My theory is that Seinfeld will never stop being funny, even in reruns a thousand years in the future when we’re all half-cyborg, half-alien dinosaur. Okay, maybe the show won’t be AS relevant and on point when we’re all robot-lizards, but it’s been over fifteen years since Seinfeld went off the air (and over twenty-five since it began its run) and Jerry’s puffy shirt, Elaine’s contraceptive sponges, and the dreaded Soup Nazi are all somehow just as funny now as they were when the series first ran.
What’s really crazy is one of the episodes that would have been MOST relevant now actually NEVER ran. In the second season, there was an episode planned titled “The Bet” (No, no, no, not THAT Seinfeld bet, this was a DIFFERENT bet) that was written (by Larry Charles, who, fun fact, would later go on to direct “Borat”) but never aired because the cast and crew refused to shoot the show. In THIS “The Bet,” Jerry, George, and Kramer bet on whether or not Elaine Benes would purchase a gun for protection. The show was tapping into a zeitgeist moment in the early ’90s in which more and more women were purchasing firearms to protect themselves.
The subject matter itself was already pushing boundaries hard, but it was the jokes in the episode (Elaine cracks wise about suicide and the Kennedy assassination) that really put the kabosh on this lost episode of Seinfeld. The episode’s director Tom Cherones summed up the set’s sentiments when he stated that “Guns aren’t funny.”
In the Screen Crush article in which this never-shot episode is discussed, writer Charles and director Cherones debate whether or not this episode would have worked later in the series when the show was established and had room to take risks. Charles believes it would have (but he may be a LITTLE biased, having written the episode), Cherones still stands firm in his belief that the ep never would have worked (also a LITTLE biased, as he was one of the ep’s original naysayers).
I think it’s worth asking if this storyline would work on a show now, especially in the wake of the tidal wave of civilian gun violence we’ve seen since the days of Seinfeld. Would the button-pushiness of a TV comedy dealing with a central character purchasing a firearm be worthy fodder for television comedy? It’s seems like audiences weren’t ready to laugh about this subject matter then, but the question is, would they be ready to laugh now?
Arguably, things have changed. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia recently had an episode where the gang gets gun fever (for a second time) and comically debates both sides to the current gun discussion. And Julia Louis-Dreyfuss finally DID get to do some gun control comedy on a recent episode of HBO”s Veep. But that’s cable television. You can push basically any boundary in cable comedy except like, maybe human sacrifice. And even that might be up for grabs.As long as controversial subjects are being addressed by comedy (which is going to be forever because that’s basically what comedy IS) it’s worth asking ourselves over and over again: “Are we okay with laughing about [fill in the blank hot-button topic], and if we are, why?”
If you ask Larry Charles no topic should be off limits in comedy, especially in this golden age of TV. The topic of gun control? “If it were on ‘Louie,’ you wouldn’t think twice about it,” Charles said in his interview with Screen Crush. “I think ‘Louie’ has proven and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ has proven as well that those subjects are worthy of exploration and comedy. I reject the idea that certain subjects should not be touched upon.”