A friend of mine used to date a guy who was born in Uzbekistan and learned English by watching Seinfeld. I’ve always thought that was such a cool way to learn a language. Way better than sitting in a classroom. He once told me he thought it made him funnier, too, which really blew my mind. I never realized “funny” was something that could be taught.
It made me consider nature versus nurture in terms of humor: are you born with or do you develop (because of parents and your surroundings) timing and wit and the ability to awaken belly laughs in others? Humor is subjective, complicated and multi-factored, so it’s gotta be a mixture of both. My dad is one of the funniest people I know — but while my late grandfather was full of spirit and grandmother’s still able to crack a joke, I wouldn’t exactly call them “hilarious.” So where’d my dad get it?
A bevy of life experiences, probably. (He’s old!) Genetic makeup. His best friend since second grade. But also, Seinfeld.
If Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza were my dad’s parents, he’d have equal parts of their personality DNA. Like George, he’s a world class worrier — anxious about everything. One time I didn’t respond to a text of his asking if I’d tracked down my luggage at the airport carousel and he wrote:
But sometimes he’s a Jerry (the original Carrie), taking life in stride with a blasé attitude, beaming charisma. Wearing New Balances and sturdy jeans.
My dad has watched every single episode of Seinfeld at least eleven times since the first one aired in 1989. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration considering he still watches the reruns because there’s “nothing else decent on TV.” If I was born in ’88 (I was), that means he’s been watching the show for just one year less than he’s been watching me. That also means, according to the properties of humorous nurture, he raised himself and a neurotic only-daughter on it.
So by way of Larry David and the Seinfeld cast, here’s what my dad learned and passed on to me:
1. Ever notice how many Seinfeld episodes revolve around parking in NYC? Like George, my dad’s day can be ruined by a (lack of) parking space. The piece of Jerry that lives within him allows for some modicum of belief in parking serendipity, which means that both characters — through my dad — have taught me two valuable lessons: 1) fight for your space — “first come first serve” makes empty car real estate your god-given right and 2) when in doubt, no matter how late you are or how much easier it would be to drive to New Jersey then park in a stranger’s driveway and take the bus back in, circle. Go around the block 500 times if you have to. Convenient parking isn’t about making your or anyone else’s life easier. It’s about the principle.
2. How many Seinfeld episodes revolve around a dry-cleaning mishap? All of them. Old school New Yorkers will offer wise words of first-year advice if you can get them to talk to you on the subway, but the only one bit that’s ever proved helpful is Jerry’s: your clothes will live at the dry cleaner’s more than they do in your closet or on your body. Accept it. And complain about how expensive/mysterious it is.
3. Recall George’s preoccupation with making the perfect “airport run.” He knew exactly when to leave Manhattan to get to JFK. My dad instilled in me a similarly irrational, deep-rooted and unfounded fear — not of flying, but arriving to the airport “on time” (whether traveling internationally or domestically). Therefore, it has been instilled in me to always arrive at the airport at least two days early.
4. Everyone has a Newman.
5. A recurring theme among the Seinfeld cast — Elaine, Kramer, George, Jerry — repeats itself frequently throughout my dad’s otherwise carefully-planned life: consider the consequences later. For example, my dad once feared that I might actually miss my flight. (We had arrived within the TSA-recommended, civil, two-hour window.) He saw a man passing through security in a wheelchair with an airport aid, so he said to me, “Your ankle hurts.” Grabbed a wheelchair. Found an attendant. Before I knew it, I was cutting the (very angry) line at security. Sometimes the end justifies the means.
6. Here’s where a bit of Curb Your Enthusiasm knowledge pairs nicely with a Seinfeld Life Guide: what goes around absolutely does and always will come around. You better believe it. I was not going to be the Girl Who Lied to Skip Security, seated next to someone whom I cut — likely someone who actually needed the wheelchair I took — for a three-hour flight. Oh no. I’ve seen that episode. Instead, I fake-limped around Newark Liberty International for an hour while buying peanut M&Ms and magazines, just in case anyone saw me.
7. Seinfeld will not only trigger Chinese food cravings, it will remind you that Seamless did not invent food delivery. All Seamless did was eliminate the special bond that forms between you and your favorite restaurant; Seamless is an up-charging middleman! The old way was so much more personal and efficient.
My dad knows this thanks to Seinfeld. He’s so familiar with the staff at Cheng’s Garden that once, when he went to pick up an order he placed over the phone (I know) and found his usual delivery guy bemoaning the fact that his car broke down, my dad offered, kind of as a joke, to give him a ride. They delivered five different orders together that evening.
8. Here’s an easy one: marble rye is worth breaking-and-entering for.
9. Here’s another: dates will end in one of two ways: “yadda yadda” or disaster (weird hands/two faces/forgotten names). Accept your fate early and take notes. You can use it later for great material. One of my dad’s best dinner party stories is how he and a date managed to lose each other during a post-dinner, pre-next-location bathroom break. They both went to the bathroom, he came out, couldn’t find her, took a tour around the restaurant, the parking lot….45 minutes later they finally met in the middle — apparently she had done the same — and she was “I’m tired, gonna call it early, don’t call me again” pissed. He tells it better but it’s so funny.
10. Finally, no matter how truly insane your parents may be, whether they brag about you to total strangers or kick you out of their apartment, never underestimate their ability to be wildly entertaining and unexpectedly hilarious. They are — like it or not — 100% who you got your sense of humor from.
Feature and carousel photograph from NBC / Contributor via Getty Images.