Jerry Seinfeld’s web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is in its Sixth Season free online. The concept is that Jerry calls up a famous comedian, asks them to come out for coffee with him, and treats them to a ride in a sports car he has picked out for them personally. He tells us a lot about the car and then explains why the car is a symbol of the person he’s about to hang out with. The show, without meaning to be, has become an example of comedy’s shift: Jerry is the face of my father’s generation of comedy. If you, like me, are now watching the entirety of Seinfeld on Hulu, you’re probably discovering the origin of jokes told, retold, and satirized for a generation. He’s a legend; that’s obvious. Although, I think to watch Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is to see Seinfeld’s cluelessness regarding the change in the genre he captained for so long. He’s famous for observational humor, which he does impeccably, but to watch Comedians is to watch Seinfeld oblivious to the genre he influenced that has long changed into something he doesn’t recognize.
Comedians is awkward, and this is nice sometimes, but there are times when I feel bad for Jerry. He’s putting himself into a car with another comedian, and the insights they catch are sometimes priceless, like the very first episode with Larry David, the producer of Seinfeld: the two are friends; they’re clearly like-minded. They have the same ideas about what comedy is–about what’s funny. They keep each other laughing during the entire outing. There are others, like the episode with Ricky Gervais, in which the two are clearly going in different directions. Seinfeld with his pithy dad-jokes; his famous one-liners, and Gervais with extremely dry and characteristically British humor, saying things like, “We’re going to bloody die in this car” without laughing at all, or signaling that he thinks he’s being funny. Jerry might laugh a bit awkwardly at this, waiting for Gervais to break. When Gervais doesn’t, sometimes the camera cuts. There are hits and misses throughout the series, and if you can put up with Seinfeld’s discomfort, the misses are often more poignant than the hits.
The misses are great because we, who know Jerry Seinfeld, are watching him navigate the rapidly changing world of comedy. It’s remarkable, for instance, that the first season contains 12 men, not including Seinfeld, and not one single woman. This production decision, intentional or not, reinforces the show’s old (tired) world belief that women aren’t funny. While the genre kissed that notion goodbye years ago (with the exception of that one jerk everyone’s got in their Twitter timeline), this show seems blissfully ignorant of the fact that you can’t get away with that kind of thing anymore. To release a season of comedy interviews with 13 men (12 of them white) and 0 women is to miss a very heavy half of the genre. They’re waving a huge red flag that says “We’re 10 years behind!” The only disservice they’re doing is to themselves; comedy fans now have access to the brilliance of Fey/Poehler, Wiig/McCarthy, McKinnon/Bryant/Strong, etc., etc., a few clicks away on Hulu, not to mention other fringe comedy outlets like Weird Twitter and Youtube that are not dictated by the iron fist of Saturday Night Live.
Someone must have clued the producer of Comedians in on this after the first season, because their half-hearted effort to make up for the first all-male season includes what looks an awful lot like a token woman or two in the next five seasons. Scrolling through the list, you’ll definitely recognize the women, although a lot of the men are lesser known: Tina Fey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer. They’re no-brainers. I don’t see much effort to dig deep. Like Seinfeld’s cars, the comedians he picks seem to be chosen with a taste for the classics.
The show is really enjoyable and most of the guests are hilarious regardless of their chemistry with Seinfeld. The irony may be in Seinfeld’s introduction to each show: his explanation of all the features of the classic car he and his guest will be touring in. I can’t imagine a more old-world gimmick for a show about comedy than a tour of a classic car. It’s nice to see Jerry care about Corvettes and BMWs because we love Jerry, but that’s a niche interest. That’s an interest my dad– even my grandfather and his friends might talk about. It’s a show of wealth, age, and male domain. It’s good that Seinfeld’s doing his old-car, all-man thing if that’s what comedy means to him, but it’s also refreshing to see this show as a dramatically ironic reminisce of a time that’s gone.