One of the cleanest comedians of the past thirty years has now found himself thrust into the spotlight in the debate about comedy and political correctness. Jerry Seinfeld appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers last night, and ended up getting into a discussion about PC culture with Meyers and fellow guest David Remnick. Watch it below.
"They keep moving the lines in for no reason," Seinfeld said. "I do this joke about the way people need to justify their cell phone. 'I need to have it with me because people are so important.' I say, 'They don’t seem very important, the way you scroll through them like a gay French king.'" After doing an exaggerated hand gesture, he continued: "I did this line recently in front of an audience...and comedy is where you can feel an opinion. And they thought, ‘What do you mean gay? What are you talking about gay? What are you doing? What do you mean?’ I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
"I could imagine a time where people would say, 'that’s offensive to suggest that a gay person moves their hands in a flourishing notion, and you need to apologize,'" Seinfeld said. "There’s a creepy, PC thing out there that really bothers me."
He also discussed Seinfeld going to Hulu in another segment of the show, noting, "Anytime you get a lot of money and you don't have to do anything, that's great." Watch that below.
Seinfeld's comments about PC culture come a few days after he talked about not playing college, and what he perceives as the heightened sensitivity of younger people: "I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC,'" Seinfeld said to ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd last week.
He offered an anecdote about his 14-year-old daughter as proof:
My wife says to her, ‘Well, you know, in the next couple years, I think maybe you’re going to want to be hanging around the city more on the weekends, so you can see boys.’ You know what my daughter says? She says, ‘That’s sexist.’ They just want to use these words. ‘That’s racist.’ ‘That’s sexist.’ ‘That’s prejudiced.’ They don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.
AO Scott wrote an interesting essay on Friday that didn't directly address Seinfeld, but covered much of the ground he was talking about:
Fighting about what is or isn’t funny is our way of talking about fairness, inclusion and responsibility. Who is allowed to tell a joke, and at whose expense? Who is supposed to laugh at it? Can a man tell a rape joke? Can a woman? Do gay, black or Jewish comedians — or any others belonging to oppressed, marginalized or misunderstood social groups, or white ones for that matter — have the exclusive right to make fun of their own kind, or do they need to be careful, too? It’s pretty clear that these questions are not only about what happens on television or in front of a brick wall under a spotlight.
Ben Schwartz in turn had a response piece that addressed both Scott and Seinfeld for The Baffler:
Comedy is more often than not a populist business, so why are we surprised when the response it engenders in its audience is equally populist? What we could use is a better vocabulary to criticize and answer comedians. Is every comment about race, gender, or sexuality we don’t agree with a sure sign the comedian is a racist or bigot whose career needs to end? While watching a comedian in a club, do we really need to shout them down in the middle of a set because we fear that it’s heading somewhere that we won’t like? In short, a little patience, a little of the tolerance we insist that our comedians demonstrate, would be welcome from the audience, too.
Regardless of how you feel about comedy, which in my humble opinion will generally come down to a matter of subjectivity (you can't make an audience find a joke funny, you can't stop an audience from feeling offended, comedy hits people in completely different ways, the boundaries of what is 'good taste' is constantly shifting with the culture, etc), this whole argument is overshadowing the biggest mistake Seinfeld made this week: inadvertently convincing Hugh Jackman to hang up the claws and retire from being Wolverine. "But I don't wanna be an adamantium-laced mutant!" Jackman could be heard practicing in a mirror.
If you need a chaser after all this comedy shop talk, then watch Larry David and Jason Alexander doing their thing on The Tonight Show this week: