Seinfeld, Jerry


Seinfeld, Jerry
born April 29, 1954, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.

U.S. comedian and television actor.

He initially worked as a stand-up comic in nightclubs and on television. He cocreated and starred in the hit television series Seinfeld (1990–98), which was inspired by his stand-up routines about life in New York City. One of the most successful situation comedies, it featured a collection of selfish and neurotic characters obsessed with the fear of commitment and the minutiae of everyday life. He also starred in and was executive producer of Comedian (2002), a documentary about his return to the comedy circuit.

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▪ 1994

      In 1993 Jerry Seinfeld was again standing up on the job—and keeping countless Americans in their seats laughing. He accomplished the feat mainly through "Seinfeld," an Emmy-winning television sitcom in which he played himself: a thirtysomething stand-up comedian combing everyday life for the little absurdities that would inspire his routines. Produced and sometimes co-written by Seinfeld, the quirky, widely watched show emphasized loosely structured stories, seemingly insignificant subject matter, and a buddy system of comedy in which the Jerry character often played a straight man to his three tightly wound, loosely screwed friends. A typical episode would put the four in the middle of some peculiar development or two—the discovery of an infectious body odour in Jerry's car or even a contest to see who could go the longest without masturbating. The humour was similar to the kind that Seinfeld routinely delivered in his sold-out stand-up appearances. It was hip, clever, and generally temperate and clean, and it prompted Playboy to call Seinfeld "a white Bill Cosby." Yet in his routines Seinfeld sometimes seemed less like a superstar comic than a precocious kid who was playacting as one, and that endearing quality helped make him a standout among stand-ups.

      Seinfeld had long been a kid with comic aspirations. Born on April 29, 1954, in Brooklyn, N.Y., he had not celebrated too many birthdays before he decided he wanted to be funny like his father, a sign maker who was also a closet comedian. By age eight Seinfeld was putting himself through a rigorous comic training, watching television day and night to study the technique of every comedian who reared his talking head.

      Television never showed him what to do about stage fright, however. In 1976 he attempted to make his stand-up debut behind the open mike of a Manhattan comedy club, but his mind went blank, his body went numb, and he could only mutter a few words before slinking off the stage. Later he learned that the audience had actually liked him and, encouraged, Seinfeld resolved to try again. A career in comedy was off and limping.

      After he spent years refining his act in smoky little clubs, it took Seinfeld five minutes to become a hit with his television appearance on "The Tonight Show" in 1981. Dozens of talk shows and hundreds of club and college appearances later, Seinfeld was voted the funniest male stand-up comic in 1988 at the American Comedy Awards. This success—followed by the 1990 debut of "Seinfeld" and his 1993 best-selling book SeinLanguage, a compilation of observations in the same vein as his stand-up routine—brought closer scrutiny by the critics, a few of whom felt his humour was "generic" or "empty." For Seinfeld the criticism hurt only when the audience did not laugh—a rare occurrence. (MICHAEL AMEDEO)

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▪ American comedian
byname of  Jerome Seinfeld 
born April 29, 1954, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.

      American comedian whose television show Seinfeld (1989–98) was a landmark of American popular culture in the late 20th century.

      Seinfeld's interest in comedy was sparked at an early age through the influence of his father, a sign maker who was also a closet comedian. By age eight Seinfeld was putting himself through a rigorous comic training, watching television day and night to study the techniques of comedians. Over the years, he developed a unique style of comedy that centred on his wry observations on life's mundanities. He made his stand-up debut in 1976 and worked his way to an appearance on The Tonight Show in 1981, which gave Seinfeld his first national exposure. By the late 1980s he was one of the highest-profile stand-up comedians in the United States.

      In 1988 Seinfeld was asked to develop a sitcom with NBC. He teamed with friend and fellow comedian Larry David to create Seinfeld, which was first broadcast the following year. Produced and sometimes cowritten by Seinfeld, the quirky widely watched show emphasized loosely structured stories, seemingly insignificant subject matter, and a buddy system of comedy in which the Jerry character often played a straight man to his three tightly wound screwball friends. The show reached unprecedented levels of popular and critical acclaim, and many of its catchphrases and plot elements became part of the cultural lexicon. Seinfeld ran for nine seasons and was still the highest-rated show in the United States when its final episode aired in 1998.

      Seinfeld returned to stand-up comedy in the late 1990s, embarking on multiple national tours of comedy clubs and theatres, one of which was documented in the 2002 film Comedian. He also wrote Seinlanguage (1993), a best-selling book of humorous observations, and the children's book Halloween (2003).

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Universalium. 2010.

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