In the second episode of this season’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld gets political. Well, almost. His guest is Margaret Cho, someone who is known for her politically-charged material – she’s sort of the anti-Seinfeld. But you wouldn’t know that from watching the way the two interact. Seinfeld is posited as some kind of fairy godfather of sorts – someone who helped Cho early in her career and then swooped in to do it again later on.
A little back story: Margaret Cho had a bad night back in March at the Stress Factory in New Jersey. The crowd wasn’t feeling Cho’s material, which included some righteous anger towards sexual predators and rapists. Cho is a survivor of rape and sexual abuse so the material is very personal to her. Those familiar with Cho’s work know that her comedy has always been dark. Not only does she cover rape, but her shows include work on AIDS, homophobia, suicide, depression, racism, sexism, abuse, war. I’m still a little confused about her audience’s rage that night, as going to a Margaret Cho concert means witnessing taboos being dismantled and upended.
But Cho is taking responsibility, saying she didn’t “do her job” that night in making the work, well, work. So her episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is sort of predicated on her return to the Stress Factory for a do-over. Seinfeld is on hand to give her his stamp of approval, and there’s no greater stamper than Seinfeld – a beloved, across-the-board well-liked comic who probably is the least offensive comedian in the world.
The specter of Cho’s bombed night looms over this episode of Comedians as does Seinfeld’s own aversion to political comedy. That makes for a strange, if fascinating 20 minutes, when we watch these two pros, who are so, so different come together. Seinfeld takes a back seat (no pun intended) to Cho, whose comic voice is far more urgent. Whenever identity politics pop up during the conversations, Seinfeld looked a combination of bored and overwhelmed – at one point, Seinfeld stumbled on the concept of intersectionality, repeatedly flubbing the word by saying “intersextuality.” The video makes Seinfeld look uncomfortable and disinterested in a lot of the issues that Cho brings up – though the two share a hearty laugh when Cho references Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jane Breyer, specifically P-Orridge and Breyer’s extensive surgery to not only look like each other but to transition. Trying to wrap his mind around the idea, Seinfeld muses, “we need a new word” for when couples “transgender” and then settles on do-si-do.
Despite Cho and Seinfeld existing in different lanes, he does a major solid by opening for her at her re-do at the Stress Factory. It’s an interesting part of the episode because it moves away from the usual setting of Seinfeld, his guest, and a coffee house. Instead, Cho and Seinfeld are sitting in front of a group of people – comprised largely of the walk-outs from Cho’s bad night in March. Though the segment is heavily edited, the folks in the audience seem very receptive and cool – one lady pointed out that rape is not a subject to make fun of, and Cho again took the blame for the previous show’s meltdown. Right after, a guy made the astute point that folks who go to a Margaret Cho concert have to expect to be uncomfortable and challenged. Which is what I’m talking about. I guess a lot of people wish Margaret Cho stuck to funny impersonations of her mother, but I like when she digs deep. As Cho pointed out earlier, comedy is all about rage.
This episode wasn’t a normal Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. And like the Jim Gaffigan episode, there is a strange disconnect between Seinfeld and Cho. Some of it may be generational and a lot of it is due to the comedians’ disparate style of humor and outlook on comedy. Still, it’s clear that Seinfeld had a huge influence on Cho’s career, and the mutual admiration society works out nicely. It’d be good if Seinfeld booked more guests like Cho – comedians who are prickly and aren’t necessarily concerned with being “nice” or “just funny.” I’d love to see Seinfeld spar with Kathy Griffin or Sandra Bernhard.