The rise and rise of Jerry Seinfeld: A life of ups, downs, stardom and a whole lot of controversy

Jerry Seinfeld's career has had ups and downs but the actor and stand-up comedian has always managed to pedal blithely on


                            The rise and rise of Jerry Seinfeld:  A life of ups, downs, stardom and a whole lot of controversy
Jerry Seinfeld (Getty Images)

The 1990's were a golden era for Jerry Seinfeld. His semi-autobiographical show 'Seinfeld', which debuted in 1993, after a rather rocky start became one of the most celebrated sitcoms in history. It was often pitted against 'Friends', as the two sitcom juggernauts were in locks for high ratings at the time. Even those who didn't watch Seinfeld, knew about the popularity of the show, its legacy, and the star himself, even though he didn't quite strike gold after that. 

'Seinfeld' ran from 1989 to 1998, ending on a high note. Though Seinfeld didn't want to live on his laurels for too long, he returned to New York to make a comeback with comedy. He continued to make headlines for a couple of controversies, that didn't jeopardize his career, even if they raised eyebrows. He returned with a bang with comedy, and his stand-up specials are still popular with many and now Netflix has released another standup special of his, '23 Hours To Kill'.

He's still considered comedic gold, though to be fair, had some of his 90's controversies happened in today's era, there's no way of saying whether his career would still be safe. 

Pre-Seinfeld days

Before he made it big in 'Seinfeld', he used to take up odd jobs to pay rent. This was during his early days as a comedian. Sometimes, these jobs became an excuse for him to use during his stand-up nights. Once, he sold light bulbs over the phone with Mike Constanza, a name that would constantly be referenced on the show. 

"We would come up with scripts to sell the most light bulbs," Costanza told the New York Daily News."We called down South. 'This is Mike Davis. You remember me? The handicapped veteran? You ordered two cases of bulbs from me?' And I would drop the phone and knock it around. 'You know, it's hard to get used to these hooks.' Jerry and I would be on the floor. And we would sell two to three cases."

Later, he tried waiting tables but quit after he became an emcee at the Comic Strip two nights a week. 

Fired from his first acting gig

Seinfeld didn't strike gold with acting, at first. He was first fired from his sitcom 'Benson', just after three episodes. Upset and humiliated, he decided to focus more on his comedy. One of his acts caught the eye of a 'Tonight Show' scout. And soon, he teamed up with NBC and Larry David to create the show 'Seinfeld'. However, at first, the show wasn't so lucky, at first.

"In the history of pilot reports, Seinfeld has got to be one of the worst of all time. I have it next to my desk; it says overall evaluation 'weak,'" former NBC President of Entertainment Warren Littlefield told FOX411. "The audience did not like the show and that scared us, but we did manage to find money to film four episodes to hold the show intact by making one less two-hour Bob Hope special, and it did ok. It was against repeat competition in the summer and then we just took a deep breath and ordered 13 more."

The thirteen-episodes still did not impress, but NBC continued its gamble, which finally paid off. In 1997, Seinfield was in full control of the show, as Larry David had stepped aside. However, he decided to end it after the ninth season, much to the shock of the fans and NBC executives. What surprised everyone more was that he turned down a staggering amount of money for the show, as he said that he needed to 'work on his personal life', which was already in a fair bit of controversy.

Dating a 17-year-old

Back in 1993, Seinfeld made news for all the wrong reasons, when he began to date then 17-year-old Shoshanna Lonstein, when he himself was around 38. It was quite a stir, but rather than making the headlines it would day, People Magazine made the cover story around how 'this unlikely romance' would actually work. There was no public outcry like there would have been today, except for Bobcat Goldthwait, who terminated his friendship with Seinfeld over this issue. His family would say that she was 'mature' for her age. 

When Howard Stern quizzed Seinfeld about this, Seinfeld defended himself and said that he didn't realise 'that she was so young'. "I didn't realize she was so young," Seinfeld told him, according to People. "This is the only girl I ever went out with who was that young. I wasn't dating her. We just went to a restaurant, and that was it." Of course that wasn't just it, he was spotted at her university, and the two were often spotted together. This went on for four years, and Seinfeld was believed to have proposed to her at one point.

Marriage controversy

Just after breaking up with Lonstein, Seinfeld met Jessica Sklar in 1998, and they got married. But this made headlines as well, as Sklar had walked down the aisle just a month ago with Eric Nederlander, and had just returned from a three-week honeymoon in Italy before forming her instant connection with Seinfeld. A visibly upset Nederlander told New York Post, "Jerry and Jessica have no respect for decent values. They deserve each other. I'm going on with my life."

Well, after all that, the couple is still happily married. Though, they did face stir up controversy when Sklar was accused of plagiarising a cookbook from Missy Chase Lapine. The situation worsened when he defended Jessica on the Late Show with David Letterman. "One of the fun facts of celebrity life is wackos will wait in the woodwork to pop out at certain moments of your life to inject a little adrenaline into your life experience,” he told Letterman. "My wife never saw the book, read the book, used the book...But the books came out at the same time. So this woman says, 'I sense this could be my wacko moment.'

Lapine sued Seinfeld. However, both her lawsuits were dismissed.

Web series and trouble

After scripting advertisements, making appearances for numerous specials, and his first stand-up appearance in the UK in 2011, Seinfeld warmed his way back into people's hearts, slowly. In 2013, Seinfeld wanted to recreate the same fame his show had made, but this time with his web series 'Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee'. He was consistently told that people would not be interested in watching web videos that were longer than five minutes.

He was declined by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who opted not to sponsor the show. Fortunately, Acura stepped in and let Seinfeld have full creative control of the series, which not only became a hit for Crackle but was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards. 

This was a new era, and this was a time when people would notice the problematic elements in a show. A majority of the audience slammed him for inviting only white male guests on the show, a criticism that Seinfeld didn't take too well. Who cares?" he told Buzzfeed. "Funny is the world that I live in. You're funny, I'm interested. You're not funny, I'm not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that."

Following the backlash, he did invite more diverse guests and found himself in trouble again as he wrote a rather offensive tweet about Lewis Black's appearance on the show. "Black's life matters." There was much shock expressed at the tweet, but Seinfeld never apologized or deleted his tweet.

Autism slur

In another interview with NBC, Seinfeld ran headlong into trouble when he diagnosed himself with autism. "I think on a very drawn-out scale, I think I'm on the spectrum," he told Brian Williams. "Basic social engagement is really a struggle." 

Parents of children with autism were furious and Seinfeld hastily backtracked with his statements.

All said and done, Seinfeld is famous for re-defining an era for a sitcom, and even though many might not take to his stand-up specials today, he's still rolling in millions and that's not going to stop anytime soon.

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