One of the unfortunate consequences of being a fan of a show that's now almost 30 years old is that it may not feel relevant or relatable when you watch it later. With Seinfeld, that change in enjoyability may be even greater due to the '90s comedy's frequent pushing of boundaries. The titular star of the show, Jerry Seinfeld, has frequently spoken publicly about believing that society has become overly politically correct, so you can probably imagine how some of Seinfeld's non-PC humor could feel outdated today. These 13 jokes from Seinfeld are super offensive now, and it will make you realize how much times have changed — well, hopefully, at least.
The debates over comedy's job to "push the limits" and make people uncomfortable may only be getting started, what with former superstars like Louis C.K. earning public rebukes for making inappropriate, non-PC jokes in his new stand-up set. Hopefully most people can agree that comedy, even "edgy" comedy, doesn't need to alienate marginalized groups in order to make people laugh, though. Thanks to more modern understandings of what political correctness entails — and why being PC is important — it's less common these days to find jokes like the offensive ones that often played out on Seinfeld. Here are some of the show's worst offenses.
The 'Indian Giver' Joke
The episode in which Jerry buys a (stereotypical) statue of an indigenous person and gives it to an indigenous woman named Winona (without knowing her ethnicity) revolves around an ongoing joke that Winona (Kimberly Guerrero) thinks Jerry is racist. Somehow Winona agrees to date Jerry — ladies, don't go on a date with someone you think might be racist — and eventually Jerry uses the slur "Indian giver." It was a joke though so, it means no harm right? Eh, wrong.
Joking that a racial stereotype about an oppressed group is actually truthful is a dangerous road, and Seinfeld probably couldn't get away with doing that in 2019.
Kramer Stomping On A Burning Puerto Rican Flag
This episode actually caused a controversy in 1998 when it aired, as The New York Times reported that the president of the National Puerto Rican Coalition, Manuel Mirabal called it an "unconscionable insult." Mirabal said, "It is unacceptable that the Puerto Rican flag be used by Seinfeld as a stage prop under any circumstances," the New York Times reported.
Over 20 years later, the joke still leaves a sour taste.
The 'Joke' That Someone Thinks Jerry & George Are In A Same-Sex Relationship
In Season 4, Episode 17, a journalist thinks Jerry and George are in a same-sex relationship and it's the basis of a whole episode's worth of bad jokes. This is the type of homophobia and toxic masculinity that was common on Friends, with the running "joke" that others believe that the male characters on the show are gay when they're not. Someone assuming you and your male friend are romantic or sexual partners isn't offensive (or a big deal at all), so jokes like this one in Seinfeld are pretty passé.
When Kramer Has Houseguests From Japan Sleep In His Dresser Drawers
Kramer has visiting Japanese businessmen stay in his apartment, and since the space is limited, Jerry's neighbor has the house guests sleep in dresser drawers. This would have been a totally hilarious storyline if it were white people from the U.S., because sleeping in dresser drawers is a funny concept.
The fact that Seinfeld used all Japanese men for this episode only perpetuates racist stereotypes about Asian men being small in stature and perhaps other assumptions that generalize living standards for Japanese people. That just wouldn't fly now, and frankly, it shouldn't have flown then.
When Jerry Accidentally Gets A Man Deported
Again, so much of Seinfeld's humor relies on the misfortunes of its main characters who haplessly fumble into misunderstandings that often have major consequences for other characters. That's exactly what happens in the episode when Jerry mistakenly causes Babu Bhatt (Brian George) to be deported.
While Jerry is painted as the jerk who makes a stupid mistake, this episode provides a prime example of how marginalized people are so often treated as the "butt" of the joke, or as disposable characters who somehow serve a greater plot — like the ongoing theme of Jerry trying to be a good guy but missing the mark. This one definitely misses the mark in 2019.
Cedric & Bob
Cedric and Bob appeared in three episodes, per Seinfeld's Wiki, including the "Puerto Rican Day" episode. In each episode they appear, the two characters who make up a gay couple play up stereotypes of both of Latinx and homosexual male cultures. While these characters might be fun and add more diversity to the thoroughly homogenous show, they're basically the only ongoing characters of marginalized groups, so the fact that they play up such stereotypical characteristics is a shame.
When George Got Caught Staring At A Teenager's Breasts
Everything about this storyline is awkward: Jerry catches a glimpse of an NBC executive's 15 year-old daughter's (Denise Richards) cleavage when she bends over in an office waiting room. Jerry nudges George, who then stares boorishly and the camera spends a solid four seconds on a close shot of Richards bending over before the NBC executive (Bob Balaban) finds him ogling his daughter.
Sure, it's pretty funny the way George has no chill, but the gratuitous zooming in on a supposedly under-aged woman's cleavage is an example of the sort of male gaze that should be left in the past.
'The Chinese Woman'
"If I like their race, how can that be racist?" Jerry asks after telling Elaine that he "loves Chinese women." Hopefully the issues with that exchange don't require further explanation for anyone in 2019, but in case it does, you might want to learn a little bit about fetishization, which, in this case, relates to "yellow fever."
Saying that you like everyone in a race is still generalizing an entire group of people, which dehumanizes individuals — as does racism.
The Joke About The 'Pigman'
Kramer thinks he sees a "pig man" while at the hospital, and then later he discovers that the person was a "fat little mental patient." Yikes. It's one thing to make a joke out of Kramer hallucinating some sort of mythical creature in a hospital, but to actually root a silly storyline in reality and dehumanize someone with mental illness is totally unnecessary.
When George Pursues A Woman Because She Can't Speak English
In Season 4, Episode 18, George and the crew volunteer to help the elderly. Once George learns that a housekeeper (Lanei Chapman), a Black woman, who works for Jerry's assigned patient doesn't speak English, George says he's interested in dating her. The joke here is that George finds a woman who can't talk to him attractive and, ew. Again, Seinfeld makes a disturbing example of how not to portray a woman or a person of color.
The Joke About The Handicap Spot
In a Season 4 episode titled "The Handicap Spot," Kramer convinces George to park in a handicap spot, and when the group returns to the car, they learn that a person in a wheelchair got into an accident because the handicap parking spot was taken.
The fact that a big laugh comes after a woman describes the person in a wheelchair falling down an incline and into a wall might make you feel a little bit icky, and for good reason. Seinfeld has awesome instances of physical comedy, but when it's based on a person's lack of mobility, that's just plain mean.
The Joke About George's Girlfriend's Big Nose
In Season 3's ninth episode, George dates a woman with a large nose, and she decides to get a nose job after Kramer says that she needs one. Aside from the sexist issues with that, there are also racial implications that are highly unnecessary from a lighthearted comedy that's supposedly "about nothing."
As much as you want your favorite show in the world to withstand the test of time, Seinfeld fans might have to find out that their show is a problematic favorite in many instances.
This post was originally published on Dec. 31, 2018. It was updated on June 7, 2019.