I feel like I’ve spent most of my life watching Seinfeld. I’ve probably watched some episodes 30-40 times. I don’t regret this. In fact, there’s a good chance that my final words, as I quiver on my deathbed, will be, “I wish I’d watched Seinfeld more.”
Picking a favorite Seinfeld joke is pretty much impossible, though if I were going to go with a single line, I might opt for a twisted rant by George in “The English Patient.” George spends the episode trying to woo the lovely Danielle away from Neil, who George is mystified to hear resembles George himself. Somehow, George succeeds: he “out-Neils Neil.” However, Danielle’s sympathies shift back to Neil when he is burned and somehow disfigured by a faulty crepe. (We’ve all been there.) George’s final attempt to one-up his rival always kills me: “I’ll burn myself. I’ll burn my parents!”
But if I were going to pick a favorite Seinfeld bit it would be something else, a bit that epitomizes an aspect of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David’s humor that has always fascinated me: their precise examination of the male mind and its attention problems.
The bit takes place in “The Marine Biologist,” the immortal episode containing George’s famous diner monologue (yet another candidate for the series’ high point). Early in the episode, while Elaine is trying to focus on a work-related phone call, Jerry can’t stop talking about his favorite T-shirt. The “conversation” is ridiculous:
JERRY: Elaine, see this t-shirt? Six years I’ve had this t-shirt. It’s my best one. I call him… Golden Boy.
ELAINE: Yeah, I’m on the phone here.
JERRY: Golden Boy’s always the first shirt I wear out of the laundry. Here. Touch Golden Boy.
ELAINE: No thanks. [to phone] Yeah, yeah, I’ll hold.
JERRY: But see, look at the collar. It’s fraying. Golden Boy is slowly dying. Each wash brings him one step closer. That’s what makes the t-shirt such a tragic figure.
ELAINE: Why don’t you just let Golden Boy soak in the sink with some Woolite?
JERRY: No! The reason he’s the iron man is because he goes out there and he plays every game. Wash! Spin! Rinse! Spin! You take that away from him, you break his spirit!
Even after Elaine tells Jerry about her upcoming meeting with a famous Russian novelist, he can’t get off the subject. Jerry’s still thinking about his beloved shirt and unhelpfully asks, “You want to borrow Golden Boy?”
And that’s it for the bit—except for a brief mention at the end of the episode that Golden Boy has finally perished.
Not much of a Best Seinfeld Joke ever, is it? Stay with me. This is an amazing bit because it epitomizes an aspect of the male mental state that Jerry and Larry are so tuned into: attention on the wrong thing.
Look at what’s happening in this situation. Elaine—one of Jerry’s best friends—is understandably absorbed by a major event in her career, but that can’t penetrate the male mind. Why? Because Jerry is also absorbed—with love for a T-shirt. This stupid, childish love is all he can think about. This is how dudes are.
A lot of comedy misses the mark when it comes to the male mind. Based on most movies and TV shows, you’d think we’re constantly concerned with sex, sports, or Klingons. There’s some truth to this. I can’t deny that the testosterone-marinated brain is often occupied with matters sleazy, ball-related, and interstellar. Just today, I spent some time wondering what it would be like to have sex with a Wookiee volleyball player.
But the real male brain is a little more peculiar than the stereotypical male mind. Real men—in the sense of actual men, not macho men—aren’t drawn to sleaze and silliness alone. Instead, we’re unerringly fixated on the wrong thing at the wrong time for the wrong reason. Our mental compass is always broken.
Sometimes this leads us away from sex. For example, during the Curb season when Larry was opening a restaurant, someone showed him a way of removing a stain, using only club soda and salt. Later that day, as Larry is starting to have sex with his wife Cheryl, they knock over a drink. Though Cheryl protests, Larry is hell-bent on demonstrating the stain-removing technique he had just learned, and there’s no time to waste, sex be damned. Unfortunately for his carpet, it takes Larry so long to find the club soda and salt that it’s too late for their cleaning magic to work. Having a male brain, Larry naively tries to resume marital relations with Cheryl, who will have none of it. Larry can’t understand the problem. Unfortunately for me—and others of the male ilk—I understand Larry.
Sex—in theory—could happen at any time. But a stain appearing the day you learned about a stain-removing technique? That might never happen again, and it takes priority. In the male mind, at least.
There are many other examples sprinkled throughout Seinfeld and Curb, such as George yammering about the beauty of his parking space while ignoring the miracle of birth, Larry ranting about his TiVo while Cheryl’s plane might be crashing, Larry obsessing over a dead man’s shirt at the expense of the widow’s feelings, Larry screwing up a reunion with Cheryl over another stain (on a coffee table this time), plus just about every dating disaster on both shows. There’s enough evidence to support a DSM entry on this syndrome. The only question is what to call it: Acute Larry Davidism, Congenital Seinfeld Disorder, or just “Men!”
Some would say this attention problem is universal to humanity and not just a dude’s problem. I call horsepucky on that. I’m sure the female mind drifts into some odd, inappropriate ditches at times, but for the male mind, the road is always icy and the brakes are never working.
Sorry, ladies. Our brains are the worst.