kottke.org posts about seinfeld
Even though I was one of the (relative) few to watch the first episode when it originally aired,1 I had forgotten how weird the pilot for Seinfeld was. The theme music is completely different, Michael Richards’ character is called “Kessler” (because the network had legal concerns related to Larry David’s real-life neighbor, Kenny Kramer, on whom the character was based), and Elaine2 neither appears or is mentioned. Oh, and the first season was only five episodes long (NBC was very skeptical about the show) and both Steve Buscemi and David Alan Grier auditioned for the role of George.
Update: Well, that got taken down from Vimeo fairly quickly. You can still watch the pilot on Hulu.
This 90s TV interview with Seinfeld theme song composer Jonathan Wolff is more interesting than you’d think. He talks through how he matched the theme to Jerry’s standup delivery tempo and how each episode’s song had to be customized the match the pacing of Jerry’s particular monologue that week. (via digg, which is particularly good today)
Update: The Sideshow podcast featured Wolff on an episode last year.
The show’s producers were having difficulty finding music that wouldn’t overpower the comedian’s opening routines. “Jerry, you’ve already given me the melody and theme,” Wolff told Seinfeld. “My job is going to be to support you and the organic nature of your voice.” Wolff sampled his own mouth noises and slapped some funky bass over it and the rest is history. He built the theme to be manipulated - the rhythm of the mouth pops, shakers, and bass notes changed ever so slightly to fit the different monologues that opened every show.
Update: Here’s a recent video about Wolff and how the Seinfeld theme came to be.
Of course the network hated the song. Of course.
In 2009, Curb Your Enthusiasm centered on Larry David doing another season of Seinfeld. The four main Seinfeld stars (plus Newman) were all on the show, in character. From the various clips and bits shown, Topher Grace edited together a nine-minute “missing” Seinfeld episode. It’s actually pretty good. I didn’t know how much I’d missed the show until I watched this. (thx, greg)
If you recut the scenes from seasons seven & eight of Seinfeld to emphasize certain aspects of Susan’s death-by-envelope, you get a feel-good TV movie about George Costanza, a man who finds triumph in the midst of tragedy.
Her death takes place in the shadow of new life; she’s not really dead if we find a way to remember her.
That’s it. That’s the joke.
Translating episodes of Seinfeld (and other sitcoms that rely on wordplay) is not an easy task. The Verge’s Jennifer Armstrong has a piece that focuses mostly on the struggle to translate Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer’s antics for a German audience.
Seinfeld’s Jewish references posed a unique challenge: as Sebastian explained, “The Germans have a certain you-know-what with the Jewish.” Her editor was worried about some of Seinfeld’s Jewish jokes. “We better not say it like that,” she remembered her editor saying, “because the Germans may be offended.” She added later, recalling the incident to me, “They should be offended, in my understanding. They did it!”
Sebastian appreciated Seinfeld’s direct approach to Jewish history. She wanted to use jokes in direct translation, but the editor wouldn’t let her. She lost several battles. It was a fine line: Der Suppen-Nazi? Sure. Subtle reference to an uncle who survived a concentration camp? Not so fast. An entire episode based on George being mistaken for a neo-Nazi was problematic. So were references to the TV miniseries Holocaust and the film Schindler’s List. Take Elaine’s voiceover narration in “The Subway” episode when her train gets stuck: “We are in a cage. … Oh, I can’t breathe, I feel faint. Take it easy, it’ll start moving soon. Think about the people in the concentration camps, what they went through.”
Artist JK Keller has digitally widened1 episodes of The Simpsons and Seinfeld to fit a 16:9 HD aspect ratio. Watching the altered scenes is trippy…the characters and their surroundings randomly expand and contract as the scenes play out.
Keller also HD-ified an episode of the X-Files and slimmed an old episode of Star Trek into a vertical aspect ratio. (via @frank_chimero)
Scenes from Seinfeld can help illustrate economic concepts like incentives, thinking at the margin, and common resources. For instance, in The Strike from season nine (the episode that popularized Festivus), Elaine angles for a free sandwich:
Elaine has eaten 23 bad sub sandwiches, and if she eats a 24th, she’ll get one free. She is determined to do it, even though Jerry advises her to ignore sunk costs and walk away.
See also the economics of The Simpsons.
Jerry Seinfeld did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) at Reddit yesterday. His answers are real, and they’re spectacular.
Q: Where did the idea of, in Seinfeld, your character being a comedian for a profession, but be the straight man for your friends, come from? I always thought that juxtapositioning for the show was genius.
A: Very good observation and analysis on your part, Baxter. You are truly exhibiting a good comedic eye. The reason I would play straight was it was funnier for the scene. And very few people have ever remarked on this, because it was a conscious choice of mine, only because I knew it would make the show better, and I didn’t care who was funny as long as somebody was funny and that the show was funny. So you have hit upon one of the great secret weapons of the Seinfeld series, was that I had no issue with that.
I have seen every episode of the show at least twice and never realized this. Gold, Jerry! Gold!
ps. Favorite episode of Seinfeld? Aside from the nearly perfect The Contest, I’ll go with The Marine Biologist. If I ever decide to be an actor, my audition tape will be me telling George’s whale rescue story:
If you slow down the Seinfeld theme by 1200%, it sounds like the soundtrack to a bad 80s sci-fi movie.
You may also enjoy Justin Bieber at 800% slower.
Photographer Richard Prince took photographs of the 57 girlfriends Jerry Seinfeld had on the show and turned it in to the below composite.
See also Jason Salavon’s work. (via @sippey)
Update: Max points out I may have misread the article and these 57 girlfriends are not necessarily Jerry’s only. Supporting this is Sarah Silverman’s inclusion in the composite even though she’s was a love interest of Kramer’s.
A list of the most New York episodes of Seinfeld.
4. “The Rye” (Season 7, Episode 11)
This episode’s titular breadstuff-which Jerry steals from an old lady who refuses to sell it to him, even for 50 bucks-supposedly comes from Schnitzer’s, a great New York bakery name if we’ve ever heard one. The real place was called Royale Kosher Bake Shop. Unfortunately, it’s now closed. A Jenny Craig branch stands in its place at 237 W. 72nd St. Also in this episode: Kramer leads Beef-a-Reno-fueled hansom cab rides through Central Park. His skills as a tour guide are questionable, though, as his historical “facts” are impressively inaccurate. For example, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux-not former New York Yankee Joe Pepitone-designed the park.
Already good, Seinfeld got 100 times better when I moved to NYC and got 10 more of the jokes per episode.
If you’re anything like me, you take things like 34 People You Probably Didn’t Know Were On Seinfeld as a challenge. It’s been awhile, but I’ve seen every episode of that show (most of them at least twice) so I thought this would be easy but I totally had forgotten or didn’t realize that Jon Favreau, Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet, Denise Richards, and James Spader were on the show. Guess I’m not the Seinfeld fan I thought I was.
Jerry Seinfeld seemingly wore a different pair of sneakers (mostly Nikes) on his TV show each week…here are 50 pages of analysis of Jerry’s shoe choices. For 90s athletic shoe and Seinfeld superfans only. (via @cory_arcangel)
Dozens of scenes from Seinfeld used to explain economic concepts. For instance, in an episode from season five:
George thinks he has been offered a job, but the man offering it to him got interrupted in the middle of the offer, and will be on vacation for the next week. George, unsure whether an offer has actually been extended, decides that his best strategy is to show up. If the job was indeed his, this is the right move. But even if the job is not, he believes that the benefits outweigh the costs.
Economic concepts touched on: cost-benefit analysis, dominant strategy, and game theory. (via what i learned today)
Noted food scientist Harold McGee takes a look at the microbiological consequences of double dipping a chip into a bowl of dip.
Prof. Paul L. Dawson, a food microbiologist, proposed it after he saw a rerun of a 1993 “Seinfeld” show in which George Costanza is confronted at a funeral reception by Timmy, his girlfriend’s brother, after dipping the same chip twice.
Patrick Pittman makes a good case for Homicide: Life on the Streets being the best TV show ever. I loved Homicide and am convinced it would have found a great audience in this age of TiVo and quick-to-DVD (it was a difficult show to catch on Friday nights). Re: best TV ever, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and M*A*S*H have to be near the top of the list…what are your favorites?