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Seinfeld Still Kills: the Science of Being an Asshole



Jerry Seinfeld doesn't need an introduction.

The 61-year-old comedian, writer, actor and producer who, along with comedic genius/curmudgeon Larry David, gave us the finest TV show of all time – nine seasons of glorious nothing – can generate laughs, with a studied and vital nonchalance, like no one else.

Seinfeld's comedy, as a standup, as a writer and in his hilarious web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (running since 2012), is fundamentally rooted in two particular tenets: observations about the absurdity of contemporary life and identity mixed with a relatively non-threatening asshole-ism, which will always be funny.

As a kind of absurd hero, in the French existentialist sense, Seinfeld is both amused at, and annoyed by, the irrationality of life. But, he has wholly accepted it and encourages us to do the same. He has mastered a form of razor sharp observational comedy that consists of forcing his audience to confront the ridiculousness inherent in the day to day. By drawing his audience in, with relatable observations, the comedian creates a sort of kinship through complicity.

So often, through his power of paring his observations down to universal nuggets, chock-full of absurdist tension and excruciating futility, he causes folks to laugh at themselves as much as anything. The extent to which we are each a part of the ludicrous life that he lampoons is directly correlated with the extent of our uncontrollable laughter. Seinfeld is, after all, watching us, watching the roles we play, items we value and systems we uphold, and reflecting those things back to us, devoid of the naive romantic tint that often serves to shield us from directly experiencing the absurd.

The other thing that has always drawn us to Seinfeld's work, way back to his early stand up and iconic appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, is his ability to be an arrogant prick in a non-combative and refined sort of way. (If there's such a thing as a benevolent dictator, surely a benevolent asshole is not too much of a stretch.) This quality, part act and part fact, helps him consistently maintain the notion that he deserves to be making fun of us and everything that we hold dear. From this position of innocuous authority, he simultaneously admits drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid along with us and lambasts us for not choking with laughter, as he does, while we drink.

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