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GAINING MOMENTUM : Seinfeld Isn't the Wrold's Tallest Man, but He Is on His Way Up

November 01, 1990|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

Supporters say he has it all: wit, freshness, unpredictability and timing, an Everyman comic for everybody. Detractors answer that he's facile but unprovocative, amusing but hardly influential, just more white bread in the land of generic comedy.

One thing's for sure: Jerry Seinfeld is on his way up, albeit less rapidly than some overly enthusiastic college-venue publicists have proclaimed in the past.

The comic, who will take time out from taping 13 new episodes of his critically acclaimed "Seinfeld" TV series to perform at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center on Friday, admits to being embarrassed by the bell-clanging hyperbole that surrounded his last appearance on that campus nearly a year ago. The university had immodestly billed him then as "America's most imitated comedian" and "the king of observational comedy."

In a telephone interview from the set of "Seinfeld," the 36-year-old entertainer laughed when reminded of the incident, saying "it was like a circus billing, like 'The World's Tallest Man' or something."

This time around, the university's PR people have taken care to avoid superlatives that leave little room to move. The crowing is limited to calling him "the hot comic voice of observational humor and star of the NBC sitcom 'The Seinfeld Chronicles' " (a reference to the sitcom's original title).

Besides putting together the new episodes for "Seinfeld," which may enter NBC's lineup as early as this month or as late as January, Seinfeld is beating the media-drum to gain momentum. The 30-minute show has already piqued much interest--critics tended to gush about it when four episodes were aired earlier this year and the ratings were strong.

That success surprised Seinfeld, who wasn't sure how the ongoing story line of a comic going about day-to-day stuff. "I didn't know it would have such a broad appeal."

When asked to explain that appeal, Seinfeld hesitated, then thought of Jackie Gleason. "They asked Gleason about the incredible longevity of 'The Honeymooners' and he just said it was funny. I guess that's the same thing, funny transcends everything."

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