“I think spending your life trying to dupe innocent people out of hard-won earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services is an excellent use of your energy,” he joked/non-joked.
Given that Seinfeld’s nearly billion-dollar personal empire has largely accrued from advertising revenue, you might say he was being disingenuous at best, chomping so aggressively on the hand that feeds him.
Slightly more surprising was the audience reaction, however. Far from being offended, they seemed to eat it up. In fact, his most scathing lines elicited the biggest laughs and cheers. Everyone seemed rapturous at hearing about how soulless, worthless, and joyless their lives were.
You could say it was a perfect union: star hand-biter meets celeb-loving gluttons-for-punishment.
Seinfeld’s brilliance was mostly in the shock, and the delivery of the message. After all, the idea of ripping the lid off the ad industry to show that it is, well, manipulative or possibly fraudulent is hardly fresh. Vance Packard wrote “The Hidden Persuaders in 1957, and it’s still referred to almost 60 years later.
But perhaps Seinfeld got that ecstatic reaction because the (drunk) audience perceived that he understood the misery of the people who toil in the ad industry these days. (That feeling seems to be at an all-time high, especially at increasingly meaningless award shows.) And that is something new. So we’ll give him props for that.
Still, it’s not as if Seinfeld is known for being a crusader for goodness, or that, post-“Seinfeld,” he himself has always created work that is worthwhile or even successful. His hardly breakthrough “Bee Movie” rated about a C-minus, to be charitable -- a 51% positive review on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s not like the man with the 47 Porsches is known for being hugely philanthropic, either. His wife, Jessica Seinfeld, did start a foundation for families and children called Baby Buggy. She also wrote a cookbook about healthy food for kids, but was sued by an established cookbook author for plagiarism. At the time, Jerry went on Letterman and made fun of the other writer.
He also appeared in a bizarre series of TV spots for Microsoft, in which he palled around with someone who developed the world’s largest charitable foundation: Bill Gates. Among other things, one spot made fun of poor Hispanics. In another, the billionaires jokingly moved in with a middle-class family, and made fun of their furnishings. Seen as weirdly callous and off-message, the campaign was quickly yanked off their air.
But speaking of insensitive, nothing can beat “The Marriage Ref,” the NBC show that Seinfeld co-created and executive-produced. NBC would have greenlit anything for Seinfeld, and it showed. The concept was to place bickering couples in front of a celebrity panel to have their squabbles judged. The result seemed throwback and mean-spirited, and made it through two seasons mostly because of the Seinfeld attachment and the A-list quality of celebs he could wrangle for the panel.
His current project, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," is certainly the most successful work he’s done since the shutdown of “Seinfeld.” It’s sponsored by Acura, the brand for which Seinfeld also wrote a bunch of commercials. And when he raved about the client to Adweek in 2012, he sounded like, well, a typical, ad guy, covering his rear: “The clients tend to get nervous, especially when they're spending a lot of money. But [Acura marketing chief] Mike Accavitti, I've never seen a guy like this guy. Nerves of steel. It's pretty rare. But I think that's why they came out so good. I would give him all the credit.”
Ironically enough, his rather self-serving Clios speech is Seinfeld’s best ad yet. It immediately went viral, and made him seem relevant.
Still, it seemed more the style of his former partner, Larry David, who famously hates getting awards, and isn’t afraid to blame the audience. Accepting the Paddy Chayefsky Award from the Writers Guild of America a few years back, David talked about how much he hated writing, and how the need to write the acceptance speech “ruined my life for the last two months” and made him “resent the WGA for choosing me.” He further joked: “This thing has disaster written all over it.” But he did finally say, “As much as it pains me, I’m going to be a little gracious, even if it’s already boring you.”
I don’t think David has done any advertising campaigns. So maybe Seinfeld is jealous of his colleague’s untainted-by-commerce persona -- which might be out-of-character for the incredibly dedicated and hard-working billionaire. In a current excerpt of her new book in Vanity Fair, former “Seinfeld” writer Carol Leifer said he was a wonderful boss and showrunner, and called him the” least hung-up person” she ever knew, who’d “never had a day of therapy.”
Said to be the basis for Elaine’s character, Leifer compared Seinfeld and David to Lennon and McCartney, with Jerry being sunny adorable Paul to Larry’s much darker John character.
Well, Jerry stole the show at the Clios by being self-loathing. Maybe he really hates being Paul. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.