Jerry Seinfeld: Classic Jokes Can't Survive Today's 'P.C. Crap'

Exploring the evolving boundaries of comedy in television

by Zain ul Abedin
Jerry Seinfeld: Classic Jokes Can't Survive Today's 'P.C. Crap'
© Mat Hayward/Getty Images

Jerry Seinfeld, at 70, has raised concerns about the constraints of political correctness on comedy today, suggesting that some of his most memorable jokes from the "Seinfeld" era would not be acceptable in the current cultural climate.

Speaking with The New Yorker, Seinfeld reflected on how the evolving political landscape has significantly stifled the creativity of many television comedians, a change he attributes to what he terms "P.C. crap" and excessive fear of offending.

During the peak of his show's success, audiences regularly tuned in for a laugh, expecting nightly entertainment filled with humour. "You just expected, there’ll be some funny stuff we can watch on TV tonight. Well, guess what — where is it?" Seinfeld questioned, highlighting a noticeable decline in comedy that resonates with the masses.

According to him, this shift results from the extreme left's influence, prioritising not offending over comedic value. Unlike television writers who face multiple layers of scrutiny before a joke can reach the audience, stand-up comedians operate more freely, Seinfeld explained.

They receive immediate feedback from their audience and adjust their performances accordingly. "The audience polices us," he stated, emphasizing the direct feedback mechanism that guides stand-up routines as opposed to scripted comedy, which is often diluted by committee decisions and network edits.

Comedy and Constraints

Seinfeld also commented on his long-time collaborator, Larry David, and his ability to bypass these modern constraints in his HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," attributing it to David's established career pre-dating these norms.

He described David as "grandfathered in," allowing him more leeway with his content. Reflecting on past episodes of "Seinfeld," he recalled storylines that would likely be deemed inappropriate today, such as an episode where a character starts a rickshaw business using homeless people.

Seinfeld acknowledged that while such a joke made it to air in the 1990s, today's sensitivities would require a different approach, focusing on crafting humour that does not rely on potentially offensive stereotypes. The conversation with Seinfeld also touched on the broader implications for the genre, noting a worrying trend in network television where comedies are being sidelined.

"There were no sitcoms picked up on the fall season of all four networks. Not one. No new sitcoms," he lamented, suggesting a shift away from traditional comedic formats toward more cautious, less controversial content.