Jerry Seinfeld's New Netflix Special Puts His Comic Life Into Perspective

In his new special, Jerry Seinfeld revisits the shop window where he first decided try stand-up and the comedy club where he became a regular in the summer of 1976.

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On television, Jerry Seinfeld has not only been astoundingly successful, he’s also been amazingly consistent in pursuing and presenting his particular comic vision. He doesn’t do big shows or specials about grand ideas and giant themes. He does narrowly focused TV programs about specific concepts — then, within those narrow confines, he finds humor, honesty and sometimes even art.

With Larry David, he created the mega-hit NBC sitcom Seinfeld, commonly and aptly described as “a show about nothing.” After that, Seinfeld created a series for Sony’s streaming service, Crackle, which is brilliant in both its narrow focus and its perfect execution. It’s called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, it’s exactly what the title suggests — and it’s now in its ninth season.

For Netflix, Seinfeld begins with another intentionally small-scale concept. It’s called Jerry Before Seinfeld and it’s all about his comedy roots.

He starts with Johnny Carson introducing him on The Tonight Show in 1981, then flashes back to the time, several years before that, when he decided to give stand-up comedy a try. He even tells that story from the specific place in New York City where he first had that thought — and for the record, it’s on a ground-level shop window ledge at the corner of Madison Avenue and East 58th Street.

Then, as part of this autobiographical retracing of his past, Seinfeld returns to New York’s Comic Strip, the comedy club where he became a regular in the summer of 1976. The club is retrofitted to look like it did back then, so Seinfeld performs in front of a red brick wall, happy to tell some old jokes — including one of the jokes from his original Comic Strip audition.

But in addition to recycling old material, Seinfeld puts his whole comic life into perspective. At one point, director Michael Bonfiglio photographs Seinfeld sitting among reams of hand-written note paper — the collected-and-never-discarded records of a career’s worth of joke-writing. And at another point, back at the Comic Strip, Seinfeld recalls the first time at that club that the audience for his act included his parents.

Jerry Before Seinfeld works so well for the exact same reason Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee does. It knows exactly what it wants to do, never wavers, delivers precisely what it promises, makes you laugh — a lot — then runs the closing credits long before you think of getting bored.

The personal touches added — like the home movies and the visit to the outside of Jerry’s childhood home — are nice and smart grace notes. But Jerry Before Seinfeld doesn’t need them, really. It’s the best kind of minimalist comedy television. Just a comic, a mic, a stage and an audience.

Jerry Seinfeld has been doing it for more than 40 years. Now in his new Netflix special, he reveals how he started — and demonstrates, once again, just how good he’s gotten.

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First Word: Moses Sumney Walks Us Through His Sonic Dreamscape, 'Aromanticism'

Moses Sumney, Aromanticism

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The first time I saw the soulful singer Moses Sumney was in a church in Iceland. The Los Angeles-based singer was laying down loops with his guitar and the sounds that day made and the songs that he sang had me eager to hear an entire album from this talented man.

In the three year’s since then he’s played with James Blake, Sufjan Stevens Solange and David Byrne. He’s also about to release his first album called Aromanticism, and his maturity and thoughtfulness throughout its 11 songs made it worth the wait.

I wanted to try something different for the release of Aromanticism, so Moses Sumney and I listened to the whole record together, nonstop, and as the record played we had a conversation inspired by what we heard. He was in New York, I was in Washington, D.C. When I hit the first cut, called “Man On The Moon (Reprise),” a fascinating discussion unfolded around Aromanciticsm, a record Moses says is about lovelessness as a sonic dreamscape.

Moses Sumney’s new album Aromantacism will be released September 22 on Jagjaguar.

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WATCH: Jimmy Kimmel Blasts GOP Health Bill, Says It Fails the 'Jimmy Kimmel Test'

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Comedian Jimmy Kimmel thwacked the latest Republican health care proposal Tuesday night after one of the senators sponsoring the bill invoked Kimmel’s name.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., touted Tuesday on Capitol Hill that his plan passes the “Jimmy Kimmel test.”

That’s a phrase he coined back in May referring to the late-night host, who has been outspoken about his young son’s heart condition and the amount of money it would cost someone who didn’t have health insurance before the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, became law to obtain the kind of care his son has needed.

“I ask, does it pass the ‘Jimmy Kimmel test’?” Cassidy, a medical doctor, said in May of Republican health care proposals. “Will a child born with congenital heart disease be able to get everything she or he would need in the first year of life? I want it to pass the ‘Jimmy Kimmel test.'”

Kimmel pressed Cassidy to follow through on his word in a tweet in June and outlined his definition of the “Kimmel test,” which he reiterated Tuesday night.

Reminder for Sen @BillCassidy: Kimmel test is “No family should be denied medical care, emerg or otherwise, because they can’t afford it”

— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) June 25, 2017

Kimmel said the bill doesn’t pass his test. He used his late-night platform to knock down Cassidy’s health care plan — that the GOP is trying to pass by the end of the month — point by point. He said Cassidy, who Kimmel quizzed on his show before his plan came out, “lied right to my face.”

“Health care is complicated; it’s boring; I don’t want to talk about it,” Kimmel said. “The details are confusing, and that’s what these guys are relying on. They’re counting on you to be so overwhelmed with the information you just trust them to take care of you. But they’re not taking care of you. They’re taking care of the people who give them money like insurance companies, and we’re all just looking at our Instagram accounts liking things, while they’re voting on whether or not people can afford to keep their children alive or not. Most of the congresspeople who vote on this bill probably won’t even read it. And they want us to do the same thing. They want us to treat is like an iTunes service agreement. And this guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.”

In his monologue, Kimmel urged that no matter how much money a family makes, there should be no annual or lifetime caps. Because of the high cost of procedures like open-heart surgery, lifetime or annual caps on what insurers pay out mean families foot the rest of the bill.

Since states decide the rules, according to Cassidy’s plan, Kimmel argues inevitably there will be states where caps will be instituted and families would be hurt.

Kimmel laid out four points for what he thought qualifies under the “Kimmel test” for health care:

1. Coverage for all
2. No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions
3. Lower premiums for middle-class families and
4. No lifetime caps

“I’m sorry he does not understand,” Cassidy argued Wednesday morning on CNN about Kimmel. Under the new bill, he said, “more people will have coverage.”

That’s almost certainly not true, given the Medicaid expansion rollback that would take place under the bill. Medicaid expansion, after all, accounted for the largest drop in the uninsured under the ACA.

What’s more, Republicans are trying to push the bill through before the Congressional Budget Office can weigh in with an analysis of how much it would cost and how many people could lose insurance. Prior versions of Republican health bills care all showed millions more would no longer be insured compared to under the ACA’s current regime.

“Not only did he fail the ‘Jimmy Kimmel test’,” Kimmel said, “it failed the Bill Cassidy test.”

As Kimmel drove home his points, the audience groaned. Those groans revealed something else — the audience, not unexpectedly, was not familiar with the details of the Cassidy plan, which is co-sponsored with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

And that raises another important point — in this era in which trust in politicians, Congress, Washington and democratic institutions, including the news media, is on the decline, people are looking to others they trust to impart and make sense of information.

That was true with Jon Stewart when he hosted the Daily Show, and it began to show up in polls that his show was a principal “news” source for many young people.

So it’s not surprising that a popular — formerly fairly apolitical — late-night host with a compelling personal storyline to draw on could have a broader effect than other traditional influencers.

“I never imagined I would get involved in something like this,” Kimmel said. “This is not my area of expertise. My area of expertise is eating pizza, and that’s really about it. But we can’t let them do this to our children, and our senior citizens and our veterans or to any of us.”

For those who say Kimmel has crossed over and become too political. He had a message for them, too: “Before you post the nasty Facebook message saying that I’m politicizing my son’s health problems, I want you to know, I am politicizing my son’s health problems, because I have to. But my family has health insurance. We don’t have to worry about this but other people do, so you can shove your disgusting comments where your doctor won’t be giving you a prostate exam once they take your health care benefits away.”

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2016 Voter Turnout Dropped At HBCUs, Climbed At Women's Colleges, Study Finds

Dillard University students march to their polling place on campus to vote in New Orleans on Nov. 8, 2016.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc./Getty Images

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Voter turnout among college students nationwide was up by 3 percentage points in the 2016 election, according to a new report — faster than turnout growth among all voters. But depending on the type of school, that turnout grew either far faster or in some cases plummeted.

The report, from Tufts University, looks at voting records for nearly 10 million American college students from both 2012 and 2016. Based on that data, college student turnout grew by 3.2 percentage points, from 45.1 to 48.3 percent. That’s faster than the 1.1-point turnout bump seen among all voting-age adults.

But not all demographics were equally inspired to go to the polls. Turnout was up among white, Hispanic and Asian students, but down among black students.

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“Some of the groups that went up are what we call low-intensity voters,”Thomas said. “The fact that Asian students, Latino and Hispanic students went up to the extent that they did is pretty exciting.”

And the numbers varied widely by different types of schools — turnout plummeted by more than 10 points at historically black colleges and universities, from 50.5 to 39.9 percent. At women’s colleges, it grew by 7.3 percentage points, more than twice the national rate.

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The study — the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement at Tufts University — looks at a massive population. The 9.8 million students studied represent around half of all degree-seeking students, and their demographics resemble those of all college students nationwide.

The report introduces a few more data points into the ongoing deconstruction of how voters behaved in the chaotic 2016 election, but it also raises questions about how different campuses’ political climates are created.

Race and gender may have caused some of the wide variations at particular types of school, said Nancy Thomas, director of the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts.

It was “exciting for a lot of women” that a woman was at the top of a major party presidential ticket, Thomas said, so that may have driven women’s voting upward. In addition, the fact that Hillary Clinton herself attended a women’s college — and maybe even that that college was Wellesley, which was included in this survey — could have potentially drawn more women at those colleges to her. (The researchers declined to break down the data by school.)

Likewise, it’s possible that a reverse version of that effect happened among black students.

“The flip side might be that not having an African-American on the ticket might explain some of the decline among African-American students,” Thomas said.

But something else may have intensified those effects at women’s-only institutions or HBCUs — the increase in turnout at women’s colleges (7.3 points) was higher than it was for women as a whole (4.7 points), and the drop in turnout was larger at HBCUs (10.6 points) than the drop among African-Americans as a whole (5.3 points).

The researchers said they are curious about these effects, and want to explore further how the political culture at colleges that serve specific populations may be different from that at other schools.

America’s youngest voters tend to have lower voting rates than older Americans, and the voting rate here was indeed smaller than the nation as a whole. Around 48 percent of voting-age college students voted in 2016, compared to around 54 percent of all voting-age Americans.

The students studied are overwhelmingly young — nearly two-thirds are under 25 — and 85 percent are undergraduates. But not all American college students are young co-eds living in dorms; around 17 percent of the college student voters in this study were 30 and older.

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Watch Jamila Woods Perform 'HEAVN,' Shrouded In Blue Velvet

Between songs at her soundcheck at PUBLIC ARTS, the venue attached to Ian Schrager’s PUBLIC hotel in downtown Manhattan, Jamila Woods is quick to pull out her phone. For the Chicago-based singer, it isn’t a sign of disengagement; in fact, it’s just the opposite. As her musical star has risen, Woods has held onto her full-time job as the Associate Artistic Director at Young Chicago Authors. She teaches, writes curricula and trains teachers at the non-profit, and is still coordinating via email, even as she takes vacation to promote her album’s re-release on Jagjaguwar Records.

She is both product and steward of that Chicago institution and the musical scene that’s blossomed around it, a scene that’s helped produce Chance the Rapper, Saba and Noname, among others. Her music holds the soul of that community — the dedication to an art that can uplift and engage even as it challenges.

“Balancing my work with Young Chicago Authors with music, it’s definitely a challenge, but I always feel like teaching is part of my writing practice,” she said. “I used to go to the open mic at Young Chicago Authors called WordPlay … It was a really important space for me, I think I performed my first ever musical performance at that open mic. And I think it kind of empowered me to take my lyrics so seriously and to apply what I came up doing in poetry to my music. So it’s really important to me that I keep time to be around that community and around students.”

Our Night Owl video crew caught her after she’d finished her soundcheck and before she went backstage to prepare for the show. Against a backdrop of blue velvet, she performed a stripped-down version of “HEAVN,” the title track of her debut album. Her words and voice were front and center as she leapt from an interpolation of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” to a meditation on race, love and family history. After the shoot, she checked her phone again and disappeared backstage. Hours later, she reemerged to a full house.

CREDITS

Director: Nickolai Hammar; Producer: Ben Naddaff-Hafrey; Series Producer/Supervising Producer: Mito Habe-Evans; Animation: CJ Riculan; Audio/Video: Nickolai Hammar; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann, Keith Jenkins

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Zine And Heard: In 'Moxie,' A Young Woman Fights Back

Moxie

Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and performer. She is a regular reviewer for NPR Books and Quill & Quire.

The slogan “Moxie Girls Fight Back!” is a call to arms for all the girls slipping quietly through the halls, biting their lips to contain their anger, striving to keep invisible and get through the day.

Vivian Carter is one of those girls. She just wants to keep her head down and avoid the notice of the football jocks who rule her small town and harass her and her classmates. The system doesn’t care, and she is focused on ignoring it and sustaining as little damage as possible until she is free to move on with her life.

But the chauvinist garbage grows hard to ignore. After witnessing several upsetting incidents, Vivian finds herself digging through a box from her mom’s Riot Grrrl past. Maybe what her school needs is a feminist zine. The idea excites her, but Vivian is a nice girl. She doesn’t want to be the face of a rebellion. So she prints her zine in secret, pretending to be as surprised by the appearance of Moxie as everyone else.

At first, the response is small. Then more and more girls start to align themselves with Moxie and speak out against the harassment they face. When the school tries to enforce the status quo by engaging in a series of girl-shaming dress code raids, Vivian and the other Moxie ladies refuse to let it stand. The fight is on, and Moxie is growing.

But before long, everything spirals out of Vivian’s control. She is forced to decide what she is willing to fight for, and what she is willing to risk.

Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie works on a pure, wish-fulfillment level. Many young women have struggled to ignore daily harassment and walked shamefaced out of the principal’s office, giant sweatshirts pulled forcibly over tank tops. But how many of us found our voices in high school and walked out en masse to give the finger to the patriarchy? Not enough. Which is why it’s undeniably satisfying to watch it unfold and live vicariously through Vivian as she faces down her fear and takes a stand, shoulder to shoulder with her peers. That moment alone is enough to make Moxie a winner.

Moxie also isn’t afraid to address some of the more difficult quandaries of feminist activism. Vivian struggles to balance her own self-interest and fear with her rage and desire to help others. How can she be a good girl and an angry feminist? She doesn’t always get it right. And when her new boyfriend doesn’t provide the kind of support she is looking for, she gets pissed and lets him know it. It feels genuine and satisfying to see a girl willing to risk newfound romance to stand up for what she believes in.

Where Moxie falls short is in its efforts at intersectionality. Girls from diverse backgrounds and identities get in on the Moxie fight; some do point out to Vivian that they face struggles she hasn’t even considered. But ultimately, the view of feminism that we get from Moxie is predominately white, straight and cisgendered. For this reason, it feels like Moxie isn’t really meant for the teenage women who are already out there marching and signing petitions. It’s for the girls like Vivian, who can get by without too much damage if they stay quiet and avoid the fight. They need something to light a fire in their hearts, and maybe Moxie can provide that spark. Here’s hoping they take to the streets.

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Lessons From Katrina: How Restaurants Can Be Beacons In A Catastrophe

Betsy’s Pancake House on Canal Street in New Orleans announces its return to business after Hurricane Katrina.

Ian McNulty

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Ian McNulty

After Hurricane Harvey, it was no surprise that restaurants in New Orleans quickly became a hub for many local efforts to help.

In the long haul, though, it is restaurants in the very areas hard-hit by Harvey that will be their own sources of community self-help.

That’s one lesson from New Orleans’ experience after Hurricane Katrina, and it’s one that translates to others facing monumental loss. It’s the way restaurants, fancy and modest alike, become beacons, and how the principle of service reaches beyond hot meals and cold drinks.

First, though, those restaurants have to get back open. Restaurateurs have to find the means, and they also have to make the decision to do it. That’s not always as simple as it sounds.

A restaurant meal can be seen as recreational, as discretionary, even as an indulgence. How does that square when people all around are suffering, when basic needs boil down to any kind of food, clean water and clothing that hasn’t been through the slog?

Restaurants often function as their own first responders after disaster, dispensing food and whatever else they can and worrying about the cost later. That is heroic. But at what point can a restaurant responsibly get back to the pragmatic, to the business of doing business?

The answer, from my own Katrina experience, is: as soon as possible.

Any kind of business reopening is a win, but restaurants — with one foot in the economic realm, the other in the cultural — answer a particular need for social fabric.

That doesn’t arrive in a truck bed with donated supplies, and it can’t be written into insurance checks. It has to come from the interaction of the people who make up their community. Restaurants, with their open doors, their embedded personal traditions and neighborhood stories, are looms for that social fabric.

That is one reason why, as New Orleans began its long, halting recovery, its restaurant scene became a center of attention. To the outside world, it served as a barometer for the pace of rebuilding and a lens on changes wrought along the way. Within the community, it was an anchor, a respite and an inspiration. It was determination made as tangible as the meal on the table.

Harvey and Katrina are different catastrophes, hitting different communities and bringing different aftermaths. But hurricanes are no abstraction in our region; they bring an empathy here that bridges the divide of distance and demographics.

If New Orleans feels it can relate to the anguish of suddenly upturned lives and homes, it also understands that on the long climb back up, every handhold helps. Sometimes you find them around a table, on a plate or over a glass.

In the good times, restaurants do more than furnish meals. They provide social nourishment, help establish a sense of place and serve as gathering spots to bring people together.

As Louisiana knows all too well, that’s precisely what makes restaurants so vital during the worst of times, too.

Ian McNulty is a regular contributor to WWNO and covers food culture and dining for the daily New Orleans Advocate. He is the author of A Season of Night, a chronicle of the first months in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

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