Set your DVR/TiVos for tonight. It's HBO's Sixth Annual Young Comedians Show (9:30 p.m. EDT on HBO-Comedy, also repeats twice on Saturday, March 22, and the early morning of March 28).
The Smothers Brothers host and provide a lengthy 15-minute warmup session, then announce that the young comedians this year have written their own intros. Which makes it funnier when, in the first intro, they say, "Please welcome, Jerry Steinfeld!" How's that for your big intro, future billionaire? Yes, the 1981 collection of young stand-ups includes not just Jerry Seinfeld, but also Harry Anderson, Howie Mandel, Richard Lewis, Rick Overton and Maureen Murphy.
How does it hold up 27 years later? Seinfeld's early observational topics include the TV weather reports, pajamas, slippers, socks, the piano store at the mall, greeting cards, the post office and the fattest man in the world. It's all very familiar now, isn't it. Which lends yet another perspective on a scene from his documentary, Comedian, in which other stand-ups talk to Seinfeld about the prospects of writing new jokes.
Next up: Australian Maureen Murphy. She had made six appearances on The Tonight Show before this. Since then, not a lot according to the IMDB, though she currently is writing and directing a movie about Caravaggio. So there.
Harry Anderson was best known for his street magic, and that attitude and skill carried him into a recurring role on Cheers, then later his own sitcom, Night Court (Brooklyn!). The New York Times caught up with him in New Orleans, which he was leaving at the end of August, 2006. Yes, because of Katrina. Interestingly, on the HBO show description, he still gets the biggest credit. Still. Check out his props! Where's Gallagher now? Oh. Right. Anderson's set here really gets an odd crowd reaction.
Rick Overton is a name I certainly recall seeing and hearing when I first got into comedy in the 1990s. But seeing him on my TV (circa 1981) still came as a surprise. Why was that? Google, help me! Oh, geez, he's had a lot of character roles over the years. He also won an Emmy for writing for Dennis Miller. And he's still writing politically on the Huffington Post. This Star Wars routine, though, where was this going, exactly? By the way, fun fact: In the East Village, working-man skinny-tie apparently was the rule back then.
As for Richard Lewis. It was all there from the beginning, wasn't it? The paranoia. The hair. The onstage therapy session turned comedic. The relationship issues. It was all there, even back then.
Howie Mandel sure didn't look like an obsessive-compulsive germophobe in 1981! Check out his handbag! Props! (Where's Gallagher?) The memories of that condom hat come rushing back, and suddenly you remember why everyone made such a fuss when he got the big break in the NBC drama, St. Elsewhere. And then you remember again why everyone said, really?, when Mandel showed up again more recently as the host of the silliest success on TV, Deal or No Deal. "What? What, what?!"