Last night on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Jerry Seinfeld fielded a question about whether there are too many lines he can’t cross in our current social climate — basically, does comedy suffer because of an eternally shifting culture? And here’s what he had to say:
To sum up: Jerry Seinfeld is upset that he can’t make, among other things, gay jokes anymore. That a vast swath of people — a decent portion of which make up his audience — don’t want to be the target of his humor. And the rest of us have agreed.
Apparently, we’ve taken something about from the richest actor in the world. (Thanks to the fat syndication deal that Seinfeld made, he’s worth north of $800 million.) We’ve forced him to evolve along with the rest of us. To find new funny. And he doesn’t want to have to.
Comedy is, by it’s very essence, a social barometer. A good comedian will look at the world around him and notice that thing no one else will, twist it, and make an audience examine it in a way they’d never thought to. Great comedy will find ways to highlight those truths and make them universal and eternal.
Good comedy all too often finds itself on the wrong side of history. Much of Eddie Murphy’s recorded standup is brilliant, but the virulent strain of homophobia coursing through it makes it painful to watch with 21st century eyes.
Is there genius at work? Undoubtedly. But no one will be trucking Delirious out 50 years from now the way people will always return to Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner’s “2,000 Year Old Man” or George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words.”
Orson Welles once said that the enemy of art is the absence of limitations. Constraints are what exert pressure, and pressure is what creates jewels. Maybe, just maybe, Seinfeld already has too many jewels. Maybe he’s forgotten that comedians are supposed to punch up, and not down.
And maybe he’s forgotten that great comedy isn’t supposed to be easy. And if you have to work a little harder, you work a little harder. Eye of the tiger, Jerry.
Marc Bernardin is the Deputy Editor of Playboy.com.