Jerry Seinfeld on what makes a classic ‘Seinfeld’ episode: ‘Each has some insane thing in it’

With apologies to George Costanza’s “The Summer of George,” this might just be The Summer of “Seinfeld.”

Thirty years after the comedy’s premiere on July 5, 1989, NBC’s legendary “show about nothing” retains its pop-culture relevance, with big anniversary events – including a recent “Seinfeld” Night at a New York Mets game and an upcoming “Seinfeld” Experience – and fans continue to exchange memorable lines (“yada, yada, yada”), slapstick events (the flying Junior Mint) and character humiliations (shrinkage!).

Jerry Seinfeld, who played a fictionalized version of himself on the nine-season sitcom hit, now has Netflix’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” (Season 11 streaming now), a comedy residency at New York’s Beacon Theatre and stand-up dates across the country. But he’s still asked about the misadventures of Jerry, Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander) and Kramer (Michael Richards).

Re-gifting “Seinfeld” moments: ‘Seinfeld’: 30 ways the ‘show about nothing’ is still something 30 years later

Shtick shift: Jerry Seinfeld on ‘Comedians in Cars’: Top guests, biggest surprises and his favorite ride

The cast of "Seinfeld" – Michael Richards, left, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Jerry Seinfeld – pose for a photo in advance of the NBC sitcom's 100th episode in 1995. (Photo: George Lange, NBC)

Last week, Seinfeld discussed the enduring appeal of “Seinfeld” with USA TODAY.

Question: Why is “Seinfeld” still such a fixture in the public consciousness 30 years after its premiere?  

Jerry Seinfeld: I think it’s the type of show we don’t see that much anymore. In my day, you had “Cheers” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “All in the Family,” “Maude.” There was always a big sitcom that everybody watched. There always seemed to be a sitcom that was a cultural focus. Entertainment has changed, and it’s not the staple. I think people like going back to that time when they remember, “Oh, we would all watch that show every week.’ It was a nice feeling.”

Q: Is there a “Seinfeld” phrase, gag or episode that has remained popular longer than you expected?

Seinfeld: I think the biggest surprise to all of us was the staying power of Festivus (“The Strike,” Season 9, 1997). I think that completely surprised us. When I bump into any of the other writers, we’re all shocked by that. 

Doesn't George Costanza (Jason Alexander) look delighted sitting between his mother, Estelle (Estelle Harris), left, and father Frank (Jerry Stiller), the creator of Festivus? (Photo: NBC)

Q: Is there one episode that encapsulates the series best?

Seinfeld: There’s a few. I think Festivus, “The Marine Biologist” (Season 5, 1994), “The Contest” (Season 4, 1992), “The Pothole” (Season 8, 1997), “The Yada Yada” (Season 8, 1997), “The Boyfriend” (Season 3, 1992). I think they capture the show. Each episode has some insane thing in it.

Q: What’s the most surprising thing you hear from “Seinfeld” fans?

Seinfeld: That they watch episodes they know multiple times. That’s an enormous compliment to the show, that the material is that good, that you can listen to it multiple times.

George (Jason Alexander), left, and Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) talk in Jerry's apartment on NBC's 'Seinfeld.' (Photo: Joey Del Valle, NBC)

Q: Some people say Norman Lear’s 1970s comedies, including “All in the Family” and “Maude,” couldn’t air today because people would object to the frank content. Could “Seinfeld” air today?

Seinfeld: Not some of the stories that we did. Some of them you just couldn’t do. “The Cigar Store Indian” (Season 5, 1993): I don’t think we could do that today. The one where the journalist thinks George and I are gay (“The Outing,” Season 4, 1993), maybe that one. We started that PC/anti-PC thing: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” That was the beginning of it, that we made sure that we didn’t want to offend anybody. 

Q: Do you regret any of those? Was it just the culture of the times?

Seinfeld: At the time, it was just funny. But I don’t know if people take offense at them now. I don’t hear much about it.

Q: You wouldn’t do “Seinfeld” again, would you?

Seinfeld: No. 

Q: You’ve had Julia, Jason and Michael on “Comedians in Cars.” Would you ever reunite in some manner?

Seinfeld: I never thought of it. It’s a pretty good idea. You think people would like that?

Q: I’d like it.

Seinfeld: All right. 

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