The Week in Comedy: Jerry Seinfeld's race rant is no laughing matter

 

Jerry Seinfeld is the world's most successful comedian. Thanks to Seinfeld, a sitcom about nothing that ran for a decade and is regularly named the best television show of all time, he is now worth an estimated $800m.

The last time he came to the UK, he sold out the O2 in minutes as fans scrapped over £100 tickets to see him talking into a microphone. He has a private jet, a few dozen vintage Porsches and could very easily never crack a joke again and still rake in a £20m salary from re-runs of "The Soup Nazi" and "The Yada Yada". It is not all about the money. Venerated, infallible, mysterious, his stand-up frequently compared to the sublime, he is the closest thing comedians – a heathen bunch – have to God.

Last week, he caused the internet to melt when it seemed that a Seinfeld reunion was imminent. He and Jason Alexander, aka George Costanza, had been spotted filming at their old diner. When it turned out on Sunday that the reunion was merely a two-minute Superbowl spot, advertising a six-minute episode of Seinfeld's internet show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, it did not matter. A cool 112 million watched Jerry and George bickering over party plans, debating "over-cheering" in sport, even having a passive-aggressive chat with Newman ("Hallo, NEWman").

The thing is, even when Seinfeld makes a pretty lame advert, fans tend to deconstruct it as a comedy tablet from on high. When he agreed to an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit last month, his answers were pored over for days. As a result, comedian or not, Seinfeld is not a man to say anything lightly. Much is made of how painstakingly he hones each joke over a matter of months, how he challenges himself to keep his act free of smut and swearing – the refuges of the lazy laugh-hound.

So his outburst this week is especially surprising. Asked why the vast majority of his guests over three series of Comedians in Cars... have been white males, he ranted. "Oh, this really pisses me off… People think it's the census or something, it's got to represent the actual pie chart of America. Who cares? It's just funny. 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… To me, it's anti-comedy… PC nonsense."

This has caused the kind of storm one might expect when a first-world, white, multi-millionaire male says that he does not care about gender or race. I do not think that Seinfeld is saying, as some have taken it, that if you are not white and male, you cannot be funny. His regular support act is the black stand-up Mario Joyner. Rather, he is saying that funny is funny, a variation on the famous "No hugging. No learning" creed to which he and Larry David stuck rigidly, gloriously, over nine seasons of Seinfeld. He has built a career out of mining the petty preoccupations and solipsism of New Yorkers just like himself. Diversity is not his shtick.

Still, in dismissing the issue out of hand, Seinfeld sounds a bum note. The debate around the lack of diversity on TV comedies is red hot. To take just two recent examples, when Saturday Night Live's Kenan Thompson said in October that there were no black female comedians on the show due to a lack of "ready" talent, the show's producers immediately held auditions and hired the excellent black actress Sasheer Zamata.

When Lena Dunham was criticised for her all-white vision of New York in the first series of Girls, she opened series two with a scene between Hannah and her new black boyfriend, Sandy. Both shows were enriched. Proof, if proof were really needed, that diversity and humour need not be mutually exclusive. Seinfeld might live in a "world of funny" but there is a real world out there too that no 21st-century comedian worth his or her salt should ignore.

WHAT I WATCHED THIS WEEK

Tickled pink by the Purple one

Who would have thought that Prince had a sense of humour? A special episode of Zooey Deschanel's sitcom New Girl this week saw the megastar poke fun at his image with pancakes, a ping-pong match and, here comes the marketing bit, a funky new song. It was pretty funny, thanks to Prince's inherent oddness and willingness to send it up. Celebrity cameos can be cringe-y but when they work – in the case of Joe Biden on Parks and Recreation, David Bowie on Extras or even Tony Blair sparring with Catherine Tate's Lauren, they can be glorious. One can only hope that David Beckham's appearance on Only Fools and Horses next month lives up to the hype.

Watch Prince’s New Girl episode in full here: http://pitchfork.com/news/53796-watch-princes-episode-of-new-girl/

What I Watched…

Rob Delaney

At King’s Place, London. A rare UK date for the American king of Twitter. Slick, filthy and very, very funny.

The Bearpit Podcast

At The Invisible Dot, London. There is heaps of promise in this chaotic crew – including John Kearns, Lolly Adefope, Mat Ewins and Adam Hess - who use a fake podcast recording as the peg for a cultish mix of character comedy, improv and YouTube clips.

Inside No. 9

On BBC2. What a joy it is to have The League of Gentlemen back, and with a wardrobe full of the finest talents around - Anne Reid, Katherine Parkinson, Timothy West and Tim Key, to name but a few. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03tvm9q/Inside_No_9_Sardines/

www.twitter.com/alicevjones

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory