May 15, 2024

In Brief: ‘Just Don’t Lose Your Humor’

In his Duke commencement address, Jerry Seinfeld offered advice we can all use.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld recently complained that the Left has killed comedy. Then, the Jewish comedian was invited to give the commencement address at Duke University, only to have a few dozen malcontents walk out on him in protest over Israel and Gaza. Go figure.

In any case, here are a few excerpts of a top-notch speech.

I can’t imagine how sick you are of hearing about following your passion. I say, the hell with passion. Find something you can do. That would be great. If you try something and it doesn’t work, that’s okay, too. Most things do not work. Most things are not good. …

Let go of this idea that you have to find this one great thing that is “my passion, my great passion,” with your shirt torn open and your heaving pec muscles. It’s embarrassing. Just be willing to do your work as hard as you can with the ability you have. We don’t need the heavy breathing and the outstretched arms from your passion. It makes coworkers uncomfortable in the cubicle next to you. Find fascination. Fascination is way better than passion. It’s not so sweaty.

I will give you my three real keys to life. No jokes in this part. Okay, they are: Number one, bust your ass. Number two, pay attention. Number three, fall in love.

Number one, you obviously already know. Whatever you’re doing — I don’t care if it’s your job, your hobby, your relationship, getting a reservation at M Sushi — make an effort. Just pure, stupid, no-real-idea-what-I’m-doing-here effort always yields a positive value, even if the outcome of the effort is absolute failure of the desired result. This is a rule of life. “Just swing the bat and pray” is not a bad approach to a lot of things.

Number two. Pay attention. If you’re in a small submersible that looks like a giant kazoo and going to visit the Titanic, seven miles down at the bottom of the ocean, and the captain of the vessel is using a Game Boy controller, pay attention to that. What are you checking out down there? Oh, I see what happened: this ship sank. Now I understand why it never made it into port. If the fish where you are have eyes like Shelley Duvall and a bendy straw with a work light hanging off of their head, you do not belong there. If the fish are going, “I can’t see a goddamn thing,” you won’t either.

Number three. Fall in love. It’s easy to fall in love with people. I suggest falling in love with anything and everything, every chance you get. Fall in love with your coffee, your sneakers, your blue zone parking space. I’ve had a lot of fun in life falling in love with stupid, meaningless physical objects. The object I love the most is the clear barrel Bic pen — $1.29 for a box of ten. I can fall in love with a car turn signal switch that has a nice feel to it, a pizza crust that collapses with just the right amount of pressure. I have truly spent my life focusing on the smallest things imaginable, completely oblivious to all the big issues of living. Find something where you love the good parts and don’t mind the bad parts too much. The torture you’re comfortable with. This is the golden path to victory in life. Work, exercise, relationships — they all have a solid component of pure torture, and they are all 1,000 percent worth it.

Privilege is a word that has taken quite a beating lately. Privilege today seems to be the worst thing you can have. I would like to take a moment to defend it. …

My point is we’re embarrassed about things we should be proud of and proud of things that we should be embarrassed about. …

This is probably the biggest point I would like to make to you here today, regarding humor. I’m going to try to reach across a couple of generations to tell you the most important thing I am confident that I know about life. I am 70. I am done. You are just starting. I only want to help you. The slightly uncomfortable feeling of awkward humor is okay. It’s not something you need to fix. I totally admire the ambitions of your generation to create a more just and inclusive society. I think it is also wonderful that you care so much about not hurting other people’s feelings in the million and one ways we all do that, every second of every day. It’s lovely to want to fix those things, BUT — all caps — BUT, what I need to tell you as a comedian: do not lose your sense of humor. You can have no idea at this point in your life how much you are going to need it to get through. Not enough of life makes sense for you to be able to survive it without humor. And I know all of you here are going to use all of your brains and muscle and soul to improve the world, and I know that you’re going to do a bang-up job. And when you are done, as I am now, I bet the world, because of you, will be a much better place. But it will still not make a whole hell of a lot of sense. It will be a better, different, but still pretty insane mess. And it is worth the sacrifice of an occasional discomfort to have some laughs. Don’t lose that. Even if it’s at the cost of occasional hard feelings, it’s okay. You gotta laugh. That is the one thing at the end of your life you will not wish you did less of. Humor is the most powerful, most survival-essential quality you will ever have or need to navigate through the human experience. …

Don’t lose your humor. Forget the rest, your degree and privilege. All of you here would do fantastically well without any of it. All of you, without question, are the best of the best. Just don’t lose your humor. It’s not an accessory, it’s your Stanley Cup water bottle on the brutal long hike of life. And humor is for the true perspective of silliness of all humans and all existence. That’s why you don’t want to lose it. Try to enjoy some of the dumbness of it all.

Read the transcript.

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