Jerry Seinfeld might be the most famous comedian on Earth, but it's always been ambiguous about how famous his on-screen character in his eponymous '90s sitcom (that means it's about ponies) is supposed to be on the show. If you watch TV as we do, (and considering that you're on this site, you just might) you've spent countless hours doing the mental math."' Okay, so he does well enough to fly first class, but what does it mean that no one has shouted out to him 'what's the deal with that' on his way to the airport?"
The simple answer is he's as famous as the plot needs him to be. If the episode's plot demands that he doesn't get preferential treatment nor recognized at a restaurant, he's that level of famous. If the episode's plot demands that he can buy his father a Cadillac, he's that level of famous. But it seems to be implied that Jerry Seinfeld The Character is meant to be as famous as Jerry Seinfeld The Person was in real life before the show started -- think a regularly touring comedian that has not yet sold a TV show.
It all seems to check out. He's well off, but he's not making the $40,000 per episode that the real Jerry Seinfeld was making starting in season 2. He's appeared on enough late-night shows and done enough specials to have built a fan base (Seinfeld's first special debuted the year before the show started on HBO), but he hasn't built the type of household recognition that you'd expect from a '90s comedian-turned-movie star like Eddie Murphy or Jim Carrey. He's able to enjoy most meals at Tom's restaurant with relative anonymity or at least without anyone interrupting to yell, "Somebody stop me!"
But I think where Jerry's on-screen fame really gets interesting is in seasons 4 and 5. It's at this point in real life that Seinfeld is the third most-watched show on television. Jerry Seinfeld, the person, is rich as hell and dating 17-year-olds he meets in public parks. Meanwhile, Jerry Seinfeld The Character just sold his first show, Jerry, to NBC. From this, we can assume that the fame timeline follows a 3 to 4-year delay. But then, at the end of season 4, Jerry gets canceled. This is where our timelines diverge.
The on-screen Jerry Seinfeld never gets the big break that was afforded to real-life Jerry. Instead, he has to continue on as just being highly successful, but not an uber-mega-famous-rich, comedian. And I don't think this is accidental. Jerry Seinfeld loves, above all else, being a stand-up comedian.
Part of that love is the love of the lifestyle, and I think Seinfeld is Jerry's chance to play out this reality. From season 5 and onward, Seinfeld isn't just a show about nothing. It's a show about "What would happen if Jerry Seinfeld never sold a tv show?" It seems like the answer, at least according to Seinfeld himself based on the plot of the show, is that he'd still be crushing it enough to hang out with Bette Midler.
Would Jerry actually be in bunting range to the star of beaches with his stand-up talent alone? It's impossible to know, but we're willing to bet that Jerry seems to think so, and that's the deal with that.
Top Image: Sony Pictures Television