Comedian Jerry Seinfeld was born on this day in Brooklyn in 1954. The child of Hungarian-Jewish and Syrian-Jewish parents, the latter of which descended from a Middle Eastern family that can trace its ancestral tree back to Jewish leadership from the Medieval period, Seinfeld grew up in Massapequa on Long Island, New York. After spending two years at SUNY-Oswego, Seinfeld graduated from Queen’s College in 1976. Seinfeld has spent his entire life in comedy, rising through the ranks from small New York clubs to touring the circuit all across the United States. In April 1982, he made a career-altering first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. His signature delivery was on display in this first appearance and within two years he was offering consistently A material and becoming a much-anticipated guest. These appearances catapulted him to national celebrity as a top-billed stand-up comic.
Seinfeld’s comic persona struck a chord with 80s America as he built a routine around observational humor. Neither a political satirist, a la Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, or a blue comedian in the tradition of Redd Foxx and Buddy Hackett, Seinfeld identified the absurdities in the everyday, asking questions about, and finding laughs in situations his fans recognized and suddenly found funny. “Everything with the kids is up. Wait up. Hold up. Shut up. Mom I’ll clean up. Just let me stay up. With parents, everything is down. Calm down. Slow down. Come down here. Sit down. And put that down.” There was a touch of George Carlin in Seinfeld’s word play but in the voice of a straight, clean-cut kid.
But as popular as Seinfeld was as a stand-up, his celebrity soared with, and his greatest legacy will always be associated with the television comedy series he created with Larry David. First called The Seinfeld Chronicles and then simply Seinfeld, the show ran for a decade and for many seasons was the most popular television program in America. Seinfeld played a version of himself, a stand-up comic, living alone in New York and spending his time with his close friend George, his ex-girlfriend Elaine and his eccentric neighbor Kramer. Like his observational stand-up material, Seinfeld the show made the quotidian comedic. And, for a time, the nation’s vernacular came to include phrases from the show, from “yadda, yadda, yadda” to “master of my domain.” It was, perhaps, the last great situation comedy of the era defined and dominated by the three major networks and the show lives on in syndicated reruns throughout the country.
While his creative partner Larry David has found great success with his program Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld’s post-sit com career is characterized by more minor hits. He has taken his shot at the movies, co-writing, producing and voicing the animated Bee Movie and his Netflix program Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee delivers exactly what its title promises, occasionally funny but very limited. Recognizing his greatest attribute, Seinfeld has most successfully returned to his roots and continues to entertain as a stand-up comic in clubs and on various specials for streaming services.
Seinfeld has used the tremendous wealth produced by his television program to build one of the country’s finest collections of cars, his array of Porches being its centerpiece. But in partnership with his wife Jessica, he has also turned to philanthropy, raising and donating millions to fight the many sides of poverty. To this day, he remains a dedicated student of stand-up and is certainly one of the most influential to take its stage over the past forty years.