After over two decades, legendary comedian Jerry Seinfeld has returned to standup in his brand-new Netflix special 23 Hours to Kill. On the surface this special could not have been released at a better time. With the coronavirus and quarantine people are understandably anxious and would benefit from some much-needed laughter. This special also comes to us around the time of Jerry Stiller’s death, Stiller being a longtime friend of Seinfeld and a frequently occurring face on his show. All these things should be setting the stage for a triumphant return. It’s just a shame that the special itself fails to deliver on these expectations.
Jerry Seinfeld is extremely successful, possibly the most successful stand-up comedian in history, at least in terms of wealth and name recognition. He is so successful that, financially, he has no need to ever perform again, something he brings attention to at multiple points throughout the special. He acknowledges at one point that as a result of this success and his age (he’s in his sixties now) he has no desire to change or grow in any way, an outlook reflected as far back as the Seinfeld show in the 1990s. It is this desire to not change or grow that’s evident throughout the special.
It’s not that Seinfeld’s material is bad. On the contrary, the jokes here prove that Seinfeld is still a superior comedic writer. The problem is that many of the jokes in 23 Hours to Kill will be uncomfortably familiar to anyone who has listened to Seinfeld before. There is quite a bit of rehashing of old material in this special, both in the form of reusing familiar joke formats and in the form of continuing to use old jokes. Most, if not all of the jokes, are written with an older audience in mind, further compounding the issue. It would be hard to recommend this special to a younger viewer who isn’t already a Seinfeld fan.
It is obviously unrealistic to expect a comedian to always have new material for each of his or her specials, without any rehashing of old ideas or jokes. But when you are recording your first special in over twenty years and many of your jokes are still recycled, questions begin to arise as to why this special exists. The answer in this case is most likely “because Jerry Seinfeld felt like taping a special and Netflix was willing to pay for it,” but in terms of what 23 Hours to Kill actually adds to Seinfeld’s repertoire there doesn’t seem to be an answer.
At almost exactly half way through the special, however, Seinfeld seemingly begins to take his special in another, more personal direction, one that might give the audience a look into a previously rarely touched-upon topic: his personal life. This ends up being a false hope however, as the jokes here play it extremely safe, giving us nothing new but fairly played out topics we’ve heard from numerous other comedians discussing family life.
While Seinfeld’s material has hardly seemed to have changed, the same cannot be said for his delivery. Seinfeld is known for his nasally voice and occasionally exaggerated delivery, but this is counterbalanced with a very relaxed and knowing demeanor. In this special Seinfeld seems far more animated than he has before. While there is nothing wrong with a comedian trying something new with his or her joke telling, this change doesn’t add anything in the way of additional laughs and fails to make an impact in this special.
23 Hours to Kill is a “new” stand-up special, but it is plagued with a lack of originality and a recycling of old material. With respect to who should watch it, longtime fans of Seinfeld, the show and the stand-up, will likely enjoy their time with it, and if they begin to find it too familiar, they should keep in mind that, after all, it’s only an hour to kill.