Seinfeld is arguably the greatest sitcom ever made. It’s concept of a “show about nothing” was wildly inventive at the time. Nearly every single character has become iconic (especially the core group). Many of the jokes remain hilarious over twenty years later.
However, twenty years is a long time. It’s certainly long enough to “date” various jokes, whether that be by outdated social practices, political correctness, or pop culture jokes that have long grown stale and outdated. Luckily, Seinfeld‘s general universality allows it to remain popular and fresh.
Mostly. These are five Seinfeld jokes that are destined to be timeless, and five that have aged rather poorly.
Timeless: I’m Out!
Even people who haven’t seen Seinfeld know about The Contest. It’s probably the most famous and most acclaimed sitcom episode ever made. And at its core is a brilliant joke that comes at the hands of Cosmo Kramer (but then again, isn’t that typically the case?). The very concept of The Contest (to see who can go longer…) will always be topical and hilarious, as will Kramer’s complete lack of control. His pride and utter lack of shame is just too funny. “I’m out, I’m out of the contest!”
Aged Poorly: The Dockers Commercial
In season two’s The Phone Message, Jerry and Donna have a heated argument about a Dockers commercial. Jerry can’t stand the commercial, and he is incensed that Donna enjoys it. This whole debate lasts for about two minutes and has the audience in hysterics. For those who don’t know, they’re discussing a pretty famous Levi’s Dockers commercial that permeated the airwaves in the late 80s. Of course, most modern viewers will have absolutely no idea what Jerry and Donna are talking about, and the joke has faded into the thirty-year span of time.
Timeless: George’s Blowhole Story
If The Contest isn’t the fan favorite, then it’s probably season five’s The Marine Biologist. This episode ends on a spectacularly funny anecdote from George, who tells it like he’s telling an old sea story. Much of the praise goes to Jason Alexander’s performance, but we can’t discount the brilliant writing. This whole story elicits one of the loudest and most prolonged laughing fits from the studio audience, and for good reason. It’s hilarious, it’s exceptionally well-acted and written, and it will never not be funny.
Aged Poorly: “It’s Not Like A Sunny von Bülow Coma.”
And here we have another woefully outdated joke that really shows Seinfeld‘s age. In season three’s The Suicide, Jerry references Sunny von Bülow’s coma. Now, does anyone know who Sunny von Bülow is? Exactly. von Bülow was an heiress who slipped into a coma in December 1980.
She then remained in a vegetative state until her death in 2008. It’s a tragic story, and it was made into a movie called Reversal of Fortune in 1990. The reference was still relatively fresh in 1992 when The Suicide aired. Not so much in 2020.
Timeless: “In Six Games”
The unique power of the internet can do many things for a piece of pop culture. Case in point – the condescending look George gives to Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams in The Abstinence. Now, the joke itself is kind of funny, but it’s certainly not one of the show’s strongest. However, George’s face has become a wildly popular internet meme throughout the years, and that pretty much guarantees that this joke will live on forever. It just goes to show that you never really know what will catch on and what won’t.
Aged Poorly: “Maybe The Dingo Ate Your Baby!”
In season three’s The Stranded (released in 1991), Elaine references a dingo eating a baby. This probably makes no sense to modern viewers, as it’s yet another piece of pop culture that has faded over time. Elaine is referencing the movie A Cry in the Dark, which chronicles the real story of Michael and Lindy Chamberlain. The Chamberlains were forced to defend themselves against an irate public who believed that they had murdered their child. In actuality, the child was taken away by a dingo during a camping trip. Anyway, no one remembers that story anymore…
Timeless: The Moops
Season four’s The Bubble Boy is another enormously popular episode. It sees George and Susan spending time with a young boy who suffers from an immune deficiency. This being George, the situation soon spirals wildly out of control. And it’s all due to a misprint on a Trivial Pursuit card.
Instead of “The Moors,” the card reads “The Moops,” and it causes an argument that results in Susan accidentally puncturing the boy’s bubble suit. It’s a bizarre yet equally relatable situation. Who amongst us hasn’t argued over some stupid trivia game? Granted, we didn’t almost kill a child…
Aged Poorly: The Cigar Store Indian
Season five’s The Cigar Store Indian remains one of the most controversial episodes of Seinfeld, at least in our modern sociopolitical sphere. The entire episode revolves around offensive and racist stereotypes, and it kind of makes for some uncomfortable viewing. Of course, that’s the entire point of the episode, as Jerry’s girlfriend begins to think that Jerry is racist. It’s meant to showcase the insensitive nature of the group. But just because it’s supposed to be offensive doesn’t make it any less offensive.
Timeless: The Puffy Pirate Shirt
This is more of an episode-spanning joke, but man is it ever hilarious. Kramer’s quiet girlfriend asks Jerry if he will wear her ostentatious “pirate” shirt on The Today Show. Not understanding what she just said, Jerry simply agrees to whatever she said out of politeness. It doesn’t go well for him. The shirt itself is certainly hilarious, and we laugh every time we see it. But what makes it even funnier is the incensed reactions of Jerry and Elaine and the total disaster it results in. It perfectly sums up the very nature of Seinfeld itself.
Aged Poorly: “It’s Like This Every Day In Puerto Rico!”
Unfortunately, Seinfeld did not go out on a good note. Not only was the finale itself massively divisive, but one of its last episodes was enormously offensive and controversial. It’s season nine’s The Puerto Rican Day, and it sees Kramer accidentally setting fire to and stomping on the Puerto Rican flag. Again, this is meant as a self-aware joke. We’re supposed to laugh at Kramer’s stupidity. Unfortunately, he also insinuates that Puerto Ricans are violent and rebellious, and that was enough to get the episode temporarily banned from the air.