Jerry Seinfeld didn't need to be especially funny last night to succeed before two sold-out crowds at the Wang Theatre.
So primed was the audience by nine years of one of television's most celebrated sitcoms that they started laughing at set-up comic Brian Reagan's material before he ever reached a punchline.
But it is a fact that Seinfeld is a funny guy. He was funny before the sitcom thing ever happened, he was funny during it, and he was very funny last night, practically from his opening utterance.
"Hey, it's that guy from the show! The guy! That same guy," he exclaimed in his plaintive, semi-surprised tone, as if to ease those constituents of a TV nation who had never seen him at life size. But having made that tie, he then cut loose with barely another TV reference. He always was, after all, a stand-up guy; that's even how he began and ended each episode for many years.
Before diving into his regular material, which is working quite nicely already, four stops into a dozen-city tour, he offered a few lines to the locals, including what he said is his favorite thing about coming to Boston.
"You come around that corner and see the Sumner Tunnel and you think, `We're not all trying to get in there, are we?' "
Dressed conservatively in a (very snazzy) black suit over a white shirt, and with closer cropped hair than we remember him, he lit into our conformist nature, lamenting that "there's no individual behavior anymore." Coffee on every corner, everyone's got to have an SUV, and scooters: "Get your scooters. We're all on scooters now," he cried to a howling crowd.
Not surprisingly, Seinfeld aimed a lot of his material at dating, marriage, and fatherhood - passages that have dominated his life since "Seinfeld" left the air three years ago this month.
"Why did I get married? A lot of people ask me that. For one thing, I'm 47 years old. Jesus Christ! But also, that was 26 or so years of dating. That's a lot of acting fascinated. I was tired!"
Seinfeld strayed farthest from shtick when he invoked his daughter, Sascha, saying, "I love my child, she's so sweet. And I didn't know I would, because I hate children. But that baby comes along and you get blindsided. You can't reject that experience." But he didn't stray for long:
"But let us make no mistake. The only reason these babies are here is to replace . . . us. You just have to look in any baby's eyes, and you see it: `It's only a matter of time, my friend.' Am I drooling? Yeah, I'm drooling. I'm drooling looking at all your stuff."
These are Seinfeld's first stand-up shows since 1998, and a highlight last night was to be a question-and-answer period for fans after he had finished his material. I had to leave early to make deadline, but after a thoroughly giddy hour, I hope someone asked, "Welcome back, but why'd you stay away so long?"