It was the sitcom that was ahead of its time. But was it cursed when it ended, asks Noelle McCarthy
WHEN Jerry Seinfeld plays his first stand up gig in this country in the O2 on Sunday he will be master of his domain. In the broadest sense of the words obviously, because he’s an accomplished comedian, but also in the infinitely funnier, Seinfeldian meaning of the phrase.
Those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about should google ‘The Contest.’ It’s the most famous episode of the legendary show that not only made Jerry Seinfeld a pile of money, but secured his place in history. Seinfeld was a sitcom about a comedian called Jerry Seinfeld, created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.
Jerry lived in New York with his three manic, hyper-articulate friends; George, Elaine and Kramer.
The show followed them as they went about their daily business, doing nothing special mostly; hanging out around in Jerry’s apartment, complaining about their many enemies, ordering soup. Yadda Yadda Yadda.
So embedded now are its many catchphrases that 13 years later it’s easy to forget, when the show first started, there was nothing like it on TV. Seinfeld was the first show where people just stood there and talked, basically. Only Seinfeld had a whole episode about waiting for a table in a restaurant.
And no other sitcom before it had dared to have such unlikeable characters. Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer were quirky, but not always in a good way. They were amusingly idiosyncratic, but also neurotic, venal, selfish, one-eyed and insecure. ‘No hugging, no learning’ was the motto of the show. The characters were there to be funny, not to become better individuals. This makes sense, when you watch some of Seinfeld’s edgier stand-up, or co-creator Larry David’s follow-up series, Curb Your Enthusiasm, the spiky absurdism of which makes Seinfeld look positively cuddly.
Today we’re used to our humour with a side of discomfort, but a good ten years before The Office, Seinfeld was the vanguard of slightly uncomfortable, observational farce. So successfully were its stars presented as ridiculous, grasping little schemers, it’s hardly surprising that once the show ended, rumours started about a Seinfeld Curse.
The Curse centred around the performers who played Seinfeld’s three friends. The show finished in a blaze of glory in 1998, despite reports that NBC had offered Jerry Seinfeld $5m an episode to carry it on. He refused, and Seinfeld ended, aptly, with the four main characters being sentenced to jail. Michael Richards, who played crazy-haired Kramer was the first actor to announce a solo project.The Michael Richards show went to air in 2000. It lasted 9 episodes and was roundly panned.
Then Jason Alexander’s new sitcom Bob Patterson was scrapped after just five episodes and the first whispers of a curse were heard. They only got louder when his next vechicle, Listen Up! bombed as well. Julia Louis Dreyfus’ first solo show, Watching Ellie, lasted longer than her co-stars but was still scrapped after two seasons. The curse became a fact, much to Larry David’s chagrin. He berated one journalist who asked him if he believed in it. ‘It’s the most absurd, silliest, stupidest thing’.
Tell that to Kramer. Michael Richards hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2006. A failed sitcom became the least of his worries when he was caught on tape showering a heckler with racist abuse. Richards was pilloried when the tape was leaked. He retired from stand-up completely soon after.
It’s probably likely that Richards’ fate owed more to his unfortunate tendencies than to a curse. And Louis-Dreyfus wasn’t long putting the whole thing to rest with a new hit comedy. She yelled ‘Curse This! ‘ with her statue aloft when she won an Emmy for her role in The New Adventures of Old Christine. Christine is old news now, but all indications are that Dreyfus has a new hit on her hands with her latest show, political comedy Veep which airs here this summer.
And Jason Alexander may not have made it as a sitcom star, but he’s featured regularly in a variety of guest slots on everything from Criminal Minds to Friends. He’s also been doing his bit to kill the curse with a series of ads for Jenny Craig weight loss, and a win of $250,000 on a celebrity episode of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. Nice work if you can get it. Curse? What curse?
As for Jerry Seinfeld, he made so much money off the show, he need never work again. And he hasn’t really, unless you count Bee Movie, and a guest slot on 30 Rock. Inexplicably, though, he recently dabbled in reality TV. The Marriage Ref featured stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Seinfeld himself, and er, Madonna giving dysfunctional couples marraige advice, and was as bad as it sounds. It lasted just two series before dying a death. Proof possibly, that Dreyfus excepted, the Seinfeld Curse is alive and well? Or maybe just proof that Seinfeld forgot his own mantra. ‘No hugging, no learning’ You’d think Jerry, of all people, would know it’s always more fun that way.
* Jerry Seinfeld is at the O2, Dublin, on Sunday, May 13
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