Jerry Seinfeld’s media tour could’ve been a plot on ‘Seinfeld’

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Jerry Seinfeld has been everywhere, talking to just about everyone, on late-night shows and morning ones, on podcasts and in newspapers – proving that when you move around a minefield, you’re bound to step on mines.

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In the past two weeks, to promote his directorial debut “Unfrosted,” the 70-year-old comedian hit the media circuit with the vigor of a much younger man and the cantankerousness that fits his age.

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GQ? Obviously. “The Rich Eisen Show?” Uh, sure, why not. He and a coyote expert were the first guests on “Everybody’s in L.A.,” John Mulaney’s live talk show on Netflix, and you could tell Seinfeld was a little cranky about having to be everywhere. “This is the weirdest show I have ever been on in my life,” he told Mulaney.

The following night, he appeared on “Saturday Night Live” as “A Man Who Did Too Much Press.”

“I gotta stop,” Seinfeld said behind the “Weekend Update” desk. “I know I can’t undo all the press I’ve done, but I want to help other people.”

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His overexposure has been heightened by his complaints about political correctness, and his strident support for Israel as its military pummels Gaza. It’s a perfect storm of mild brouhaha – which is exactly how every episode of “Seinfeld” was constructed.

The sitcom’s brilliance came from the way seemingly disparate plotlines intersected. In one episode, George pretends to be a marine biologist to impress a woman, and Kramer takes up driving golf balls into the Hudson. The aha moment comes when they collide and George finds himself extracting a Titleist from the blowhole of a beached whale.

In a sense, that’s what’s happening with Seinfeld now: unconnected events connecting. Here’s how this real-life episode came together.

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The A plot: ‘Unfrosted’ hits Netflix

Everything that’s unfolded in the past few weeks is rooted in Seinfeld’s love of a sugary breakfast.

On May 3 he released a deeply silly Netflix movie about the creation of Pop-Tarts. “Unfrosted” stars several A-list comedians – including Jim Gaffigan, Bill Burr, Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy – alongside beloved actors like Hugh Grant and James Marsden.

The movie is a goofy lark, and it received tepid reviews from critics and audiences alike. Writing in The Washington Post, critic Ty Burr called it “ephemeral, edible, enjoyable, forgettable.” But it catapulted Seinfeld back into the conversation in a way that he hasn’t been since the ’90s.

After “Seinfeld” ended in 1998, the comedian had a blank check to do anything he wanted. As he told a clueless Larry King: “I was the number one show on television, Larry. Do you know who I am?”

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But he let his ’90s omnipresence wane. He focused on stand-up comedy and sitcom cameos: “30 Rock,” “Louie,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” His talk show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” pushed the spotlight onto his guests.

As for “Unfrosted,” Seinfeld claims that he “really didn’t want to do it,” as he told the Wrap in yet another interview.

The thing he didn’t want to do – but did anyway – then required him to do another thing he didn’t want to do, but did anyway: a media tour. This could’ve been the premise for a “Seinfeld” episode. And then the media tour itself thickened the plot.

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The B plot: Seinfeld gripes about ‘PC crap’

In a New Yorker podcast last month, David Remnick asked Seinfeld how he deals with the heavier things happening in the world – such as Gaza – while making comedy. It’s worth reading Seinfeld’s response in full:

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“Nothing really affects comedy. People always need it. They need it so badly and they don’t get it. It used to be, you would go home at the end of the day, most people would go, “Oh, ‘Cheers’ is on. Oh, ‘M.A.S.H.’ is on. Oh, ‘Mary Tyler Moore’ is on. ‘All in the Family’ is on.” You just expected, There’ll be some funny stuff we can watch on TV tonight. Well, guess what – where is it? This is the result of the extreme left and PC crap, and people worrying so much about offending other people. Now they’re going to see stand-up comics because we are not policed by anyone. The audience polices us. We know when we’re off track. We know instantly and we adjust to it instantly. But when you write a script and it goes into four or five different hands, committees, groups – “Here’s our thought about this joke.” Well, that’s the end of your comedy.”

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Prominent right-wing figures, including Sean Hannity, began tweeting the audio. Elon Musk added the caption “Make comedy legal again!”

John O’Hurley, the actor who played urbane clothier J. Peterman on “Seinfeld,” went on “Jesse Watters Primetime” to claim that “we have lost our ability to be silly.”

Others criticized Seinfeld’s argument that political correctness or “woke” culture is killing the sitcom, pointing to several shows that are popular in part because of their vulgarity, such as “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Archer” and two by “Seinfeld” vets: “Veep” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Sitcoms aren’t the populist art form they were when the “Seinfeld” finale attracted 76 million viewers. But, as NPR TV critic Eric Deggans tweeted, that’s probably not because writers are afraid to make politically incorrect jokes: “Network TV isn’t spending money on scripted shows. The TV audience isn’t interested in old school sitcoms. There’s lots of other possible reasons for why there aren’t as many sitcoms on network TV and no evidence that wokeness has killed anything.”

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Seinfeld has a history of griping about certain social standards forced upon him. In 2014, BuzzFeed asked Seinfeld about the fact that his guests on “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” were primarily White men.

“Oh, this really pisses me off. But go ahead. Really pisses me off.” Seinfeld said, adding: “Funny is the world that I live in. You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that.”

The next year, he said on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” that “there’s a creepy PC thing out there that really bothers me.”

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The C plot: Pro-Palestinian protests erupt

As the PC conversation died down, Seinfeld gave the commencement speech at Duke University on Sunday.

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The usually apolitical Seinfeld has been publicly pro-Israel since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. He’s signed an open letter in support of Israel. He visited Tel Aviv to meet with hostages’ families in December, and he’s posted several pro-Israel memes on Instagram. One caption reads, in part: “My heart is breaking from these attacks and atrocities. But we are also a very strong people in our hearts and minds. We believe in justice, freedom and equality. We survive and flourish no matter what. I will always stand with Israel and the Jewish people.”

In response, a few dozen students booed Seinfeld and chanted “Free, free Palestine” as he prepared to begin his speech. Then they filed out of the stadium.

Was it uncomfortable? Maybe for some people. Maybe even for Seinfeld, who declined to comment for this story. But in the speech he defended discomfort as an essential part of living.

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“The slightly uncomfortable feeling of awkward humor” is “not something you need to fix,” he told Duke graduates.

He added: “I totally admire the ambitions of your generation to create a more just and inclusive society. I think it is also wonderful that you care so much about not hurting other people’s feelings in the million and one ways we all do that.”

But he suggested there was a fine line between constant comity and humorlessness.

“Do not lose your sense of humor,” Seinfeld said. “You can have no idea at this point in your life how much you are going to need it to get through. Not enough of life makes sense for you to be able to survive it without humor.”

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The aha moment?

The critics weighed in. The protesters weighed in. The whole of social media weighed in. But this is Jerry Seinfeld. Those mines he stepped on exploded only with strawberry filling. “Unfrosted” has spent nearly two weeks as one of Netflix’s most-watched movies, according to the streaming service.

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Seinfeld has sworn he has no interest in making another film, or even recording another stand-up special. He just wants to tour, to do comedy, to continue making people slightly uncomfortable, and therefore to continue being slightly uncomfortable himself. He has around 40 stand-up dates upcoming, from Louisville to Perth, Australia.

Whatever he’s doing works for him, so why would he change? Maybe he’ll pull a Titleist out of a blowhole once in a while, but he doesn’t need to. As he told Duke’s graduating class: “I am 70. I am done.”

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