Many of us have been wondering what Jerry Seinfeld, the sitcom character, would be doing in this current era of home quarantines and social distancing: how his extreme fastidiousness, self-centeredness and constant scrutiny of quotidian details would be stretched to hilarious extremes in an environment of isolation and anxiety.
However, the real Jerry Seinfeld is not the same person. While he has been sheltering in place with his wife, Jessica, and their three children, he is still inescapably prone to atomic-level observations of human behavior. But he also is self-conscious in a way that he’s never been before: He cracks jokes and then wonders whether it’s appropriate to do so or if people even want to laugh right now.
From that perspective, he contemplated his new Netflix stand-up special, “23 Hours to Kill.” He is aware that its jokes about the minor indignities of public gatherings, internet communication and the Postal Service play very differently now than when the set was recorded in October.
These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Q: Are you’re finding you can still make jokes right now?
A: Not really, to tell you the truth. I don’t really feel that funny. It’s hurting so many people, so brutally. I’m not in the mood to be funny. It’s like you’re a bird and then suddenly they change your cage. You’re just not sure who you are now.
Q: Is there a part of your routine that other people might find helpful right now?
A: The first thing I do is put water on my face. I got it from the movie “The Hustler,” with Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman. That’s how I change modes. It’s like on Broadway: You need a curtain to come down between the first act and the second act. To me, that’s water on your face.
Q: Do you find yourself yearning to get back onstage when you haven’t been able to do it for several weeks?
A: It’s kind of like missing your friends. I would love to hang out with them, but I can’t. You just accept it. I still have a writing session every day. It’s another thing that organizes your mind.
Q: Do you worry that stand-up comedy won’t ever be what it was before and the audiences won’t come back like they once did?
A: No chance of that. People are going to go back, first of all, because laughter is the greatest feeling of release that there is. And No. 2, the comedians are going to adapt so much quicker than everyone else. The TV shows won’t quite know what to make. The movie people might not know what to make. The comedians, within three nights, will know what to be doing. Because you’ll get that feedback instantly of what works and what doesn’t.
Q: Do you think this might be the last stand-up special you do?
A: I don’t know. It feels like that to me. I like guys like Cary Grant that didn’t want to go past a certain point on film. Live is different — I’ll perform forever. But on film, there’s a point where — I don’t know. I’ll see when I get there.