Jerry Seinfeld Is the Poster Boy for Comic Income Inequality, Says Gary Gulman
Gary Gulman takes square aim at income inequality in his smart new special, Born on Third Base, which drops tomorrow on Max. In Gulman’s wide-ranging look at our society’s warped relationship with money, a fellow comedian gets caught in the “eat the rich” crossfire — Jerry Seinfeld, whose net worth is only about nine figures more than Gulman’s.
Income inequality is just cartoonish, Gulman says, even in stand-up comedy. Do you remember, he asks the audience, the guy who played “Jerry” on Seinfeld? (Thunderous laughter indicates that they do.) Ostensibly, that guy and Gary Gulman are in the same business! But their lifestyles are slightly different considering that Seinfeld is worth more than a billion freaking dollars. That’s “buy a building in Manhattan just to store my Porsches” kind of cash. For argument’s sake, says Gulman, let’s say Seinfeld is a better comedian than I am. But is he really $999,911,000 better?
(And is Seinfeld actually better as a stand-up? In Born on Third Base, Gulman has the nerve to do an extended bit on Pop-Tarts, one of favorite Jerry’s favorite comedy subjects, and he hits it out of the damn park.)
Gulman’s family was “proper poor” — food stamps, free lunch, welfare. Yep, welfare, that dirty word for helping people get back on their feet. It was a godsend for Gulman’s family, who received aid for a few short years. Gulman and his brother both graduated college, an experience that counters the “infuriating” argument that welfare just doesn't work since its recipients lose their initiative. But what’s more likely to make someone dependent, Gulman argues — being on welfare or receiving big bucks from a trust fund? (A trust fund, according to the comic, is a very expensive way to tell your children you don’t believe in them.)
Gulman hilariously skewers the myriad ways in which bank accounts rule our lives, from the frustrations of inadequate dental insurance to a delirious takedown of Shark Tank. The comic hates the greedy-ass sharks, begging anyone with a good idea not to put on a song-and-dance and give up half their life’s work in exchange for an investment. Other options provide much better financing terms than Mr. Wonderful, he says — a bank, for one.
Gulman is one of comedy’s most gifted wordsmiths, offering multiple turns of phrases that delight for their sheer cleverness. (“I flunked out of analogy school. And flunking out of analogy school is like …,” he says, looking to the sky in a failed attempt to complete the thought.) Earlier this year, Gulman’s excellent memoir Misfit: Growing Up Awkward in the 80s mined some of this same territory about growing up without having everything you want. If any of it sounds depressing, it’s not — Gulman’s self-effacing, good-natured storytelling keep you rooting for the guy. Note the natural optimism in the special’s title, Born on Third Base — despite his poor upbringing and struggles with mental health, Gulman’s outlook is inevitably one of gratitude and hope, cut with a healthy dose of snark. It’s a combination that adds up to one of the brightest, most heartfelt comedy specials of 2023.