The low-down on low brow

By Amy Shaunette

1998 was a big year. Bill Clinton lied under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. The Winter Olympics were held in Japan. The Unabomber pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. But there was one event that truly shook the world: in 1998, “Seinfeld” went off the air.During its nine-year run, “Seinfeld” captivated the nation, if not the world. The witty dialogue, the brilliant character development, the sheer simplicity of a show about nothing-“Seinfeld” is the perfect sitcom.

It does, however, get a little confusing. Jerry Seinfeld the Comedian is a real person. Jerry Seinfeld the Character is fictional. Same name, same job, different people. “Seinfeld” is faux-fiction, a fabricated world focused on a character based on a real person. Even more confusing is the story arc followed in seasons three and four, when Jerry and George produce their own NBC sitcom, which is basically “Seinfeld” with the radically different title “Jerry”. The line between reality and fiction is nearly invisible.

Early episodes are bookended with clips of Jerry’s standup. But it’s his real standup, written for his actual standup career and used in the show as a plot organizer. The jokes are also used in Jerry’s book, “SeinLanguage.” Published in 1993, “SeinLanguage” is a collection of Jerry’s standup jokes in print. But it’s not original material-the jokes in the book are the same ones he performs in his standup routines, the same jokes used in the TV show. The book is only useful if one really needs a dose of “Seinfeld.” during a power outage. And even then, laptops have battery power, so a written version of Jerry’s joke canon seems unnecessary. Standup, sitcom, book: the world of “Seinfeld”/Seinfeld is layered, to say the least.

“Seinfeld” creator and co-writer Larry David has a particular knack for the faux-fiction sitcom. His HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” premiered in 2000, following a format similar to that of “Seinfeld.” The show centers on a fictionalized version of Larry David himself, and his former career with “Seinfeld” is a major part of the plot. In season two, Larry tries to create new shows for “Seinfeld” stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander, who played Jerry’s sidekicks Elaine Benes and George Costanza. It’s a strange overlap, and in the 7th season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which premeired a few weeks ago, things get even more meta. Seinfeld, Louis-Dreyfus, Alexander, and Michael Richards (who played Cosmo Kramer) join the “Curb” cast, following a plotline in which Larry reunites the cast of “Seinfeld” for a reunion show. The “Seinfeld” stars appear as their real-life selves, real actors returning for a fake TV show.

This duality colors the way we, the audience, relate to the characters and actors: is it Elaine Benes we love, or is it Julia Louis-Dreyfus? Is Jerry the Comedian as funny as Jerry the Character? In the end, it doesn’t really matter: the important thing is the existence of a fictional world that, for the viewer, becomes very real.

“Seinfeld” may have ceased production, but it will never really be over: the jokes, even, to a certain extent, the personas, live on in Jerry’s standup comedy and in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” As a reality-based sitcom, “Seinfeld” has achieved cultural immortality.