How Jerry Used 'Seinfeld' To Deflect Valid Criticism
Welcome to ComedyNerd, Cracked's new deep dive series on what's the deal with comedy. Today's topic: The real Jerry Seinfeld.
Last week, beloved ‘90s sitcom Seinfeld made the move to Netflix, joining other Jerry Seinfeld projects like Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and Bee Who Disturbingly Almost Hooks Up With a Human Woman Movie. Looking back at the series, what truly made it great was the way Seinfeld and co-creator Larry David were able to take real-life occurrences and skillfully adapt them into the fictional world of Seinfeld. David and Seinfeld didn’t just mine their own experiences for story ideas but also those of their staff. The pair were basically vampires for odd anecdotes, be it stories of a dictatorial soup vendor, or Lorne Michaels’ awkward dance moves, or one writer’s “family shame,” which happened to be an antifascist alternative to Christmas.
But one time Seinfeld oddly used this same creative process to reconfigure two unflattering real-world events into a humorous storyline that was arguably far more charitable to the “Jerry Seinfeld” character than his real-life counterpart warranted. In the ninth season episode “The Cartoon,” Jerry and Kramer run into Susan’s old friend Sally, played by Kathy Griffin. After Jerry privately confides to Kramer that he thinks she’s “untalented” and should quit pursuing a career in show biz. Unsurprisingly, the unfiltered Kramer immediately blurts out that to the struggling actress that she should just “give up.”
Which … doesn’t go over well. Sally decides to give up on her dream, so a guilt-ridden Jerry invites her to lunch and encourages her to try again -- which she does, launching a one-woman show about how Jerry Seinfeld is “the Devil” and falsely recounting how he personally tormented and even groped her.
Those of us who were still young when the show first aired, or who caught up to it even later, might not be aware that several very public real-life episodes inspired this storyline. As recounted in the book Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, Seinfeld had a similar experience with Griffin herself; she had appeared on an early episode of the show and, during a break in filming, approached Jerry for an autograph to give to a friend. According to Griffin, a “cranky” Jerry snapped: “That’s about the last thing I have time for right now!” and then walked away. Griffin told the story in her stand-up act and eventually a half-hour HBO special. One of the major comic beats of the story literally involved the phrase: “F**k you, Jerry Seinfeld” -- which coincidentally is also the silent mantra of every server who appears on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
The routine even led to tabloid articles about the implied feud, and despite the fact that Larry David promised Griffin that Jerry would never see her special in a “million years,” he totally did and eventually sent her a humorously insulting letter as a response. As a result, she was invited back onto the show to play out what was basically a fictionalized version of their real-life incident; Jerry says something, she perceives it as extremely rude and turns the whole thing into a comedy routine about how he’s a jerk. But in the show’s version of events, Jerry Seinfeld himself isn’t rude; Kramer is. Jerry bends over backward to try and make things right, but Griffin’s character illogically, and maybe even hysterically, continues to blame Jerry to great success.
So the real Jerry Seinfeld and his writers took a story about how he was a giant dick, and in essence, laundered it through his sitcom universe, in turn abdicating all of Seinfeld’s responsibility for being a dick in the first place. And it’s not like the public wasn’t aware of this backstory at the time; even if they hadn’t caught Griffin’s stand-up special, it was highlighted in the press before the episode aired.
Even worse, however, is the other incident that seemingly inspired this storyline. Actor and performance artist Danny Hoch was cast as an annoying pool boy character named Ramon who just wants to be friends with a reluctant Jerry in the episode “The Pool Guy.” But during rehearsals, either Seinfeld or director Andy Ackerman randomly asked him to “do the part with a Spanish accent” despite the fact that he was a Jewish Brooklynite with a decidedly non-Spanish accent. Hoch had specifically checked prior to taking the gig to make sure that “Ramon” wouldn’t be some kind of “one-dimensional” racist caricature, but suddenly Jerry insisted it was “funnier” this way. So Hoch refused, got fired, and was apparently never paid. We know all of this because Hoch began telling the story in his act and in his film Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop.
When “The Cartoon” aired, it didn’t go unnoticed that Hoch, who had called Seinfeld “the enemy” on stage, likely inspired Sally’s “Jerry Seinfeld is the Devil” routine. The idea that Hoch’s legitimate issues with the production's alleged lazy stereotyping would be reworked into a tale of a blameless Jerry’s troubles with an irrationally vengeful comic flat-out sucks. So while Seinfeld’s ability to turn real-life happenings into unparalleled comedy scripts was the show’s greatest strength, at least in this one instance, we can see that it had a major downside as well, allowing Jerry Seinfeld to take valid criticisms of his less-than-admirable behavior and contort them into a story where he is suddenly the victim of a cruel injustice.
Top Image: NBC Universal