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Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld
“Since his first performance at the legendary New York nightclub “Catch a Rising Star” as a 21-year-old college student in fall of 1975, Jerry Seinfeld has written his own material and saved everything. “Whenever I came up with a funny bit, whether it happened on a stage, in a conversation, or working it out on my preferred canvas, the big yellow legal pad, I kept it in one of those old school accordion folders,” Seinfeld writes. “So I have everything I thought was worth saving from 45 years of hacking away at this for all I was worth.”
For this book, Jerry Seinfeld has selected his favorite material, organized decade by decade. In minute after hilarious minute, one brilliantly crafted observation after another, listeners will witness the evolution of one of the great comedians of our time and gain new insights into the thrilling but unforgiving art of writing stand-up comedy.” -Audible
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I saw Jerry Seinfeld publicizing this book on one of the late shows that I was watching. Since one of my long-term goals is to do comedy I figured this would be a great book to read since other comedians recommended it. Jerry is one of the most respected and successful comedians out there so I figured there must be some good insights in this book.
Chapter: The Seventies
- “Is this anything?” Is what every comedian says to every other comedian about a new bit
- These are ideas that come from nowhere and mean nothing
- All comedians are slightly amazed when anything works
- He was more than happy to accept being a not-that-funny comedian over any other conceivable option
- He says this attitude is the exact right way to start out in the world of comedy: expect nothing, accept anything
- He feels that wherever comedians are working, it is a place of battle
- He’s totally in love with a very clear winning and losing outcome that a standup set can have
- In some ways it’s more sports than theater
- The real problem of stand up is that you must constantly justify why you are the one talking while a room full of people sit quietly
- You have to love it badly, madly, and maybe even sadly
Chapter: The Eighties
Chapter: The Nineties
- People like seeing the artist making the art live like someone painting or a standup performing a set
- They don’t want to see how it’s made like a painter going to the store to buy paint
Chapter: The Double O’s
- Getting out of your head is one of the most important places to visit
- Sometimes you get so used to doing what you do you don’t see what it is anymore
- The essential building blocks of comedy are very often an elegant intertwining of really dumb and really smart
- You need both to make comedy
Chapter: The Teens
- Stand up is about a brief, fleeting moment of human connection
- Like surfers sitting in the water on their board just waiting for one more ride, one more thrilling skim across the top of the world
- His favorite place to work is inside his head, trying to reach someone else’s
- The special special thing about stand up is the sound that tells you for sure that you did it, you reached them
- Jerry wonders about comics, how the hell do we even do this?
- We never really do figure it out, but the real point of our lives is that we try anyway
I loved this book! It felt more like a revisit of his material throughout the years, which was great because the reader get’s to experience how his comedy has evolved. We can also see how the topics he covers changes and shifts based on the times and his own perspective. For example, he starts of talking about how he’s single and making jokes about that. Then he makes jokes about being married, and then eventually about having kids.
As I mentioned, I’ve never really followed Jerry Seinfeld, though I know who he is. After reading this book, I have a greater appreciation for him as an artist who has dedicated his life to his craft. It inspires me to have that same persistence and dedication to my chosen art forms over the course of several decades. I think this is the true path to mastery.
I couldn’t take many notes because a vast majority of the book was him reciting his material. However, I was able to catch a few of the insights he provided in between his bits. I think the experiencing both his humor and insights on comedy makes this book extremely worth the read.
One Takeaway / Putting into practice:
There are two takeaways that I’ve been implementing from this book. The first is about how comedy has to be really dumb and really smart. The second is the one I’ll highlight as probably more important which is:
- Expect nothing, accept anything
I think this is a fantastic attitude to have when approaching your chosen craft. As Jerry mentions, this is the best mentality to start off with when you enter into comedy. However, I think this can be applied to many things.
If you expect nothing, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll find yourself more happy along the way. However, when good things do come your way, you’ll accept it happily and continue forward.
Jerry takes us through his five decades of his comedy material and imparts some wisdom about being in standup comedy.
- Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
- The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
- I Can’t Make This Up by Kevin Hart
- Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
- Creative Calling by Chase Jarvis
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