Connect with us


What’s the deal with Jerry Seinfeld?

In the last few months, Jerry Seinfeld — the comic whose eponymous sitcom perfected consciously apolitical nattering about the mundanity of modern life — has repeatedly popped up in the media because of his weightier opinions.  During and after the promotiona…



What’s the deal with Jerry Seinfeld?
What’s the deal with Jerry Seinfeld?
In the last few months, Jerry Seinfeld — the comic whose eponymous sitcom perfected consciously apolitical nattering about the mundanity of modern life — has repeatedly popped up in the media because of his weightier opinions. During and after the promotional cycle for his recent Netflix movie Unfrosted, a comedy about Pop Tarts that divided critics and snagged few viewers, Seinfeld ruffled audiences on the left and repeatedly won accolades from the right with headline-grabbing comments on everything from student protesters to toxic masculinity. Many of these comments are the typical “comedian bashes woke audiences” shtick we’ve heard so often in recent years. His Seinfeld co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus recently addressed this rhetoric in an interview with the New York Times magazine, stating that she’s wary of comedians who complain about “political correctness.” “To me, that’s a red flag,” she said, “because it sometimes means something else.” Typically, the more comedians protest the intrusion of politics into comedy, the more they themselves start sounding awfully political. That’s what we’re seeing now with Seinfeld, who has for years bemoaned political correctness and whose public profile has become more complex since the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. While more and more celebrities began to publicly advocate for a ceasefire on behalf of Gaza, Seinfeld continued to vocally support Israel, including a solidarity visit to the country in December. This has led to ongoing backlash and public protest against him — criticism Seinfeld has frequently reframed as antisemitic. In an interview with incendiary anti-woke provocateur Bari Weiss, he suggested the criticism was “silly” and misguided since comedians “really don’t control anything.” He also pivoted to domestic concerns like his nostalgia for “real” men, “dominant masculinity,” and the absence of “an agreed-upon hierarchy” in society — which, he implied, is why we have road rage. This notion of comedy and politics as separate is one Seinfeld clearly holds sacrosanct. To Weiss, he stated that the only rule in comedy is “Is it funny?” adding, “Nobody cares really about anything else.” Of course, people care greatly about the “anything else”; it’s why comedy as an art form has constantly faced censorship, blacklisting, and backlash when it gets too stridently political — as it often does. Seinfeld seems to want to pretend that he is fully apolitical, taking a kind of “who, me?” approach to the idea that he’s a political person. It’s a position he’s adopted repeatedly over the last decade, all while complaining regularly about “political correctness.” He’s explicitly brought this “harumph, kids too woke” rhetoric into his comedy shows, like his lackluster 2020 Netflix standup special 23 Hours to Kill. The dearth of cultural traction that special got, as well as the then-and-gone blip of Unfrosted, speaks to how Seinfeld is situated as a public figure now. Though his cultural influence is huge, his post-Seinfeld output has had little staying power; his most successful recent work, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, was a conversational web series that ran from 2012 to 2019. To be fair, almost nothing can equal Seinfeld’s imprint, but in the absence of another true breakout (like, say, Louis-Dreyfus’s Veep or Seinfeld creator Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm) Jerry Seinfeld, the person, has more interest among fans than his current creative works. What he says offstage matters, and what he’s saying feels indicative of how insulated decades of fame and wealth have made him. He isn’t on top of the cultural conversation. He became famous well before the social media age, and he hasn’t had to contend with the two-way communication celebrities are forced to be in with their fans today. It’s reminiscent of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who has tainted her legacy with a campaign of transphobic hate, all while depicting her justifiably upset critics as an angry mob. Like Rowling, Seinfeld’s current politics are intruding on fans’ enjoyment of his past and present work. Like Rowling, Seinfeld’s doubling down on his anti-woke opinions has metastasized into other revanchist takes, like the desire to return to an outmoded, Mad Men-era masculinity. And like Rowling and other tarnished popular figures such as Elon Musk, Seinfeld doesn’t seem prepared to handle online discourse and criticism. It seems self-evident that Seinfeld's angst isn’t about” or even the deterioration of some kind of cultural order, but rather what happens when politics get in the way of his relationship with the audience. Seinfeld wouldn’t be the first person who wanted to divorce his celebrity from his personal politics. In a previous era of comedy or celebrity, that wouldn’t have mattered; but today’s cultural and political climates aren’t extricable from each other — a reality famous people often seem unwilling or unable to grasp. For some in the audience, separating Seinfeld the comedian from Seinfeld the tacit supporter of the Israeli government just isn’t possible — not when that government has conducted a horrific offensive that has led to the loss of tens of thousands of civilian lives and what my colleague Zack Beauchamp has called “a humanitarian nightmare on an unimaginable scale.” Seinfeld’s thoughts on gender and tradition only add to the confusion about his current persona, so at odds with the one he spent decades cultivating. Seinfeld clearly thinks his opinion shouldn’t matter much; after all, he’s just one late-career standup guy. But the audience is paying more attention than ever to personal opinions, and as the master of inconsequential comedy, he should know better than anyone how much the tiny things can matter. Correction, June 14, 11:50 am ET: A previous version of this story misstated the timing of Seinfeld’s visit to a military training camp in the occupied West Bank. That visit happened in 2018.