WARNING: This article contains discussions of self-harm.
Comedy is a genre that tends to push boundaries as it attempts to find humor in just about any situation. There are jokes that are funny to some people, but might be completely offensive to others. Seinfeld is one of many NBC shows that tried to see just how far they could push those boundaries before the network put a stop to it. While they were able to get away with crude humor on occasion, there were two particular incidents where the cast and crew rejected writer Larry Charles’ ideas for going too far.
The first of those occasions was centered around an episode titled “The Bet,” which never made it to air. In the episode, Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) makes a bet with Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) about how easy it would be for her to purchase a gun in New York. Once she has the gun, she jokingly points it at her head and then at her stomach, asking Jerry if he wants the Kennedy or the McKinley. After reading that scene, Louis-Dreyfus stated that she was not comfortable with the subject of the episode. Many people in the cast and crew agreed with her with that gun safety, as well as the assassination of presidents was not something that they should joke about. Although pre-production for the episode had already begun, the director decided that it would not be filmed at all.
This was not the only Seinfeld episode that was scrapped before airing. In the book Seinfeld Reference, author Dennis Bjorklund revealed that Charles had also pitched an episode in which George (Jason Alexander) says that he has never seen a Black person order a salad. The premise was rejected by NBC and the episode was ultimately scrapped. The feeling at the time was that Seinfeld was not the right space to make that joke because it featured an all-white cast, with very little African-American representation.
It is not uncommon for networks to pull controversial episodes from screening if they fear it might offend or alienate the audience. An episode about a school shooting in Buffy the Vampire Slayer was postponed, as it was scheduled to air shortly after the Columbine Massacre. Similarly, episodes of 30 Rock, Community and even Golden Girls were pulled from syndication due to depictions of blackface.
Political correctness in comedy has become a hot topic over the last few years, and the issue was brought into the spotlight once again after Dave Chappelle made transphobic jokes in his latest special. There are people, like Larry Charles, who believe that comedy should not be censored because it’s possible to find humor in anything. However, many disagree with this view. Earlier this year, Seth Rogen stated in an interview with Good Morning Britain that it is “the nature of comedy” for certain jokes to age badly. The world is constantly changing as people learn more about other human experiences, so it’s natural that certain types of jokes will no longer be appropriate.
Although there is work being done to make mainstream media more politically correct, there is no set guideline about what is and isn’t appropriate. In a Season 3 episode of Seinfeld, the main plot centers around one of Jerry’s neighbor who attempted suicide. The episode ends with one of the typical standup sets, where Seinfeld jokes that suicidal people shouldn’t give up on trying to kill themselves. The joke has not aged well at all, as it’s quite an insensitive approach to a very serious matter, but this episode is still available on Netflix.
There seems to be a feeling that some jokes, particularly ones about death, should not be made at all, while jokes about certain identities should not be made by otherwise privileged individuals. Despite continuous protesting in favor of kindness and consideration for marginalized groups, many veteran comics still hold the opinion that ‘cancel culture’ is ruining comedy.
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