Jerry Seinfeld, the actor-writer-producer-comedian behind the long-running, self-titled sitcom about nothing, served up an image of New York for a generation of television viewers. In the process, he revolutionized comedy. Mr. Seinfeld didn’t invent observational humor, but he became its most successful practitioner. After a decade of top-rated TV episodes (and another 15 years of success in syndication and on DVD), he is responsible for uncountable millions of people having conversations that start, “Have you ever noticed …?” and “Isn’t it weird how …?”
Jerry Seinfeld, who was born in New York and raised on Long Island, got into stand-up comedy while he was a student at Queens College. He made several very successful television appearances as a young comedian, and created Seinfeld with writer and producer Larry David in the late ’80s. The show, which gave audiences a glimpse of what it was like to be a 30-something in Seinfeld’s wryly funny New York, became the most popular show on television. Thanks to syndication, its characters and viewpoint have become ubiquitous in popular culture.
Mr. Seinfeld essentially disappeared from the spotlight after the series finale aired in 1998 (and should have considered staying out of sight, which might have spared us the 2007 family comedy Bee Movie, co-written and voiced by Mr. Seinfeld, and especially the loathsome NBC reality show The Marriage Ref, mercifully canceled in its second season), though he continues to work the clubs doing stand-up. Mr. Seinfeld’s post-Seinfeld efforts have ranged from treacly to stupid, and the deliciousness of Curb Your Enthusiasm has made even the honorable legacy of the show that bears Mr. Seinfeld’s name seem less his own. But if Mr. Seinfeld’s record is mixed, his influence is clear. The man who brought us classic lines like “No soup for you” and “Yadda yadda yadda” and created the model for comedies like 30 Rock and The Office also helped open the floodgates to comedians creating and starring in sitcoms. Even that contribution is of questionable value—but no one can doubt his influence.