Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld in Bee Movie

Jerry Seinfeld in “Bee Movie”

With “Seinfeld” still going strong after its amazing run on broadcast television and then in reruns, on DVD and now on streaming, Jerry Seinfeld has established himself as a comedy icon.

Born in 1954 in New York City (where else?), Jerry Seinfeld began hitting the New York comedy scene immediately after graduating from Queens College. With a work ethic that later made him something of a legend among fellow comedians, he developed his style of “didja ever notice…?” observational comedy through years of dues paying gigs, to eventually appearing on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, to getting hired, (and quickly fired) as a regular on the sitcom “Benson,” to more years of on-the-road stand-up. With all the touring, he gathered material where he found it, so airlines and hotels became frequent subjects. (One favorite: “What’s with this weird hotel custom of leaving a piece of chocolate on the pillow? I awoke thinking my brain had hemorrhaged some sort of fecal matter.”)

In the late eighties, Jerry was approached with what most comics view as the ultimate brass ring: his own situation comedy. Jerry, however, was not interested in making an ordinary sitcom, and so he partnered with then little-known writer and comedian Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and created the famed premise of “Seinfeld”: a show “about nothing,” which meant that the plots would be about matters that most people would consider trivial. Press coverage invariably mentioned the show’s motto: “no hugs, no learning.” A cast of three experienced thespians was brought in to allow non-actor Jerry to behave as something of a straight man to his more overtly comedic friends, played by Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards. The formula eventually jelled and the show grew from initially poor ratings on its four-episode 1989 debut, into a smallish cult phenomenon, and then into a full-fledged cultural milestone. True to its concept, Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer became increasingly selfish, neurotic, and venal as the show wore on and everyone seemed to love them anyway while certain episodes became comedy legends and catchphrases abounded. “The Soup Nazi” spurred at least one actual line of soup, and offended an actual New York soup purveyor known for his arbitrary wrath, and “The Bet” made the phrase “master of my domain” synonymous with refraining from sexual self-pleasure.

As the profile of “Seinfeld” grew wildly, so did the earnings of everyone involved. Still, Jerry, who never stopped doing stand-up, decided to wind it up in 1998. The finale was one of the most watched and written about episodes in television history and, inevitably, disappointed nearly everyone. (Maybe we wanted hugs and learning.) That was followed by another kind of finale, “I’m Telling You for the Last Time,” an HBO special in which Jerry ceremonially retired his stand-up material. It felt like a farewell.

Still, Jerry remained in the spotlight in a less welcome way. He had caught the attention of gossipmongers in 1993 when he began dating Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss, a stunning 17-year-old who was still completing high school. Now, a new relationship with Jessica Sklar, the extremely recent bride of producer Eric Nederlander, was generating its share of breathless press. A divorce for Jessica came quickly and the pair was quickly married in 1999. Sascha Seinfeld, the first of the couple’s three children, was born the following year.

Jerry took a break, but he wasn’t gone for long and his return to the road was documented in 2002’s “Comedian.” In addition, he’s made numerous television guest appearances and several commercials. He has also written a children’s book, “Halloween,” and may or may not have penned a series of prank letters (later collected in books), one of which reportedly angered the late gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson. And finally, he was persuaded by no less than Steven Spielberg to step back into the big media limelight with “Bee Movie.” Regardless of what happens next, it’s safe to say that he’ll always be a stand-up first. As he told the New York Times: “That’s all I can do. That’s what a comedian is. Our thing is not disappearing into other characters. It’s being this character that you are.”

Unfortunately, “Bee Movie” was a hot mess. But over the years he has stuck with stand-up comedy in between time with his family and created a show for Netflix.

Jerry on the Screen

Early on in the run of “Seinfeld,” Jerry’s acting skills were an oft-cited weak spot. While he’ll never be Montgomery Clift, he improved considerably during the run of the show and eventually developed a likable, somewhat over-the-top comic acting style. A favorite moment of ours is a parody of a scene from Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” in which Jerry, Kramer and malicious mailman Newman (Wayne Knight) recreate an incident involving an alleged spit-wad propelled by former Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez at a jeering Kramer and Newman. Jerry’s deadpan, stentorian defense of Hernandez as he pontificates on a “magic loogey” and a “second spitter” in the “gravelly pit” is a nicely over-the-top example of laugh-inducing silliness.

Jerry Says

On gifts:
“Why do people give each other flowers? To celebrate various important occasions, they’re killing living creatures? Why restrict it to plants? ‘Sweetheart, let’s make up. Have this deceased squirrel.’”

On “family entertainment”:
“There is no such thing as ‘fun for the whole family.’”

On vehicular matters:
“How come you have to pay someone to rotate your tires? Isn’t that the basic idea behind the wheel? Don’t they rotate on their own?”

On men and women:
“Men want the same thing from women that they want from their underwear… a little support, comfort, and freedom.”

On men’s magazines:
“There’s very little advice in men’s magazines, because men think, ‘I know what I’m doing. Just show me somebody naked.’”

On reproduction:
“It’s like getting ready for your own birth. Nothing prepares you … When those eyes meet your eyes – I was feeling things I never had feelings like before. I never loved anyone so much at first meeting. I love her so much! But, let’s make no mistake why these babies come here: to replace us. Their first words are ‘Mama,’ ‘Dada’ and ‘Bye-bye.’ We’ll see who’s wearing the diapers when this is all over.”