x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Seinfeld directs new Broadway show

Is Jerry Seinfeld directing on Broadway more evidence of the "Seinfeld curse", which seems blight the careers of hit-sitcom actors?

A new one man show opens on Broadway this week. Long Story Short is the kind of comic ramble - a history of the world in 75 minutes - that one might happen across at the Edinburgh Festival, and it stars Colin Quinn, with whom only the most dedicated Saturday Night Live viewers will be familiar. So, why is it one of the most intriguing Broadway shows for some time? Because a quick glance down the production notes reveals the starry name of a debut director, one Jerry Seinfeld.

Long Story Short is the latest in a long line of eclectic endeavours from Seinfeld since his spectacularly successful eponymous sitcom ended 12 years ago. But going back to his stand-up comedy roots, writing a children's book and making guest appearances in the likes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and 30 Rock, have prompted snide comments that perhaps his career is not on the most upward of curves.

The sniping reached its peak with a reality television show earlier this year of which he was the executive producer. In The Marriage Ref, celebrities watched the real-life arguments of fighting couples and voted on whom they thought in the right. It was widely panned - The Huffington Post asked: "How could a man as funny as Seinfeld produce such a remarkably unfunny show?" But most grievous of all, anyone who has somehow missed the joys of the Seinfeld television show could easily glance at a photograph of this 56 year-old New Yorker and remark that he was "that guy in the Windows Vista advertisements".

But how do you follow one of the most successful television series ever? The answer is you don't always have to. Earlier this year, the chairman of Warner Brothers Entertainment, which owns the rights to Seinfeld, disclosed that the series had made a staggering $2.7 billion (Dh9.9bn) in repeat fees since 1998. One would imagine that Seinfeld - as co-creator of the show - enjoys a percentage of that. Certainly, the children's book won't be funding his obsession with Porsche sports cars (more than 40 at the last count).

But financial success and a garage full of cars will never be enough for actors who have basked in critical glory and fame for so long. The fluctuating fortunes since 1998 of the rest of the Seinfeld cast - Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards have all attempted to transfer their success to new sitcoms, failing, on the whole, abysmally - led to the idea of "the Seinfeld curse".

The notion of such a "curse" has extended to other popular American shows. The male cast of Friends have never quite escaped the shadow of the show that made them global stars. Matt Le Blanc's spin-off, Joey, was such a disaster that he's only just tentatively dipping his toes into television again. Matthew Perry has hardly set the world alight, and David Schwimmer has retreated, in the main, to the stage.

Meanwhile, the star of Frasier is also struggling. Kelsey Grammer had his sitcom Hank cancelled mid-season earlier this year, admitting "it just wasn't very funny". There's a picture developing here of the sitcom actor or actress who finds life after a big hit very difficult to deal with. And that's because comedy typecasts actors like no other genre - it would be almost impossible to take, for example, Ricky Gervais' gurning face seriously in a meaty drama. But if you shoot to fame on, say, a medical drama, a whole spectrum of work awaits. When George Clooney was ER's heart-throb, it was simply the launching pad to a varied and stratospheric career.

It's doubly difficult for Seinfeld, of course. In the sitcom he actually played a fictionalised version of himself. How on earth, then, is he supposed to escape the image of a man who likes Superman and breakfast cereal? Nor has he entirely helped himself in that regard: another of his advertisements, this time for American Express, was called The Adventures of Seinfeld and Superman.

Still, he has his cars - and his widely appreciated stand-up. And for all we know, these supposedly "cursed" actors might actually be rather happy. Schwimmer, certainly, seems to be enjoying acting on Broadway and directing films like Run Fatboy Run. Seinfeld's new show was widely derided, but The Marriage Ref has still been recommissioned for a second series. And while he might not be hitting the heights of 10 or more years ago, consider this: would we still be interested in yet another new series of Seinfeld? Almost certainly not.