Jerry Seinfeld's new site is one of the best on the web. Every day, Mr. Seinfeld posts three video clips, typically one or two minutes each, from his "personal archive" of standup comedy appearances. All you can do is watch them. You can't download them. You can't comment on them. You're not assaulted by a dozen little icons, demanding that you share this with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc. And the next day, there are three new video clips, and yesterday's are gone; there's no way to go back in time, no archive of past entries. He says it's Internet portion control.
The Seinfeld website is not there to perpetuate a brand identity, "go viral," or sell anything (though the site does discreetly list Mr. Seinfeld's upcoming concert appearances). The site has no purpose other than that of the material posted there. Its purpose is to make us laugh.
Listening to the routines now, I'm reminded of the elegance of his writing, how each word is carefully chosen and absolutely correct. A paragraph of Jerry Seinfeld standup material is a nightclub haiku. This is why he doesn't tweet. It's like when Arianna Huffington asked Jon Stewart why he didn't write a blog, and Stewart erupted, "Because I have a TV show!"
In the context of our pounding online headache, the simplicity of the new Seinfeld site seems novel. Its lack of ambition looks noble, almost a revolutionary statement. And this is the enigmatic place which Jerry Seinfeld occupies in our culture. As a standup, he's always been very good -- a true craftsman of the observational monologue. But other than its consistent high quality, his standup act has never been innovative or envelope-pushing -- it's just witty, finely-crafted, traditional material, delivered with flawless timing.
But when he ventures beyond standup, the results are always novel and sometimes groundbreaking. The obvious example, of course, is Seinfeld, a watershed event which restored honor to the TV sitcom and remains the gold standard for that form. But you see it elsewhere, too. Bee Movie had its flaws, but they did not include either cheap humor or insulting the audience's intelligence, and its best sequences had a level of wit rarely seen in post-Muppets family entertainment. I'm not a fan of The Marriage Ref, but at least it honorably attempts to create genuine entertainment out of the hopeless reality TV genre.
And now, he's showing us that you can use the Internet as a venue, as opposed to a platform. You can put your stuff online without turning it into an "experience" or a "community," without joining the deafening babel of websites screaming at us to rate, comment, bookmark, network, and buy. There are other artists I admire who make their work available on their websites. But I rarely visit those sites. Why bother? Like most of the Internet, it will always be there. Seinfeld's site, on the other hand, has become an enjoyable part of my daily routine -- three or four minutes of glittering comedy from one of its foremost practitioners, and it won't be there tomorrow.
Resisting the urge to conclude with a "master of his domain" reference, I remain your humble correspondent.