At the height of Seinfeld’s popularity, the NBC comedy was repeatedly accused of presenting an exclusively “white” view of its diverse New York City setting. During Jerry Seinfeld’s BuzzFeed Brews with CBS This Morning interview on Monday, BuzzFeed Business Editor Peter Lauria asked about the enduring criticism, which has carried over to his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee web series. The Crackle docu-comedy featured white male performers (like Larry David, Ricky Gervais, Alec Baldwin, and Michael Richards) in the first batch of episodes, but later included Sarah Silverman and Tina Fey.
“People think it’s the census or something,” Seinfeld said of the assertion that all pop culture should accurately reflect society. “This has gotta represent the actual pie chart of America? Who cares? Funny is the world that I live in. You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that.”
Needless to say, the scoldosphere didn’t disappoint. Here’s Gawker’s Kyle Chayka, at 9:23 p.m.: “Jerry Seinfeld, the most successful comedian in the world and maker of comedy for and about white people, isn’t interested in trying to include non-white anything in his work.” Here’s Vulture’s Halle Kiefer at 12:57 this morning: “Jerry Seinfeld wanted to clarify that he really, really does not give a tiny rat’s behind about the issue of racial or gender diversity in comedy.”…
The nice thing about the PC scolds is how remarkably predictable they are. The scary thing about the PC scolds is how many of them there are and how willing they are to simply regurgitate nonsense concocted by the ringmasters of the three-ring circus that is the modern left.
As the comedy-world blog Splitsider explains, people are upset not because Seinfeld prioritizes humor over diversity, but that he’s saying — given the existence of funny people from a wide variety of backgrounds — that it’s “P.C. nonsense” to give any thought to the message sent by highlighting mostly white men. The very response to his statement, and to the whole recent history of diversity in comedy, shows that he’d do well to give it more weight. Even if he is being purely meritocratic, some comedians have already noted that the system doesn’t necessarily give all voices a shot, whether those exclusions are deliberate or the product of institutional factors. And, because that conversation started before Seinfeld got into it, his deciding to ignore it can’t make it go away.
It’s possible that Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee won’t drive conversation for long enough to have an impact, but if the issue stays in the spotlight, Seinfeld’s perspective will lose. A continued lack of diversity on his show would prove his detractors’ point — and make him look racist and sexist, even if he’s merely failing to actively think about matters of race and sex — while increased diversity would seem to acknowledge that the “nonsense” isn’t so nonsensical at all. There’s no longer a way for a prominent comedian with Seinfeld’s level of influence to be so glib about the issue — especially given that of his 26 guests, only 2 have been women and another 2 have been non-white. (There have been no minority women guests so far.)
“He seems to suggest that any comedian who is not a white male is also not funny,” Chayka asserted, based on nothing more than his own passionate belief in the inherent necessity of gender and race-based quotas.
“Which is too bad,” Chayka continued ill-advisedly, “because Seinfeld is downplaying the work of everyone from Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby to Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, and Eddie Huang, who are all in various stages of their own sitcoms that just might turn out to be the next Seinfeld.”
Surely, Chayka researched this post before he went off on a tear. He must know that Seinfeld called Pryor “the Picasso of our profession,” or that he hosted an event honoring Cosby and called himself “not that funny” by comparison, or that Ansari regularly joins Seinfeld’s exclusive inner circle of comedians. Et cetera, et cetera.
In fact, there are few working comedians who do not have a story to tell about how Seinfeld and his encouraging cohorts aided in the development of their careers.
The idea behind diversity is not that everyone gets their fair share of the Jerry Seinfeld webisode pie, it’s that theoretically, if we’re choosing comics based on their relative merit, the natural result should roughly approximate the diversity of the field and, if it doesn’t, maybe there’s a reason for that. The “quota” isn’t the object of the exercise, it is one measurement of it. It’s something to think about, and if Jerry Seinfeld did think about it, there is no way he would conclude that there are only two black comics worth getting coffee with, or one female comic. He would conclude that, for whatever reason, he missed something.
Instead, though, Seinfeld makes the choice not to think about it, and not to care about it, because the mere observation equals accusation, and thinking about it, discussing it, equals an admission.
As with most white males, it is Jerry Seinfeld’s privilege not to care about diversity, but I guarantee his show is the poorer for it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.