Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Single Shots: Seinfeld’s Ongoing Anatomy of Comedy

One of the many clips I saw on YouTube in my ongoing investigation of stand-up was an interview with George Carlin where he said that, early in his career, an older comedian (whose name I forget) advised him to write everything down and to organize. And that’s what Carlin did, writing ideas and bits on three by five cards and organizing them.

Seinfeld writes everything on yellow pads. I wonder what kind of filing system he has? For surely he does have some kind of filing system, no?

Consider his personal website: Jerry Seinfeld: Personal Archives. Under the heading “What Is this?” he tells us:
When I started doing TV, I saved every appearance on every show I did.

I thought it might be fun to go through all of it and pick out three bits each day that still amuse me for some reason or another.
Yeah, sure. But fun? Really? Fun?

How about tedious. But just how did he save copies of those appearances? Back when he first started showing up on TV personal computers didn’t have the capacity to store and organize video clips. He must have had boxes of videotapes. Neatly organized by date? Perhaps he some annotation of the contents on each tape or perhaps he numbered the tapes and kept track of the contents on three by five cards.

Who knows? Maybe he just threw them in boxes for years and then, once he started raking in the ducats, he hired staff to digitize and organize that stuff. Still, I’d think he’d want to keep close tabs on it.

I don’t think for a minute he coded up the website himself. But how closely does he monitor it? Everyday we get to see three, and only three, clips of stand-up comedy. The clips are half a minute to a minute-and-a-half long, perhaps two. Somehow all those boxes of videotapes got broken into short segments. That’s a job and a half in itself. And those segments have to be labeled and classified. Who does that?

And who chooses which three are displayed on any given day? Is the selection random or is some thought given to it? If the latter, what’s the thinking? Today there was a clip from Carson 1981, one from Carson 1990, and one HBO 1998. The Carson81 was about a fat man (I think this was from his first appearance on Carson). The Carson90 was about newspapers. And the HBO98 was about race horses. Three topics, three different time periods.

There is SOME system. Maybe it’s tight, maybe it’s loose. Can’t tell. What’s Jerry’s role in it? Imagine he makes the choice. What does that imply about his management style? Maybe he’s completely hands-off. But what does that mean, completely hands off? He never ever even looks at the site? He lets someone else choose, but checks on the site every week or so?

Keep in mind that this site isn’t the only thing he’s got to do. He’s got a wife and three kids. He does stand-up three weekends or so a month. He’s got all those sports cars he’s got to drive. And he’s got this show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

He’s a very busy man. I’m thinking he’s a very organized guy. Got to be.

The main deal with his current show, CCGC, are the 10 to 20 minute shows, each with a different comedian and car. At some point in the run, however, he started cutting those shows up into bits and pieces and assembling bits from several different shows into two-minute segments on a single theme: Single Shots: A smaller, more concentrated cup of comedy.

How does THAT happen? I’ve watched all the shows and all the Single Shots and I’m seeing some bits in those Single Shots that weren’t in the shows. And that means that someone is somehow keeping track of more than just what shows up in the individual programs. Is ALL the raw footage for each show – three GoPros and (at least) two DSLR’s for three to four hours, and a drone here and there – cut into snippets, labeled, and classified for later use? I don’t know, don’t think so, but... There’s a system there. It probably evolved over time. Perhaps it’s evolving still.

* * * * *

When I started thinking about this I figured I’d list all the Single Shots and then analyze the selection of topics. And maybe I will do that some day, analyze the selection of topics. But for how, I’m just going to list the shots along with a short, and sometimes cryptic, notation about what’s in an individual shot.

To date there are 72 of them. I’ve listed them from the most recent at #1 to the oldest at #72. Note, for example, that #72 (the oldest one) is about donuts while #7, quite recent, is about donut holes–that's obviously what's behind a recent bit. #5 is shots of and from drone-mounted cameras; as such, we’re deep behind the scenes (and perhaps a tad running out of ideas?).

Think about it. Someone did. Here they are:
  1. Cut It Out: Choice selections from all the footage that didn’t get used in the original shows.
  2. How Insulting: Don Rickles bookends these insults.
  3. Sensei Seinfeld: Diverse bits of advice for fellow comics, for example: “Stay in the bit.” “You gotta’ sleep with the sword.”
  4. Where are we? – When you’re on the road, sometimes you get lost.
  5. Drone On: How they use drones to get aerial shots of the cars.
  6. Just right: The word “right” in context: mostly Jerry agreeing with the other person, but sometimes vice versa.
  7. Down the Donut Hole: Jerry working on a “donut hole” bit.
  8. Cops and Hookers: Comedians are like cops and hookers – all closed communities. Jerry getting pulled over by the cops.
  9. This is Great: “This” – whatever it is – “is great.”
  10. A Little Advice: Someone is giving advice, or talking about giving advice.
  11. No Offense: “Do you think what Rickles does is offensive?” “Of, it’s offensive, unless you like comedy.”
  12. Jay and Dave on Pryor: just what is says, the impact of Richard Pryor.
  13. Clothes Lines: What comedians are wearing.
  14. Potty Mouth: Comedians working dirty or working clean.
  15. Stick It: Driving a car with a stick shift.
  16. Jerry is How Old: Jerry to Mel Brooks: “Now as I’ve gotten older, I’m 58 years old…” And then he’s sixty. Julia Louis-Dreyfus: “Wow! That is fucked up!”
  17. Joke-Ology: How jokes are constructed, maintained, and repaired.”
  18. We Love Old Guys: Old guys, old comics, and the funny things they do.
  19. Forty-Five Seconds: It’s actually about black people. The 45 seconds? Steve Harvey says that’s all the time a comedian has to catch a black audience; white audiences will give you three minutes.
  20. Say What: Miscellaneous questions. “You like to cry?” “Did it have a puffer on it?” An offer: “Half piece of gum?”
  21. Rain Man: Seinfeld: “I’m a very good driver.” “I can drive anything.” I’m guessing that the title alludes to the movie in which Dustin Hoffman played a savant, implying that Jerry is a driving savant.
  22. Vegas Baby: Being in Las Vegas, working gigs in Vegas. And why’s everyone in Vegas wearing shorts.
  23. Inside Baseball: Writers vs. comedians. Being becoming a comedian. Like that.
  24. Synchronicity: Coincidences of various kinds.
  25. Dave: Comedians on Dave Letterman. And Letterman himself, as well.
  26. A Car is Born: When the cars came out. When the comedians were born.
  27. Golf for Dummies: GOLF=Get Out and Leave Family. Steve Harvey: “I can’t play golf. Tiger ain’t got no jokes.”
  28. Quick Impression: Impressions of Jerry, Jack Nicolson, and others.
  29. Having a Breakdown: The car doesn’t work, just a little, sometimes a lot. A DeLorean, a Ferrari, a Corvette, you name it.
  30. Speaking Briefly: Briefs, as in underwear. What kind to you wear, briefs or boxers? “You cannot parade in briefs.”
  31. Gotta be the Shoes: Jerry’s shoes, and others’ too.
  32. Really? ¬– Mostly statements of the form: “X Y Z, Really?” Or: Person 1: “X Y Z” Person 2: “Really?”
  33. Who Cares? – Mostly statements of the form: Person 1: “X Y Z” Person 2: “who cares?”
  34. In and Out: Getting in and out of cars, often awkward. And some of these cars make it very awkward, even for the fit and slender.
  35. 108 Stitches: Baseball. (108 stitches in a baseball.)
  36. Death Trap: Some of these cars are making ominous noises. And talk of death. “I would like to have my ashes scattered at the beach.”
  37. Jewish Food: Half-and-half in coffee for Jews, and other facets of Jewish cuisine.
  38. Mr. Warmth: Don Rickles and comments and anecdotes about him.
  39. Passing Ketchup: The somewhat disconcerting (flatulent) sound ketchup can sometimes make when coming out of the bottle.
  40. High & Mighty: Smoking marijuana – (some) comedians do it!
  41. Getting Paid: for a gig. What was your first paying gig as a comedian?
  42. Lazy Comedians: That is, comedians are lazy people.
  43. Analogy Lad: Jerry’s penchant for analogies. If he were a superhero, that’s what he’d be: Analogy Lad.
  44. Playing Chicken: Chicken as food. What kind of range do “free range” chicken have?
  45. When Comedians Reproduce: About kids and parenting. Michael Richards: ”The wilder the colt, the better the horse.”
  46. I’ve Got a Tip for You: How much tip should they leave – they’re celebrities, remember?
  47. Hard Time: Prison and jail, really.
  48. Hitler: For example, a note on a refrigerator: “I’m at Hitler’s.”
  49. Passenger Restraint: How do you use the seat belts on these old cars?
  50. Comedians Love Comedians: Comedians like one another, but the rest of us?
  51. Mind Your Manners: “Matters, decency, and humanity.”
  52. Oh Brother: Siblings.
  53. OMG: Religion. This should be obvious, no?
  54. Eggs Any Style: Eggs for breakfast.
  55. Grow a Pair: “HBO Series, Game of Balls’, and so forth, quips about balls.
  56. Tweet Nothings: The mysteries of twitter.
  57. What is a Comedian? – “What makes a comedian is how serious he is.” “Comedy is like a secret weapon.” “Always on the case.”
  58. What is CCC? – “What is the point of this?” “It’s the car … coffee … conversation.”
  59. Hair: Long hair, baldness, facial hair, a wig, etc.
  60. Coffee or Tea? – Some take tea, some don’t drink coffee, beast or gentleman?
  61. Real Jobs: What they did before becoming a full-time comic.
  62. Vocabulary Words: Word choice, pronunciation – but, of course, it’s got to be funny.
  63. Pee-Pee Time: “Can you pee in front of other men?”– and other urination issues. (FWIW, once, as an undergraduate, I was intimidated when I found myself standing next to a very distinguished senior scholar and the first-floor restroom in the main library at Johns Hopkins.)
  64. Leno and Letterman on Each Other: And on Richard Pryor, dogs, and related matters.
  65. Sexy Talk: “Can’t a man relax?”
  66. New York Life: Real estate, neighborhoods, where the models live, parents, going to work in the morning.
  67. My Parents: The title explains it, miscellaneous parental anecdotes.
  68. The Money: Lots of money, $50s, picking up the check, etc.
  69. Marriage: “You don’t do what’s right; you do what makes the other feel good.”
  70. Comedians Love Eating: Comments on what they’re eating, or should or should not eat.
  71. Gay Stuff: “I like my car tuned a little bit gay.”
  72. Donuts: Remarks about donuts and donut shops.

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