The single funniest thing done on this season of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee was not done by one of the comedians. And it sure wasn’t done by one of the cars! No, the funniest moment of this season came thanks to Annamarie Tendler, Victorian-lampshade maker/make-up artist/hairstylist with two books (Pin It! and The Daily Face), whose husband, comedian John Mulaney, in his episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s talk show was tasked with buying an entryway rug. Said funniest moment comes when Mulaney brings the rug home and places it in front of Tendler. This is a tribute.
Jokes need setups and, in this case, it’s a pretty long one, but it’s what makes the payoff so good. It all starts with Seinfeld picking up Mulaney and taking him to abc carpet & home (they style it all lowercase, as if to say spending $4,000 on a flat-weave wool rug is [shrugs shoulder] you know, whatever). “I’m looking for an entryway rug and a runner,” Mulaney tells the sales clerk with the demeanor of someone who’s not sure they have the address right for the orgy they were roped into going to. “So, your wife sent you on this errand?” asks Seinfeld. “But, of course, I have no clearance to buy anything,” Mulaney says foreshadowing-ly. The tension of the joke continues to build with this little back and forth:
Mulaney: My wife has a much better visual sense. She knows how things will work together. That’s where things fall apart.
Seinfeld: Well, she thinks she knows.
Mulaney: She does know.
Mulaney: She does know.
Seinfeld: All wives assume that they know. It’s like all men think they’re funny.
Mulaney: Oh yeah, that’s true.
After doing some bits and talking about how they’d like to die, Seinfeld gets bored and is like, “I can look at one more.” After looking at many more than one more, they both agree on a fairly simple striped rug. Seinfeld offers to buy it for Mulaney as a way of setting himself up to tell the story of how he was the reason the American Express black card was invented, which, I don’t know, is a pretty funny thing to do. But no time for that!
Rug in trunk, it’s time for coffee. Satisfied by a mission accomplished, they sit like kids celebrating a baseball game they won in the 7th inning (it’s a shorter game because it’s kids, duh). But little do these kids know, they didn’t win, they lost.
The tension builds.
Back in the car. Oooooo. It’s happening soon. The rug is Leonardo DiCaprio and the car is the freaking Titanic, bringing him to his demise. Or maybe the rug is the Titanic and Seinfeld is the ship’s captain and Mulaney is Victor Garber?
At the apartment, Seinfeld helps carry the rug into the building. Victor Garber says to the captain, “If she doesn’t like the rug, I’m going to throw you under the bus immediately.” At which point you know she isn’t going to like that rug.
In the apartment, fade in on a girl, with a hunger for a nice rug, and a face and a name to remember. Seinfeld rolls out the rug, like an outdoor cat dropping a dead bird at the feet of his owner. Tendler looks at it like the owner of an outdoor cat looking at a dead bird. “No,” she says through a cool yet deliberate smile. “I don’t think it’s going to work.” The moment that comes next is the moment and it is (and I don’t use this lightly) iconic.
Seinfeld, thinking this is some sort of negotiation, says, “We both responded to this one,” alluding to Mulaney and himself.
Looking down at the rug, Tendler takes her shot: “You both like this one.” On “one” she looks up at Mulaney and just stares at him in a way that is equal parts intense, pained, and restrained — like me asking for no croutons on a salad. Mulaney pauses, looking down at this rug, retracing the steps of how he got here, of how, try as he might, he brought this rug into their home. As scenes flash back through his mind, one thing keeps repeating in his head: If she doesn’t like the rug, I’m going to throw you under the bus immediately. If she doesn’t like the rug, I’m going to throw you under the bus immediately. If she doesn’t like the rug, I’m going to throw you under the bus immediately. And in unison, she looks at Seinfeld and Mulaney says, “I kind of did.” And, Seinfeld does all there is left to do: make a face that says “What’s the deal?” It looked like this:
Watching it over and over again, I’ve wondered why it’s so undeniably funny. Partly it feels like a culmination of how Mulaney has discussed Tendler in his act, as — in his words, not mine — a bossy little Jew. But mostly, it’s a pretty simple high-status becoming low-status setup. It’s like if you saw one of these rich guys strolling down the street on a Sunday afternoon, spinning his pocket watch around on its chain — you know how rich guys do — and then the watch hits him right in his stupid head. It’s almost exactly like they brought a rug to her, confidently walked on top of it, saying, “This is good rug,” “Yes, very good rug,” and she pulled it out from under them.