Seinfeld has mistakenly been called “a show about nothing”, most likely because of a show-within-a-show plotline in which two characters pitch a sitcom in which people sit around talking about nothing (The Pitch, Season 4, Episode 3). But Jerry Seinfeld himself, the eponymous creator-producer-writer-actor, said that Seinfeld was about being a stand-up comic in New York City looking for material. The humor in Seinfeld is apolitical and observational, focusing on the minutiae of daily life and awkward social situations. For example, would it be wrong to give someone a luxurious sweater as a present? But what if the sweater was marked down to $85 from $600 because of a tiny, little blemish? And the receiver later notices the blemish and finds out that you gave them a cut-price present? Or what do you do about a low-talker who speaks so quietly you can’t hear so you just smile and nod whenever they speak? But then you find out they’ve asked you to wear one of their designer shirts on TV and they think you agreed because of the smiling and the nodding even though you had no idea what they said? And what if the shirt is an extravagantly puffy shirt and you’re on TV to promote a charity that clothes the homeless? What is the etiquette? Though Seinfeld premiered over 30 years ago, its explorations of the human condition are timeless. This talk will explore why Seinfeld remains one of the most influential television shows of all time.
Dr. Carrie Ankerstein watched Seinfeld in real time in the 1990s. As a kid growing up in rural Wisconsin, she found New York City a fascinating place and the eccentric characters of Seinfeld were unlike anything she had seen on television before. Seinfeld was also her introduction to stand-up comedy which she still loves and occasionally practices at open mic nights, science slams and in her role as a lecturer in English linguistics at Saarland University.