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

like this

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)

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