It’s a Seinfeld joke that’s proven eerily prescient over the last 20 years: Jerry Seinfeld always seems to break even. The occasional foray into Bee-GI aside, Seinfeld has been a steady figure in the comedy landscape for decades now, even as the wider stand-up scene evolves, and his contemporaries—Roseanne Barr, Louis CK—and heroes—Bill Cosby—find ever more awful ways to flame out. Seinfeld just plugs along (for an extremely rich and successful version of “plugging”, admittedly), doing stand-up, hosting low-key interview shows, and never taking much of the spotlight.
Which isn’t to say he doesn’t have opinions on the way his workplace has been changing lately, as he revealed in a wide-ranging interview he gave to The New York Times this week. And while Seinfeld covered a lot of topics—his love for Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, his apparent non-disdain for college comedy audiences, his new-found appreciation for the late Bernie Mac—the conversation inevitably turned to CK, who’s begun making a regular habit over the last months of surprise stand-up performances in the wake of his admission of sexual misconduct against a number of women. Seinfeld thinks he knows why people aren’t taking CK’s attempted return well: Not enough groveling.
It’s the way he did it that I think people didn’t like. Some people didn’t like that he’s doing it at all. We know the routine: The person does something wrong. The person’s humiliated. They’re exiled. They suffer, we want them to suffer. We love the tumble, we love the crash and bang of the fall. And then we love the crawl-back. The grovel. Are you going to grovel? How long are you going to grovel? Are you going to cry? Are you going to Jimmy Swaggart? And people, I think, figured they had that coming with Louie — he owes us that. We, the court of public opinion, decided if he’s going to come back, he’d better show a lot of pain. Because he denied them that.
Seinfeld made it clear that he doesn’t think it was necessarily “too soon” for CK to come back to comedy, but said that, ultimately, it was up to the audience to decide whether they would tolerate his return.
Seinfeld also touched on Barr, and specifically on the rapidity of her firing from her hit sitcom earlier this year:
I would say about Roseanne, I never saw anything that bad happen from a finger-tap on a screen. A whole career: gone. That’s an aspect of this unease we feel, that you just wake up — “Oh, by the way, the Lincoln Memorial’s gone.” “What?” “Yeah, they took it down. They found out Lincoln was fooling around and they took it down.” “Oh, my God. All right, I guess I have to adjust to that. I really liked the Lincoln Memorial.”
Still, in his typically placid way, Seinfeld made it clear that he views the rise of social media as something to be adjusted to, not complained about or pushed against.
If you say a wrong thing, or do a wrong thing? It’s amazing, that this [social media and the internet] has become a portal for so much pain. But I do think, in the larger perspective, if you zoom out, this is all very positive. I think, mostly, about the victims of these things, they’ve got so much more of a platform now than, say, five years ago. That’s all great.