Jerry Seinfeld is a very wealthy man, and he can thank a show about ‘nothing’ for his millions.
The New York native’s rise to superstardom isn’t unique, but his current status as comedy’s beloved elder statesman is. And that deserves attention.
The now-68-year-old did it the old-fashioned way, without family ties, gimmicks or scandals. He might be the most universally adored comic at a time when everyone has a scalding hot take against the Hollywood elite.
Seinfeld’s story began, where else, in the greater New York area. The young Seinfeld honed his craft in clubs like Catch a Rising Star, although the raw comic needed a nip of liquid courage before his very first gig back in 1976.
He kept working, deepening his observations to the tiniest details, hearkening back to the comedy morsels he devoured as a child to guide his path. Think classic comedy albums from Alan King and Robert Klein, spiced by watching the pros crack wise on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
The comedian picked the right time to embrace stand-up. Comedy clubs flowered in the 1980s, and as the decade wore on network executives plucked the best of the best and gave them sitcoms all their own.
Right as that trend was taking root, Seinfeld landed a coveted spot on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” circa 1981, and his comedy career began to bloom. He spent the better part of the Reagan decade defining a style that differed from his stand-up peers.
Seinfeld didn’t get his hands dirty with political yuks like George Carlin or Bill Hicks. Nor did he ape the bawdy tactics of Sam Kinison or Andrew “Dice” Clay, the decade’s comedy giants. He kept his commentary clean, leaning on the signature crack in his voice for grand comic effect.
No props. No wacky voices or impressions. Just … funny observations everyone could understand.
By the late 1980s he was at the top of his craft, which explains why NBC began courting him for a sitcom all his own.
The show’s pilot, dubbed “The Seinfeld Chronicles,” didn’t become an instant smash. Far from it. Still, something clicked within the NBC inner chambers and the Peacock Network dubbed the show “Seinfeld” and gave it a four-episode commitment, giving him and co-creator Larry David the second chance they deserved.
That’s all the show needed. That, of course, and adding a fourth member of the troupe established in the pilot – Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss).
The rest is TV history. The show ran for nine seasons, ending not due to any creative or ratings decline but because Seinfeld felt it was time to move on. That, plus the show’s ability to eschew pop culture touchstones that might date the storylines, give the series a timeless quality.
We still use the show’s catch phrases, from “yada yada yada” to “not that there’s anything wrong with that…”
Who knew a show about nothing could become arguably TV’s best sitcom?
Seinfeld didn’t hang up his mic once the series ended, even though it made him fabulously wealthy. Celebrity Net Worth says he’s worth a cool $950 million.
He took his sweet time between projects, from the animated “Bee Movie” (2007) to multiple Netflix stand-up specials. His folksy “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” found him lounging with fellow comics for hilarious chats that didn’t follow any set formula. We were all flies on the wall, catching every last drop (and quip).
Seinfeld’s aggressively apolitical bent has served him well through the years. He avoids culture war battles and finds passionate fans across the ideological spectrum. That’s true both on, and off, the stage.
A wise movie character once said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” And for Seinfeld it’s political yuks. “I’m not good at it. And I don’t like “we agree” applause. As a comedian, I don’t think that’s fun to get. I like it when people just laugh.”
The only time he generated headlines for something that didn’t involve his comedy? An off-handed comment in 2015 about his decision to stop playing college campuses.
“I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC. … They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s sexist;’ ‘That’s prejudice. They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”
Even more refreshing? Seinfeld isn’t apologizing for “Seinfeld” at a time when artists are being attacked for their past work. “Friends” is the perfect example. Woke critics have slammed the NBC sensation for not being diverse enough and dabbling in problematic comedy (like Fat Monica jokes).
“Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman cut a $4 million check to fund the Marta F. Kauffman ‘78 Professorship in African and African American Studies at Brandeis University to assuage her guilt.
“Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago.”
Seinfeld doesn’t engage with such trifles. He
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