Comedians in Line at the DMV Getting Licensed

When Seinfeld the television show was on, a guy in my office gig at the time used to come by my desk in the morning after each episode and ask me did I see Seinfeld last night. I never did. My colleague would then repeat over the course of the day practically the entire episode for me, scene by scene. “And then Kramer comes in and says, ‘…’.” That sort of thing. And he was really good, too. He could have been a stand-up on his own. In fact, he ended up doing a few shows of his own. Very witty guy, good mimic, remembered all the good lines from the classic movies and shows.

Eventually, I did watch some Seinfeld, new and reruns. Funny stuff, the four friends and their meaningless, purposeless adventures, circuitous – but there’s truth in comedy, and while the Seinfeld episodes might have failed to high jump the MASH bars in the handling of controversial issues, they were subtly subversive in their almost zen like refusal to acknowledge the importance of quotidian values. Seinfeld crossed into farce, while MASH was embedded in satire.

So it was with interest I listened to Susan who first told me about Seinfeld’s newest venture, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” an independent, on-line show now in its 7th season and 50th episode. The premise is Jerry calls up one of his comedian buddies and invites them to get a coffee, to which they drive in paradisiacal Los Angeles weather in some American Graffiti like cool rod. Susan and I watched the latest installment together on her laptop this morning. Jerry picks up Judd Apatow and they head out in a 1968 candy apple bougainvillea red Firebird. And while we were watching, the idea came to me for this post.

You see, the problem with comedians in cars getting coffee is that there isn’t anything intrinsically funny about getting coffee. And there’s not much funny about souped up, expensive cars – retro, restored, like they’ve never been taken out of the garage.

How about, Comedians in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. “What number are you, Jerry?” “I’m number 236, Judd, how about you?” “33.”  “Really, how lucky is that? When did you get here?” “Yesterday, around noon.”

“Number 236? 236?” “Hey, man isn’t that you?” “Number 237, 237?” “Oh, bummer, man. You gotta go pull a new number. Otherwise, you’ll be like taking cuts.”

Or how about, “Comedians without medical insurance coverage in line at the ER with a strange raspberry red itchy rash all up and down their arms and legs. “You, know, Jerry, when we got here the rash was only around our ankles.” “Don’t worry, it’s got a ways to go yet before it gets to our eyes and ears.”

And why comedians, anyway? Why not a car pool full of adjunct instructors in an old beater on their way to night classes? Oh, wait, I guess those are comedians.

Or how about a couple of plumbers in tee shirts and blue jeans getting hot dogs and beers at a food cart in Culver City across from one of the old studios? “Hey, Jocko, You think maybe you can come over my place take a look at my plugged up toilet you get off? “Sure, Mabelline, love too.” “What, around 5, 6?” “Yeah, yeah.” “I’ll put some cool ones on ice for ya, Jocko.” “Swell, lovely.”

Postal workers getting their feet rubbed with coconut oil at nail salons, complaining about all the junk mail, but without which they’d probably be unemployed.

Paparazzi taking a Pierria bottled water break on the beach at Malibu.

But I’m glad to see Seinfeld’s project a success. There’s a sponsor now, so Jerry’s presumably broken another preconceived assumption too long controlled by network TV and others in advertising – and social media wonks and the like. In any case, if I’ve said it once I’ve said it more than once, you should not criticize a work for not being the work you want it to be. The good critic considers intent, intended audience, type of argument, persuasive appeals. There are many types of argument, many ways to persuade. Some audiences are friendly, others hostile, and they can change direction like a spinning top. Besides, it’s not easy being funny. Many folks have very little in the way of a sense of humor, and they don’t tolerate fools or clowns with their time.

There are other getting coffee like projects, involving all the arts. Indie ideas. In Poets Online Talking About Coffee, Berfrois editor Russell Bennetts conducts a series of interviews ostensibly about the poet’s relationship with coffee. But relationships with coffee can be complicated. And you can get your own coffee.

 

14 Comments Add yours

  1. johndockus says:

    John Dockus like mime Marcel Marceau, all dressed in black, face painted white and with white gloves on, lowers himself by a rope into the dark space of Joe Linker’s comment section. A single bright light shines down. The rope is then pulled up out of view. John D. stands motionless for a moment with a smile on his face. He can’t see anyone, or if there is any audience at all, but the show must go on. He breaks into the ole’ trapped-in-a-box routine, moving his hands along the invisible planes. He opens his mouth and screams, but no sound comes out. Squinting and shielding his eyes, looking up through the ceiling of the box, trying to make out words propped up on rows of shelves, he tries again to scream, but again nothing comes out. He looks around and still no intervening sound, no one to help break the silence. Through all John D’s efforts the glass of the invisible box gradually is so fogged up that he becomes a blur inside and he finds it increasingly difficult to breathe. Desperate to save his own life, he suddenly loses control, whips around and pounds his fists against the invisible glass, but still nothing happens, not even an echo. He slides gasping to the floor, back against a side of the box, and buries his face in his hands.

    In that posture, John D. finally falls asleep and has a nightmare vision of a whole labyrinthine city of stacked up invisible boxes with individuals just like him trapped inside, one stacked upon another, rising up like so many skyscrapers. Countless individuals look through the glass of the boxes in which they are trapped, seeing each other, trying to call out to each other, but unable really to reach each other and only fogging themselves in.

    Imagine Jerry Seinfeld and a guest comedian entering Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks or any of his paintings come to life, or George Tooker’s Government Bureau or Waiting Room, or Landscape with Figures, and having to survive there for an extended period of time, and without an audience off of which to feed. I wonder how they would fare, how long their senses of humor would last before it failed them and, digging deeper, they needed something else to keep them going and to keep them from losing their minds. Perhaps Kafka’s more nondescript K. would fare better and last longer than the exuberant Don Quixote, but it’s interesting to ponder.

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    1. Joe Linker says:

      Hi, John…Once again, Beckett appears to have the answer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb_eMMqUjTA

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      1. johndockus says:

        Perfect reply, Joe. This Beckett short is near to what I had in mind imagining the comment section of blogs. The creator of each blog initiates and regulates interaction, like an unseen God above, while each visitor is down in the comment section, each confined to his or her own little area. Each of us is like this, trapped in our own little world, as if in a box. That damned whistle, grating and irritating, coming from somewhere outside the frame, like an order and a threat of punishment, is enough to drive one batty. The glass vase of water lowered down on a rope, which one can’t get to or reach, dangled and jerked away like the proverbial carrot on the end of a stick. Each of us, too, is so preoccupied trying to quench one’s own thirst, that the distance all around and isolation seems to increase. Dry desert is all around.

        Certainly, Joe, there is a humorous side to this, but also, one might say, a tragical-pathetic side.

        The wonder of Beckett in his work generally is that despite appearances, it isn’t really comedy. I don’t think it is, anymore than what happens in the world of Kafka is comedy. To be sure, there’s the hope of laughter and release, but it’s always delayed and frustrated. Some snickers and guffaws may escape, but that’s about it. The deep satisfaction in Beckett and his work is in its uncanny verisimilitude to things that are happening to us in our inner life, those things we find so difficult to express and for which we hardly have words. I love how the tree at the end of the short opens like an umbrella and is lifted out by the rope. It rises like an angel back up to “heaven.” The protagonist is so weary and exhausted and thirsty he doesn’t even turn his head to see it.

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        1. Joe Linker says:

          A “tragicomedy in two acts” is the subtitle to Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Over time, reading and seeing it live, I’ve been all across the spectrum seeing tragedy where I once saw comedy and vice versa. As it happens, I was on leave from Basic Combat Training when I saw the film MASH in Westwood when it first came out. I walked out. Weird critic. I probably wouldn’t walk out now, but I’ve no problem with that I walked out then. I walked out not so much on the film as on the laughing audience, who I thought should have been in tears instead of laughter. Tragicomedy. This is winter. And this is irony.

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          1. johndockus says:

            Yes, Joe, that’s really interesting, your personal reaction to that type of social-commentary humor with fresh memories in your mind, fresh wounds one might say, more based in the reality and source of that material, and how your understanding and appreciation flipped around with time and distance and the healing which comes with that. My Mom is really into John Steinbeck these days; actually he’s up at the top of her favorite authors. She bought me a book of his collected letters which she’s going to give me tomorrow when I see her. Anyway, not unrelated to all this, my Mom told me how much of John Steinbeck’s letters deal with his agonizing struggles as a writer. He destroyed an entire manuscript when he felt it didn’t measure up to the deep reality he perceived and the responsibility he felt as an author. That’s so incredibly admirable to me.

            I should tell you I really enjoy these exchanges with you. They are helping me sort out my own thoughts.

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            1. Joe Linker says:

              There’s a big bookstore here in Portland, maybe you’ve heard of it, Powell’s. Years ago when I first got to Portland and in need of some cash I took a box of used books to Powell’s to sell to them. The box contained most of my paperback Steinbeck collection: The Pearl, Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, East of Eden, Grapes of Wrath, Winter of Our Discontent. The book buyer at Powell’s went through the box. He didn’t want any of the Steinbeck. “We have too many of these already,” he said. I wanted to walk around and browse a bit, so I took my box and dropped it in the alcove at the entrance. I was only going to be a minute, and I thought the box would be safe. When I came back out, there were half a dozen people going through my box of books, picking out all the Steinbeck’s and other stuff! At first, I was going to shoo them off. Then I saw a sign in the window above my box that I had not noticed before: “Free Books.” “The Log from the Sea of Cortez” is a good book. I should look up the letters. Have not seen that. Yes, he had a moral center he kept true to.

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      2. Thanks for this clip, it’s pure tragedy, in the sense that tragedy is mainly tragic to the observer. People are free not to be free. In that sense, from a wider perspective, it’s really comedy. Locked into our principles, ideas and values we are completely, sincerely caught in our inevitable tragedy.
        My lodger asked me yesterday, ‘Do you ever talk to yourself?’
        I answered, ‘All the time.’ He was visibly relieved.
        This morning I said to myself, ‘Ashen, you’re the weirdest person i know.’ 🙂

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        1. Joe Linker says:

          Smile! Very cool, Ashen. Cage said, “Get out of whatever cage you happen to be in.” And surprise! The door was not locked!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. johndockus says:

            Glad for Ashen’s presence and words. (What an incredible thing Philippa just posted at her blog, venting her fury and sadness in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum vote. There’s something inconsolable.)

            I came across the following quote for the first time, of all places, printed on the paper tab of a “good earth” brand teabag:

            “This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.” Horace Walpole

            Liked by 1 person

  2. bristlehound says:

    Yes Joe, Seinfeld very humorous and you are right to point out his ability to sustain good comedy on very thin ice.
    One of the really great things I am learning as I get a smidge older, is the need to listen and observe – really listen and observe. Consequently, comedians such as Seinfeld and others not initially funny to me, now present themselves as clever proponents of simple life experiences.B

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    1. Joe Linker says:

      To “really listen and observe,” rather than reject out of hand because it’s not what you want is criticism – good criticism. Because otherwise we see what we expect to see, even if it’s not there. Seems a bit off track, but check out the opening to this old but very influential paper – the point is we look for what we expect, and when we don’t see it, we think there is an error. This might be of interest to the architect/designer? Check it out: “The Phenomenology of Error.”

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  3. bristlehound says:

    Thanks for the link Joe, it is interesting and I will read it all in time.
    In a previous post, we mentioned rose coloured glasses and how we see what we want to see.
    Well further to that, I think we see what we have taught ourselves to not see.
    Because we react to things happening around us, how we have taught ourselves to respond, comes from what we know. Unteaching our brain from what has become a simple mechanism of response, causes distress and is uncomfortable.
    So, should someone tip a bucket of water over my head tomorrow, I will react in the same way as I did yesterday.
    Fertile empty spaces such as a child’s brain, are ready and willing. Sowing a crop of usable grain is just as easy as allowing weeds to flourish.B

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    1. Joe Linker says:

      Yes, all of that, and Williams points out that we look for errors, or we find our favorite ones, ones that others miss because they are not looking for it. And what’s important here is that we might look at art in the same way, which, as you say, is viewed through those glasses of presumptions, assumptions, preconceived ideas, old arguments. And we don’t listen or see what we might.

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      1. johndockus says:

        I just imagined you, Joe, and Bristlehound, playing in the backyard with Pavlov’s dog, throwing a ball or a frisbee around, and making the dog fetch and return it, happily panting and wagging its tail. Funny irony is in Bristlehound with his name doing this.

        I agree with both of you. I think Ashen too is onto the same not thought but one should probably say “mentality.” It’s a living and engaged practicing of awareness and mindfulness. One has so much to un-learn to open up one’s vision and to see again with fresh eyes. I find it hard sometimes. Often I retreat back into my own assumptions and preconceptions, or some pet ideas. Especially under attack or the nearer a real threat comes. I have my vulnerabilities. I can be hurt and wounded. Under threat or attack we go to what we know, launching from there, or we withdraw like tortoises into their shells. I think that’s natural. In a more accepting and open environment we come out and explore, and face up more to what scares or threatens us, trying to convert ignorance into wisdom, transform weakness into strength. That’s why we have these conversations and hash things out. We’re helping each other. A conflict or jolt is good sometimes, to get one out of one’s rut, or habitual way of thinking which narrows and hardens down, closing the mind. I do have my tendencies, as I think every individual has. It’s a continual effort, being pulled so strongly either up or down, in tension between beast and deity, neither one nor the other but both, which is what makes us human.

        To go down too much into the bestial, or up too high into deity, staying for too long in either, making oneself at home in one to the exclusion of the other, losing touch with and forgetting the other, leads to all kinds of disturbances and eruptions which can be catastrophic, but are really a restoring of the natural balance. It seems so stunning and strange, being human, that we’re always trying to find the human pulse in things.

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