April 8, 2008

Serenity Now! Serenity Now! Serenity Now!

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Frank, Estelle and George Costanza are driving in a car. George drives, Frank sits in back:
Frank: I got no leg room back here. Move your seat forward.
Estelle: That’s as far as it goes.
Frank: There’s a mechanism. You just pull it, and throw your body weight.
Estelle: I pulled it. It doesn’t go.
Frank: If you want the leg room, say you want the leg room. Don’t blame the mechanism!
George: All right, Dad. We’re five blocks from the house. Sit sideways.
Frank: Like an animal! Because of her I have to sit here like an animal. Serenity now! Serenity now!
George: What is that?
Frank: Doctor gave me a relaxation cassette. When my blood pressure gets too high the man on the tape tells me to say ‘Serenity now.’
George: Are you supposed to yell it?
Frank: The man on the tape wasn’t specific.

So plays out the infamous scene from the infamous Seinfeld episode, “Serenity Now.” At his performance Wednesday night, the 80-year old actor/comedian (best known to our generation for his work in Seinfeld and King of Queens and to our parents generation for the comic husband-and-wife duo Stiller & Meara) called two students to the stage to perform this scene with him.
Playing George was die-hard Seinfeld fan Josh, and in the role of Estelle, history and Feminist & Gender Studies double major (which Stiller found particularly perplexing) Allison, who towered over Stiller in full Amazonian glory. Estelle/Allison actually imitated nearly flawlessly the dulcet (read: shrill) tones of Estelle Costanza, though Josh sounded more than anything else like a guy who had never acted before in his life trying to read lines off a script. Of course, as far as I know, this could describe him exactly.
Stiller entertained a full-to-capacity Statler Auditorium Wednesday night in a free, hour-and-a-half long show that was partly serious, but mostly comic, and had kids, and yours truly, laughing out loud (lol-ing, for those of you still stuck on AIM). The show was put on by Cornell Hillel (thanks guys!), and featured much in the way of Yiddish slang, all of which went right over my own raised-non-practicing-Protestant-turned-Atheist head. I got the gist though, and laughed right alongside Hillel’s best.
Stiller framed the show in terms of his life and career, and displayed on a projector screen to-die-for baby pictures of Amy and Ben Stiller. Better yet, he brought Amy Stiller along with him, and she performed a quick, funny sketch about growing up as Amy Stiller, including her time in acting school, where she learned to “confront the audience” and stick out her butt, and middle-aged “bachelorette-dom,” in which she flirts with a handsome, young furniture-mover named Fernando. Jerry Stiller sat off to the side, guffawing — very much the proud parent.
Unfortunately, Stiller could not bring along his son Ben as well, but instead showed a short film (Shoeshine) featuring a college-aged (we’re talking before even Heavyweights here people — greatest movie ever by the way) Ben Stiller as “the business-man” and Jerry as “the shoeshine father.” The shoeshine shines a reluctant young customer’s shoes, chatting about stocks, the value of a good pair of shoes, and his successful son. At the end, you find out that the young customer is the shoeshine’s son. Though young Ben Stiller raised his eyebrows way too much, it was a cute film (and nominated for an Academy Award in 1998!) and probably on YouTube, if you care to check it out.
Stiller proceeded in roughly chronological order, from middle school all the way to the present, mixing humor with real stories about how he became an actor, how he got on Seinfeld, the people he met, etc. I had three favorite stories: The first was about a middle school crush who shunned him after he carried her books. Many years later he met Elliot Spitzer at a function, who informed Stiller that he was the son of this very woman. They had a family joke about their never-realized marriage, in which Elliot Spitzer plays Gaylord Focker in Meet the Parents. The second involved his audition for Syracuse University’s theatre department (… and yes, he got in). He performed the audition for us — a futuristic foreign-language soap opera which was downright hilarious, though no one understood exactly what he was saying. Finally, he told a story about his first days on Seinfeld. Director Larry David originally told him to be toned-down and meek, to counteract the sheer abrasiveness that was Estelle Costanza.
After three days of horrible filming, Stiller, fearing he was going to be fired, finally took the initiative to scream some witty retort back into Estelle’s face. Everybody laughed, Larry David said, “Ok, we’ll do it your way,” and the Frank Costanza we all know and love was born.
Overall, the show was great. And totally free — what more could a girl ask for? At the end Stiller received a Cornell Hillel baseball cap (Amy got a Hillel t-shirt, you know, the one that says Cornell in Hebrew … love that shirt!), and a well-deserved standing ovation.