Mandatory Reads: Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘Is This Anything?’ Is Definitely Not Nothing
Jerry Seinfeld’s new book is a joke. OK, a lot of jokes. Four-hundred-plus pages of them.
For those mourning the loss of live comedy clubs during the coronavirus pandemic, Is This Anything? is a boon. Finally! Something funny! For those who were hoping for a personal look into the life of one of America’s most well-known comedians, well, we hate to break it to you, but you won’t find it here.
Seinfeld is notoriously private when it comes to his personal life, and while Is This Anything? begins with a detailed description of little Jerry, cross-legged on the living room floor with a bowl of cereal, discovering comedy while watching The Ed Sullivan Show, that’s as intimate as the book gets. A memoir it is not. Even the introduction is written like a joke.
Meaning, he breaks up his sentences
which is a rather tiresome way
to read a book.
It also kills a lot of trees. But when you’re Jerry Seinfeld, you can write a book any damn way you want to (or speak it into a recorder, which we’re guessing is how this tome was “written”).
Of course Seinfeld is funny. It’s his job to be. His riffs on quotidian life are universal in their specificity. He deconstructs simple things we take for granted, such as phrases like “blowing smoke up your ass.” His cracks about coffee behaving like a dictator in our bodies are all-too-relatable. His adept observations of the Empire State’s idiosyncrasies will have any New Yorker nodding their head along in recognition. But as he ages, there’s an air of grumpy-old-man to his stream-of-consciousness comedy, especially in the social media bits.
These are “ha ha” jokes, not LMFAO ones. Comedy is an auditory and visual art form, less so a literary one. Reading jokes just doesn’t compare to hearing them out loud. Hard-core comedy aficionados might find the evolution of Seinfeld’s humor fascinating. But for the average comedy fan, there’s something lackluster about reading the transcript of a comedy special, much less 45 years’ worth of them.
Seinfeld’s jokes are like Lay’s potato chips; you can’t stop at just one. But at some point, you’re going to get a stomachache. In Seinfeld’s case, his disdain of the human race begins to wear on the reader. You sense that he doesn’t really like anybody, which is ironic, given that his decades-long career has depended on filling auditoriums with people who like him.
Reading Seinfeld’s jokes, you get the feeling that if you went to a book signing, he would sit there with an insincere smile on his face, barely pretending to care what your name is and how it’s spelled, all the while thinking that you, yes you, are a sad-sack sucker for paying $35 for a bunch of jokes you could’ve found on YouTube for free.
Surprise! Seinfeld has fooled us all. We’re the punchline.
Is This Anything? is something. But it ain’t a whole heck of a lot.
Check out some more comedian memoirs worth thumbing through below.
Cover Photo: Gilbert Carrasquillo / Contributor (Getty Images)
10. ‘My Horizontal Life’ by Chelsea Handler
If you think your sex life is out of control, you have to read this book. L.A. stand-up comic Chelsea Handler seems to have slept with everyone, from a male stripper to a midget (OK, she didn’t sleep with him, but a misunderstanding causes others to think she did). More sexual escapes in this memoir include a dude with a giant skid mark and a disappointing run on ChocolateSingles.com (her dad was a racist; go figure). One-night stands have never been so funny.
9. ‘Goodbye Jumbo...Hello Cruel World’ by Louie Anderson
Food addiction is comedian’s Louie Anderson not-so-little secret. In this memoir, he takes readers to hospitals and fat farms as he tries to get his weight under control. Eventually, he traces the source of his overeating to low self-esteem and family dynamics, then tries to mend fences with his siblings. That he could make any of these serious issues laugh-worthy is a testament to his craft.
8. ‘The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl’ by Issa Rae
Issa Rae went from writer, producer, and director of a humorous web series to the creative force behind HBO’s wildly popular Insecure. In these personal essays, she explores the trials and tribulations of being an introvert, the end of her parents’ marriage, and embarrassing online dating experiences, all with an attitude of hope and a self-deprecating sense of humor.
7. ‘Comedy Sex God’ by Pete Holmes
Pete Holmes, of the semi-autobiographical HBO series Crashing, has struggled with spirituality for most of his life. Raised as an evangelical Christian, Holmes was obsessed with being “good” in his youth. He married young (prompted by a guilt-ridden blow job), only to discover that his wife cheated on him. Post-divorce, he began to question his faith, and went on a journey that included a lot of stand-up comedy, meditation, and meeting Ram Dass.
6. ‘I Can’t Make This Up’ by Kevin Hart
Though he grew up in Philadelphia with a single mom and a drug-dealing brother, Kevin Hart knew he was going to make something of his life. This memoir chronicles the steps he took to do just that as he crisscrossed the country and connected with other comics, vowing to put comedy first, even before his then wife.
5. ‘The Bedwetter’ by Sarah Silverman
Lightning rod and notorious sailor mouth Sarah Silverman leaves nothing off the table in this memoir. Bedwetting, sex, depression, Al Sharpton – it’s all here in the blunt comedic style Silverman is known for.
4. ‘Zombie Spaceship Wasteland’ by Patton Oswalt
Nerd hero Patton Oswalt explores his humble beginnings and teen years in ‘80s suburbia as a movie theater employee and takes readers along for the ride as his star rises in this unconventional memoir.
3. ‘I Know What I’m Doing’ by Jen Kirkman
It’s not easy being single. Comedian Jen Kirkman knows this and she shares the good, the bad, and the disconcerting aspects of being unattached in a world that wants to see everyone partnered up in this relatable memoir. Whether it’s accepting that she’ll always be a renter, enjoying her freedom by traveling the globe, or giving guys she dates hilarious nicknames (i.e. the “Ab-Master”), Kirkman makes fellow single readers feel right at home. No judgment necessary.
2. ‘Born Standing Up’ by Steve Martin
Comedy legend Steve Martin recounts his upbringing, history of anxiety, initial stand-up gigs, and first television appearances in this critically acclaimed memoir. His deft and poetic use of language will make you wonder why he didn't become a full-time writer.
1. ‘Not Taco Bell Material’ by Adam Carolla
Adam Carolla, best known for his work on The Man Show and Loveline, didn’t become a celebrity overnight. In fact, his hunger for success was honed during childhood, growing up in poverty and without the support or encouragement of his parents. As a young adult, he worked manual labor jobs and struggled with depression. Then he met Jimmy Kimmel and his career took off. Of course, there were plenty of misadventures involving drugs, bodily fluids, and misfit friends along the way, but this memoir shows a more serious and sensitive side of the comedian, too.
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