies all in their little Popemobiles, all being wheeled around like they’re Franklin Roosevelt.” But, Mr. Seinfeld told the crowd, “if it’s not your baby, if you don’t know the baby, they’re annoying.”

This, prompted him to investigate the Village. “So I go down there, and I’m checking it out, and there’s a lot of homosexuals. A lot of homosexuals,” he said, smirking a little during the spurt of uncomfortable laughter. “And they’re everywhere, just like the babies. And if you’re not gay– and as you know, I don’t have a problem with it if you are–but if … everywhere you go everyone is gay, gay, gay, gay, that is also annoying. So the question then becomes, which is more annoying? Babies or homosexuals?”

Mr. Seinfeld never answered the question. Instead, he segued into an extended riff on relationships and marriage that ex-girlfriends such as Shoshanna Lonstein would probably not want to hear.

“Marriage is, of course, a sacred bond, and also a nice way to tell a lot of people to get lost,” he said, pacing the stage. “You are committing to the person you want to be with. You are also rejecting a lot of people you don’t want to be with. I feel this should have been part of the ceremony. ‘Do you take this woman, as opposed to some of these losers I see over here.'”

Since becoming a married father-to-be with no real job to speak of, Mr. Seinfeld apparently has forged a strong bond with his television set, as evidenced by the shtick he did on cryptic prescription drug ads and his fondness for ESPN’s SportsCenter . He talked at length about VH-1’s music biography show, Behind the Music , and seemed to take special delight in learning how Liberace encouraged his chauffeur and lover, Scott Thorson, to surgically alter his face so that he resembled a younger version of the flamboyant entertainer. “I see some pitfalls in creating a living breathing human blow-up doll in your likeness, so that you can then sodomize yourself as a young man,” Mr. Seinfeld said, to huge, sustained laughter.

Having broached the weird world of celebrity, the comedian eyed the crowd and noted that they were missing the MTV Music Awards . “This is the most annoying thing to me in show business,” Mr. Seinfeld snipped. “These stupid, bullshit–you know– jack-off bowling trophies with the wings.… You’re not making enough money? You’re not getting enough recognition, that [you] have to get stupid awards for nothing?” Mr. Seinfeld continued the bit with a statement that sounded more like the rhetoric of a bitter awards show loser than a gracious Emmy winner: “Every awards show is absolutely meaningless industry promotion combined with an ego-slash-dysfunction spectacular.”

Then Mr. Seinfeld got personal. He addressed the presumably massive media coverage that will attend the arrival of the child that he and Ms. Sklar are expecting in early November: “I apologize in advance for the annoyance it will cause you,” he deadpanned. Then, after a litany of jokes about the real-life implications of the colloquialism “blowing smoke up your ass,” Mr. Seinfeld commented, “I’m supposed to get that test, you know, the camera-up-the-ass test, which I am resisting. I feel the press has invaded my life enough.”

Not so much that Mr. Seinfeld couldn’t do some invading of his own. Adopting the tone of a documentary narrator’s voice, he seemed to be hinting that the honeymoon with Ms. Sklar was over and that the daily vicissitudes of marriage had kicked in. “I’ll tell you about a problem I’m having with my relationship,” he said. “In the early part of the male-female relationship, the male uses a lot of very affectionate-type talk to make the female comfortable, to attract, to approach, and not to scare off the female like a little bunny,” Mr. Seinfeld said a little peevishly, as though just thinking about it annoyed him in some small way. “The idea is to make the female feel as though the male will fit in well with the other little stuffed animals on her bed.… Then, once the relationship is underway, as the male attempts to retreat from this type of talk, the female resists this retreat and accuses the male of being … not … sweet .

“If I was to talk to the woman in the tone of voice that I’m using right now, if I was to say, ‘All right, I’m going to get something to eat,’ any guy I know is like, ‘Fine, what do you feel like?'” But, he explained, “a woman will say, ‘Why … are … you … yelling … at … me?’ ‘I’m just hungry!’ ‘You’re being mean !'”

Mr. Seinfeld told the crowd that he called this phenomenon “the sweet laws. Women enforce the sweet laws … it’s hard to follow the sweet laws, it’s hard to not commit a not-sweet violation.”

From there, Mr. Seinfeld moved on to a subject that probably qualified as a capital offense under the sweet laws. He noted that a car he had recently purchased came equipped with an on-board navigation system that logged the car’s every destination, but that also featured a “destination delete” button for those occasions when “there is someone else using your car [whom] you would not like to know certain places that you are, perhaps on occasion, frequenting, you know … for sex .”

Mr. Seinfeld ended his routine with a meditation on the millennial anticlimax and the fine semantic line drawn between the words “suck” and “great.” “How stupid did you feel the day after that millennium?” he said. “We need to create all these special events to convince ourselves that our lives don’t suck. Which, of course, they do. You know, mine doesn’t suck quite as much as yours. But if my life sucks, yours would have to suck.”

After slaying the crowd with a bunch of “suck” vs. “great” jokes, a standing ovation followed, and as Mr. Seinfeld soaked it in, lingering on the stage, unable to conceal those enormous Massapequa choppers, he did not look like a man whose life sucked.

Guggenheimlich Maneuver

New York Academy of Art board member Sam Green may not want to hold his breath for an invitation to any of the Tribeca art school’s fancy galas–especially if Eileen Guggenheim has any say in the matter. On Aug. 11, Mr. Green, an art dealer who was a confidante of both John Lennon and Greta Garbo during their lifetimes, filed a petition with New York State’s Board of Regents that included some choice words about Ms. Guggenheim, the wife of academy trustee and razorblade heir Russell Wilkinson.

Mr. Green told The Transom that he hopes his petition, which includes some fairly serious allegations of financial misdeeds within the school, will cause the Board of Regents, which oversees education within the state, to forcibly remove the academy’s board of trustees and appoint a new one. But Mr. Green reserves his most blistering comments for Ms. Guggenheim, who is considered the driving force behind much of the academy’s fund-raising. In his petition, Mr. Green alleged the “the board has acquiesced in allowing the wife of trustee Russell Wilkinson to virtually run the academy, even though she is not ‘officially’ an officer or director of the school.” According to the petition, “Eileen Guggenheim Wilkinson has been ‘hired’ to fill five positions at the school: (1) Dean of Students, (2) Professor of Art History, (3) Director of Art History Lecture Programs, (4) Director of Special Events, and (5) Director of Public Relations.” Mr. Green also took note of a photograph that appeared in the society magazine Quest ‘s June issue depicting Ms. Guggenheim, in a rather revealing evening gown, touting the academy’s popular “Take Home a Nude” fund-raiser. Ms. Guggenheim, the petition read, was “looking more like an aging beauty-pageant hopeful than the academy’s ‘Dean of Students.'”

The petition is Mr. Green’s second volley at the academy. In May, he filed suit against the art school in New York State Supreme Court. In the complaint, Mr. Green alleged that, after joining the board in 1986, he lent the academy a piano that Lennon and Yoko Ono had given him. He claimed that, within the last three years, the academy sold the piano for $5,000 to a used-furniture dealer without consulting him. (The academy maintains the piano was a gift, not a loan.)

Ms. Guggenheim did not return The Transom’s call for comment. However, attorney Jeffrey Slade, who is representing the academy, said that two very similar petitions filed with the Board of Regents on behalf of an angry former board member were quickly dismissed. As for Ms. Guggenheim, he said, she no longer holds the positions mentioned in the petition. He also noted that Ms. Guggenheim’s contributions to the welfare of the academy have been “invaluable.”

The Transom can be reached at agtoldman@observer.com.