Screen Test

Eavesdropping on comics

Jerry Seinfeld with guest Julia Louis-Dreyfus (both above) in his Web series, while Amy Schumer's recycled jokes still land punches.
Jerry Seinfeld with guest Julia Louis-Dreyfus (both above) in his Web series, while Amy Schumer's recycled jokes still land punches.PHOTO: COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE
Jerry Seinfeld with guest Julia Louis-Dreyfus in his Web series, while Amy Schumer's (above) recycled jokes still land punches.
Jerry Seinfeld with guest Julia Louis-Dreyfus in his Web series, while Amy Schumer's (above) recycled jokes still land punches.PHOTO: HBO ASIA

It is hard not to binge-watch Jerry Seinfeld's Web series if you like his sense of humour, vintage cars or telegenic coffee shops

I stumbled across Comedians In Cars Getting Coffeea couple of years ago and have been willing myself not to binge-watch the Web series since.

Each of these delightful clips of comedian Jerry Seinfeld interviewing other comics and entertainers are only six to 20 minutes long. Without a rationing system, you can tear through all 40 or so episodes before you know it.

The set-up is simple: Seinfeld picks up each guest in a different classic car and whisks him off for a coffee and a chat about his life, career and comedy.

"Comedians" is used loosely here. Guests include professional funny people such as 30 Rock star Tina Fey, comic Chris Rock and host Stephen Colbert, but also not- especially-funny actresses such as Sarah Jessica Parker and, in the new season debuting today, United States President Barack Obama.

  • COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE

    (comediansincars gettingcoffee.com)

    Season 7 premieres today

    4/5 stars

    AMY SCHUMER - LIVE AT THE APOLLO

    Cinemax (StarHubTV Channel 611), tomorrow, 10.45pm

    3.5/5 stars

You do not have to be a fan of Seinfeld and his brand of observational humour to enjoy this series, but it helps, as does a love of vintage cars or telegenic coffee shops in New York and Los Angeles.

Not every instalment is a winner, especially if you do not know or care for the guest in question. But the interviews are convincingly informal; a lot of the subjects let down their guard because they are Seinfeld's friends and co-stars or, in the case of British comic Ricky Gervais, terrified of the host's driving skills.

Gems include the episode with Aziz Ansari, in which the Master Of None star does a hilarious impression of what Indian people think white people sound like, and comic Louis C.K.'s sheepish account of getting stranded on his yacht.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the only one who ever really challenges Seinfeld, calling him out for insensitively suggesting a story arc where her character on the sitcom Seinfeld gets fat, to account for the actress' real-life pregnancy weight gain.

The less-than-stellar interviews are fascinating, too. His interaction with Amy Schumer is so palpably awkward you wonder whether the two secretly dislike each other. A debate with Parker over the size of a tip suggests the former Sex And The City star may be a bit of cheapskate or that Seinfeld tips well only because he knows it is expected.

The series has its detractors - one accusation is that this is basically a rich white dude hanging out with his mostly white celebrity friends and discussing little of consequence.

A fair point, perhaps, but the alchemy of the comedian's craft is so mystifying to mere mortals that getting to eavesdrop on their conversations still feels revelatory, somehow.

That said, you will probably learn more about Schumer by watching Amy Schumer - Live At The Apollo.

The creator and star of the Emmy-winning sketch show Inside Amy Schumer and the movie Trainwreck (2015) is one of the biggest comedy stars of the year. The downside of the exposure that came with all those interviews and appearances is that fans will find a lot of her material here familiar.

A few recycled jokes do not take all the bloom off the rose, though. She lands punches pointing out the double standards women face in a beauty-obsessed society.

But observations about thin and gorgeous actresses being paired with overweight male stars, or supermodels deemed funny for cracking lame jokes, are disappointing after the inspired feminist critiques of Inside Amy Schumer.

There is a reason the latter's sketches about the condoning of rape by male athletes, or the unspoken rule about a woman's "last f**kable day", went viral - they found fresh ways to present truths that were undeniable.

By comparison, this stand-up special feels lazy and unfocused, especially with its reliance on the comedienne's raunchy, faux-narcissistic persona for easy laughs.

If the jokes were sharper, references to her newfound success (such as when she implies a non- famous friend should be grateful she deigned to have sex with him) would feel self-aware rather than self-absorbed.

Overall, it is still a crowd-pleasing set, but it is a sign of Schumer's talent that her admirers have come to expect more of her.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2015, with the headline 'Eavesdropping on comics'. Print Edition | Subscribe