Jerry Seinfeld on the Rules of Comedy—and Life

The first episode of Seinfeld aired in 1989. Thirty-five years later, the show remains at the apex of American culture. People speak in Seinfeld-isms, they flirt on dating apps over…

The first episode of Seinfeld aired in 1989. Thirty-five years later, the show remains at the apex of American culture. People speak in Seinfeld-isms, they flirt on dating apps over Seinfeld, they rewatch old episodes of Seinfeld when they’re feeling down. And, in the case of the Weiss family, Lou still watches it every night from 11 pm to 12 am on the local Pittsburgh station before he goes to sleep. People around the world even learn English watching Seinfeld!

It is not hyperbole to say that Seinfeld is one of the most influential shows of all time.

Seinfeld was supposedly a show about nothing, but that’s what made it so universal. Everyone can relate to trying to find your car in a parking garage. Everyone knows the feeling when their book is overdue at the library and they don’t want to pay the overdue fee. Everyone can relate to the frustration of waiting for a table at a restaurant. If you didn’t—or don’t—laugh during Seinfeld, something was wrong with you

All of which is why it was a bit strange and unexpected when a few months ago Jerry Seinfeld suddenly became “controversial.” In early October, Jerry—along with 700 other Hollywood stars—signed a letter condemning Hamas and calling for the return of the hostages. For that crime—the crime of saying terrorism is bad and innocent people should be released—crowds started protesting the events he was attending, the speeches he was giving, and heckling him in public.

A few weeks ago, when Jerry gave the commencement address at Duke University, some students walked out in protest. Then, his standup set was disrupted by protesters, to which Seinfeld quipped: “I love a little Jew-hate to spice up the show.” The crowd applauded.

Jerry Seinfeld made the most successful show about a Jew to ever exist. This was no small feat. In fact, one NBC executive, after watching the Seinfeld pilot for the first time in 1989, didn’t think it should even go to air. He said it was “too New York and too Jewish.”

And yet…it worked. And as Seinfeld spent years making Jewishness an iconic part of American pop culture, Jerry says he experienced not a drop of anti-Semitism.

But now, during a time that is supposed to be the most inclusive, the most sensitive, the most accepting, and the most tolerant time in human history, Jerry Seinfeld is targeted for being a Jew.

Jerry often says that the audience is everything. That’s the whole point of comedy. There is no joke if nobody laughs. But today on Honestly, we ask Jerry if he still trusts the audience in an age where the audience can start to feel like a mob?

You’ve probably heard or seen Jerry somewhere recently—from The New Yorker to GQ to… every podcast in the world. That’s because he has a new movie out called Unfrosted, which you should definitely go watch on Netflix. It’s hilarious, heartwarming, and you will love it.

But today’s conversation with Jerry is unlike the ones you’ve heard. He’s unfiltered. He’s emotional. And he’s speaking his mind.

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