‘Seinfeld’ Opens That Don’t Make Sense Anymore
Did you ever notice that Jerry Seinfeld stopped opening and closing Seinfeld with stand-up bits after the first seven seasons or so? The show about nothing was really a show about how a comedian finds his material, at least initially, so why ditch the jokes?
Seinfeld himself blames Larry David leaving the show — with Seinfeld himself now the lone showrunner, he decided to focus more on story and less on stand-up. But maybe ditching the comedy club stuff was a blessing in disguise, at least when it comes to how well the show is aging. If you’re asking “what’s the deal with pay phones?” (or checkbooks or pound signs) today, an audience’s response will likely be a befuddled “huh?”
Here are a few prime examples of Seinfeld opening monologues that make no sense in 2022…
What’s the deal with people writing checks at the grocery store?
In Season One’s “The Stakeout,” Seinfeld expresses his frustration at the ladies (of course, they’re ladies — see below for why) insisting on writing checks for small purchases: “So, I’m on line at the supermarket. Two women in front of me. One of them, her total was $8, the other $3. They both, of course, choose to pay by the use of the check. Now, the fact is, if it’s a woman in front of you that’s writing the check, you will not be waiting long. I have noticed that women are very fast with checks, you know, because they write out so many checks. The keys, they can never find in their purse, they don’t know where that is, but the checkbook, they got that. They never fumble for the checkbook — the checkbook comes out of a holster. ‘Who do I make it out to? There’s my ID.’
“There’s something about a check that, to a man, is not masculine. I don’t know exactly what it is. I think to a man, a check is like a note from your mother that says, ‘I don’t have any money, but if you’ll contact these people, I’m sure they’ll stick up for me. If you just trust me this one time I don’t have any money but I have these. I wrote on these, is this of any value at all?’”
What No Longer Makes Sense: In these days of Apple Pay, cash apps and self-checkout, waiting for someone else to make out a check isn’t a thing. That frustration of shopping delays is still relatable. But why writing checks was more of a girl thing is an eternal mystery.
What’s the deal with the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes?
In Season Two’s “The Statue,” Seinfeld complains about some unwanted mail: “I have to tell you that I did have some very exciting news recently, and I don’t know if I should really tell you exactly what it is because it’s really not a definite thing yet. Well, I will tell you what I know so far. According to the information that I have in the envelope that I’ve received, it seems that I may have already won some very valuable prizes. In all honesty, I didn’t even know I was in this thing. But according to the readout, it looks like I am among the top people that they are considering.
“That’s what annoys me about the sweepstakes companies, they always tease you with that — ‘You may have already won.’ I’d like once for a sweepstakes company to have some guts, come out with the truth, just tell people the truth one time. Send out envelopes: ‘You have definitely lost!’ You turn it over, and it has a giant printing — ‘Not even close!‘ You open it up, there‘s this whole letter of explanation: ‘Even we cannot believe how badly you’ve done in this contest.’”
What No Longer Makes Sense: Back in the early days of Seinfeld, receiving these come-ons in the mail was a regular thing. Like a once-a-week thing. Enter now! Win big! It seemed like such an obvious scam that the sweepstakes holder, Publishers Clearinghouse, had to run commercials assuring people they weren’t full of shit.
What’s the deal with payphone operators?
Modern viewers will likely be baffled by this monologue from Season Two’s “The Chinese Restaurant”: “A couple of days ago, I used a public phone. Go overtime on the call, hang up the phone, walk away. You’ve had this happen? Phone rings. It’s the phone company. They want more money. Don’t you love this? And you got them right where you want them for the first time in your life. You’re on the street, there’s nothing they can do. I like to let it ring a few times, you know, let her sweat a little over there, then I just pick it up. ‘Yeah, operator? Oh, I got the money. I got the money right here. Do you hear that? That’s a quarter. Yeah, you want that, don’t you?’”
Here’s Seinfeld doing a similar riff on The Tonight Show (Seinfeld being Seinfeld, it’s pretty much the same as the show open):
What No Longer Makes Sense: Where do we start? Pay phones? Operators? The notion of “going overtime” on a call? Some things in life have gotten better, friends.
What’s the deal with hankies?
From Season Five’s “The Opposite”: “It is pretty hard to justify, at this point in human history, the existence of men and their handkerchiefs. I mean, they open it up, blow their nose in it and then put it back in their pockets with their other valuables. ‘Wallet, keys, mucous, yup, I’ve got everything.’ Is it because men can’t give birth that they’re just proud of anything that comes out of us? We actually have a monogram sewn onto them. What is the source of pride here? We actually have it sticking out of the breast pocket of our jacket — ‘I have a snot rag.’”
What No Longer Makes Sense: Didn’t these people have Kleenex? Our theory: People watched Seinfeld’s monologue, looked at one another and decided, “Yes, handkerchiefs are ridiculous. Let’s just stop.”
What’s the deal with fixing your own car?
In Season Six’s “The Fusilli Jerry,” the comedian questioned his own manhood when it came to auto mechanics: “The worst part about a car breaking down is when you’re out on the road, and you’re a guy. Because now you have to get out and pretend like you know what you’re doing. You gotta go, ‘All right, honey, I’m gonna go check it out.’ Walk around the front, open up the hood. That’s good because it obscures her view. That’s the main reason you want to do that. You’re looking in there, and you’re hoping you’re going to see something in there so simple, so obvious, so incredibly easy to fix, even you can handle it. Like a giant on/off switch turned off.”
What No Longer Makes Sense: There was a time when a mechanically inclined teenager could get under the hood, fiddle around with a monkey wrench, and get their car started again. These days, who would bother? You need a proprietary computer to read gibberish code that tells the mechanic what’s wrong and what dealer-authorized parts to replace. We no longer have to pretend we might understand — modern carmakers have rendered us all idiots.
What’s the deal with the pound sign?
In Season Seven’s “The Pool Guy,” Seinfeld ponders all the new buttons on his landline phone: “I’d like to know when Tic-Tac-Toe became the pound sign, that’s what I’d like to know. Why don’t they call it what it really is — ‘Leave your numeric message now and then press Archie’s head.’ And what is that redial button? Let’s face it — you’re either going to get the person, the machine or they have call waiting. Who is redialing and redialing? This is like the harassment key for people in a fight.”
What No Longer Makes Sense: Let’s see, # now means “hashtag.” No one has “the machine” anymore — a cassette recorder attached to a landline with 17 wires hanging out the back. “Call waiting” is still a thing, but not like back in Seinfeld’s day when a series of clicks and toggles were necessary to switch over to the tele-scammer.
What’s the deal with this toilet?
In Season Six’s “The Gymnast,” Seinfeld discusses a bizarre cultural relic never seen before or since: “I’ve never been able to figure out why they make these bizarre toilet seats that they have. You know, like those clear Lucite ones, with all the coins in it? It’s a lovely tribute to our past presidents, by the way. It’s not bad enough Lincoln got shot in the head, we gotta pull down our pants and sit on him, too. It’s just incomprehensible that you would buy a thing like this, you install it on your toilet seat, and this says what about you? ‘Well, I can’t afford to just throw money down the toilet, but look how close I am!’”
What No Longer Makes Sense: Yep, these existed. They’re just as much a relic of the past now as some of these Seinfeld opens.