December 10, 2019

Seinfeld, Bradley Cooper and My Wife

Photo courtesy of Mark Schiff

My wife and I were recently in New York City for Jerry Seinfeld’s 65th birthday party. What a great night. I’d love to show you a photo from it, but no one was allowed to take pictures except for professional photographers hired to shoot the event, which, when I look back on it, was a wonderful idea. Nobody was bothering Steve Martin or Howard Stern for a selfie. No one was asking David Letterman or Martin Short to line up for a group shot, or bothering Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Amy Schumer to say happy birthday to their Uncle Milt on their iPhone video. 

But I will mention that Bradley Cooper was there. Wow, is he good-looking. They say that a woman likes a man with a good sense of humor. If I weren’t funnier than Cooper, I’d be very worried. But being the good husband that I am, I dragged my wife over by the tippy tip of her left pinky and introduced her to the Oscar-nominated actor and director. He couldn’t have been nicer.

Amazingly, two weeks after meeting my wife, Cooper broke up with his girlfriend. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. Cooper has yet to phone my house. I guess he fears being rejected by my sweetie even though I’m sure she’d let him down easy. 

There was one other striking moment that stood out for me. It was when Seinfeld’s wife, Jessica, got up to toast all the comedians’ wives in the room. There also were many female comedians present but Jessica Seinfeld’s gesture reflected the special bond she has with the comics’ wives. She gave a shout out to all of them by name, and got every one right.

Comedians’ wives have to endure an awful lot. One requirement to be a comedian is that you have to have the skin of an alligator and so do their wives, which ends up costing a fortune in plastic surgery. 

Married male comedians have to travel to perform shows, and the wives remain home to hold down the fort. There is prolonged time alone, which some wives like and some hate.

You might say, “Hey, Mark. Many men travel as part of their jobs these days and leave their wives at home. What’s so different here?” Here’s where it differs: When most men go to work, they do whatever they do, maybe have a business lunch and maybe go out with friends. But when a comedian goes on stage night after night in town after town, he makes jokes about his wife in front of total strangers. No other job allows a guy to get huge laughs about his wife for half an hour every day. 

When my wife is in the audience and people know she’s there, it’s not uncommon for them to ask her if the jokes bother her. She always says no and I believe her. 

Male comics always have joked about their wives, and female comics about their husbands. It’s always been a big part of a stand-up’s act. 

Not all women can take it, though. Some of the comedians even mention their wives by name, and the range of jokes about these relationships vary. Some of the jokes are light and good-natured and some are brutal. Richard Pryor talked about how he tried to shoot his wife when she was in his car. Don Rickles said his wife almost drowned when she fell into the pool with all her jewelry on. 

When my wife is in the audience and people know she’s there, it’s not uncommon for them to ask her if the jokes bother her. She always says no and I believe her. 

Sometimes, if the comic is too rough on his wife or too revealing about their relationship, it can endanger the marriage. A comedian has to understand where to draw the line between funny and hurtful. Most comics have to learn that lesson by trial and error. Many jokes are born out of truth but exactly how truthful should a comedian be onstage? The stage isn’t a therapy session for the comic to work out his problems. It’s a place to make people laugh and leave them feeling better than when they came in. 

So, if you don’t mind, here’s the comedian’s version of marriage advice for guys: If you’re not a professional comedian but you think you are, then go easy on the wife jokes. When I’m done talking about my wife while I’m onstage, I get a check handed to me. If you try it, you might get your head handed to you.

Thank you very much. Good night. I’ll be here all week.

Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.