What Seinfeld Taught Us About Embracing the Humor of Everyday Life (and Transcending Selfishness)

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– By Sam Hendrian –

Too tired to watch a whole movie at the end of a long day, the father and son sit down to enjoy a couple half-hour reruns of Seinfeld, sharing many a hearty laugh before it is time to hit the sack. The next morning, their laughter may continue as they gleefully reference the antics of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer while the rest of their family observes with confused expressions on their faces. As the day progresses, the stress of everyday life and chats about college finances may temporarily wipe the smiles off their faces, but when it comes time for the son to leave home again, it is the laughter that they will most strongly remember.

I may not have been alive when Seinfeld first aired thirty years ago, but I cannot help but feel a personal connection to it, as it has been the source of countless priceless moments with my father. “Look to the cookie, Elaine!” “Is anyone here a marine biologist?” “These pretzels are making me thirsty!” “Top of the muffin to you!” Just a brief mention of one of these iconic phrases is enough to send the two of us into hysterics.

The show has definitely stood the test of time, perhaps because of its knack for finding joyous humor in the mundane, something we all probably wish we could be better at. It is also a brilliant satire on human selfishness, regaling us with characters simultaneously likable and terrible, all the while challenging us to rise above mere mediocrity.

What is a black-and-white cookie to you? A tasty dessert, or a timely metaphor about racial harmony? Who knew that making a slightly-pointed dentist joke could classify you as a rabid anti-dentite? Did you realize that being seen eating a chocolate bar with a knife and fork could start a radical new cultural trend, or that doing the exact opposite of your daily routine could radically change your life? Seinfeld addresses these seemingly dull/random questions in such hilarious ways that they have become part of the zeitgeist, a reminder that even a boring day can be made interesting with just the right dosage of imagination and absurdity.

Of course, the last episode of Seinfeld, in which the four leading characters are given a prison sentence for passively mocking a man while he is getting mugged, is wildly controversial, some saying that it spoils the spirit of the whole show. I, however, have always disagreed with this assessment and think the final episode is an astutely funny and fair conclusion. As warmly amusing as Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer are, it is hard to ignore the selfishness and blatant disregard for other people that they demonstrate throughout the series.

Jerry mugging an elderly woman for a piece of marble rye bread. Elaine hearing that her boyfriend is in the hospital and then stopping to buy candy for herself before rushing over to see him. George’s “restrained jubilation” when he hears that his fiancee has suddenly died from licking cheap wedding envelopes. Kramer punishing an intern for an accident he himself was responsible for. The contest to see who of the four can go the longest without gratifying themselves. Although undeniably funny, these scenarios point to a serious lack of altruism and self-denial present within the characters’ souls, which perhaps explains why none of them end up in a happy, long-lasting romantic relationship. By having them go to jail in the final episode, show creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld were perhaps warning us against the dangers of a selfish lifestyle, a fate we all can fall into if we let rote routine/creature comforts be our master rather than just a visiting friend.

Now, I will admit that it is not likely that people primarily watch reruns of Seinfeld so that they can reflect on the human condition. At the end of the day, it is still mainly a silly comedy “about nothing,” the word “nothing” implying the day-to-day actions we do but rarely think much about. My dad used to joke that there is a Seinfeld episode for everything, and this is often proven to be true. Ever been disgusted by someone double-dipping a chip? There’s a Seinfeld episode for that. How about waiting forever to be seated at a restaurant, getting lost in a parking garage, having to go to the bathroom on a plane when the person next to you is sleeping, or abbreviating the details of a conversation with “yada yada yada?” There are Seinfeld episodes for those situations and many others too.

I will always be deeply grateful to Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David for creating a show that has brought my dad and I closer together over the years. To quote a certain Wilderness Explorer from my all-time favorite movie: “I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember most.” Sitting on a worn-out living room couch, our laughter carrying upstairs to my sleeping mother’s bedroom… well, I suspect not even the greatest life adventures will hold an equally special place in my heart.


About the Author

Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing an emphasis in Directing.

For more articles by Sam, click here.

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