Seinfeld vs. Stewart on whether Woke/P.C. has ruined comedy

I was taken aback last week when Jerry Seinfeld, promoting his new movie "Unfrosted," said in an interview with The New Yorker's David Remnick that the leftist and P.C. culture has ruined comedy.

Nothing really affects comedy. People always need it. They need it so badly and they don't get it. It used to be, you would go home at the end of the day, most people would go, 'Oh, "Cheers" is on. Oh, "MASH" is on. Oh, "Mary Tyler Moore" is on. "All in the Family" is on.' You just expected, 'There'll be some funny stuff we can watch on TV tonight.' Well, guess what—where is it? This is the result of the extreme left and P.C. crap, and people worrying so much about offending other people. …

When you write a script and it goes into four or five different hands, committees, groups — 'Here's our thought about this joke' — well, that's the end of your comedy.


On a new episode of The New Yorker Radio Hour, Jerry Seinfeld talks with David Remnick about his new film on the history of Pop-Tarts, the changing norms in comedy, and turning 70. Listen to their full conversation at the link in our bio. #jerryseinfeld #unfrosted #podtok

♬ original sound – The New Yorker

This absolutely baffled me. Seinfeld is usually nothing if not clear-thinking and analytical. But this makes no sense on so many levels.

Is Seinfeld really saying when you come home from work and turn on your TV, you can't find any comedies anymore? In the '70s and '80s, you had the choice of maybe four or six new or rerun situation comedies each night. Today, you can watch any episode of dozens of new TV comedies or thousands of TV comedies from the past. And they are of widely varying formats and styles to fit any taste. Sure, the monoculture is gone, and the delivery system is different, so traditional network TV has less comedies, but how is that in any way relevant to your comedy consumption?

Is he really saying that shows like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "MASH" succeeded in the 1970s because there were no committees telling the creators what they could and couldn't say? Networks in the 1970s had their hands all over every show on the air. The creators of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" originally wanted Mary Richards to be a divorcee, because of the comic possibilities, but the networks refused to allow it, insisting that divorce was too controversial. Alan Alda in this interview says that "MASH" was subject to network censorship "all the time, every day."

Could Seinfeld possibly be saying that there are more constraints on subject matter and language in TV comedies today than in the 1970s and 1980s? There's probably just a handful of half hour of comedies produced in the last 25 years that could have been aired uncut on a network in the '70s and '80s. The topics, the language, the sexual content of even the tamest new comedies would have made a 1975 network censor's head explode. Today we have shows like "Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and even a certain show made by a former partner of Seinfeld's that deliberately and hilariously explode past the boundaries of propriety and taste.

Jon Stewart may or may not have been responding to Seinfeld's comments when he took on the subject at a comedy show on Friday, but he hit the nail on the head.

"I'm just so tired of it. The woke shit, you lose nothing. I'm a comedian. I've lost two words in 35 years," he said of phrases that are no longer culturally appropriate for him to say. "Honestly, are you that fucking unimaginative that you can't figure it out?"

Previously: Comedians aren't constrained by cancel culture; they are freer today than ever