Billed as Jerry Seinfeld’s first stand-up special with new material in 22 years, 23 Hours to Kill starts with the same bit that opened the pilot episode of Seinfeld in 1989. There are new jokes and observations in the hour that follows, but if it wasn’t for all the references to smart phones you’d never be able to tell. Jerry Seinfeld looks much younger than his 66 years, which is appropriate: everything about him feels stuck in the past.
There are two main themes to 23 Hours to Kill. One will be familiar to anybody who’s seen Seinfeld’s comedy before or watched his great sitcom, and that’s his inherent dislike for other people. Throughout the hour Seinfeld reminds us that his greatest ambition in life has seemingly been to avoid all people outside of his own small circle; although this was obviously filmed before the quarantine, he’s probably one person who isn’t struggling too hard with this whole social distancing thing. Seinfeld’s contempt for others isn’t always unjustified and does inspire a few good jokes, but it’s also a little tiring—especially when you consider that he’s worth almost a billion dollars. It’s got to be easy to stay away from the hoi polloi when you’re unfathomably rich.
The second recurring focus is that, hey, guess what: marriage and parenthood changes a guy. Seinfeld mentions his personal life occasionally, but his observations never really dig past the surface. He is a father and a husband, but he talks about both like somebody who learned about them from movies, TV, and other people, and not from his own experience. It’s totally fine for a comedian to keep their private life out of their act, but it’s off-putting when they pay lip service to it while offering up cold, limp, inauthentic material.
This all adds up to a revelation that shouldn’t be remotely surprising: Jerry Seinfeld is a little out of touch and out of date. He’s good at what he does, and is still able to instantly command an audience and reel off a precise set honed by almost 50 years of performing, but he doesn’t bring anything other than skill to this set. It’s a professional but lifeless hour of minor grievances and petty complaints from somebody who probably hasn’t lived a normal life in decades. If you come here hoping to recapture a certain moment in time—a moment from 30 years ago or more—you’ll probably get your wish, but don’t expect any of the inspiration or vitality found in the best stand-up.
True Seinfeld heads will likely say he hasn’t missed a beat since his last original special came out in 1998. If you dug his brand of observational stand-up in the past, you might still like it today. If you consider yourself a true connoisseur of dad jokes, get ready for a feast. If you’ve always felt like Jerry Seinfeld was a parody of himself, and of an entire strand of stand-up that peaked during the Reagan years, then this might be a tough hour to get through. It is, for better or worse, exactly what you’d expect from a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up special in the year 2020.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.