Seinfeld: The Making of an American Icon by Jerry Oppenheimer

Jessica Hodges

What readers get shouldn't be shocking to anyone who knew Seinfeld the show. Oppenheimer, mostly through oral testimonies of friends, relatives and neighbours, describes a man who is driven, focused, and isolated, who only looks after himself.


Publisher: Harper Collins
Length: 398
Subtitle: The Making of An American Icon
Price: $25.95 (US)
Author: Jerry Oppenheimer
US publication date: 2002-08
"If you think you know Jerry Seinfeld from his show, think again."

That 's the hook on the inside sleeve of this Harper Collins publication. It completely fails to accurately represent this book. Nothing about Oppenheimer's story challenges Seinfeld's public image. Whether it changes things for his close personal friends is another matter.

Harper Collins' titillating publicity claims that Jerry Oppenheimer's unauthorized biography reveals Jerry Seinfeld as the man he truly is. What readers get shouldn't be shocking to anyone who knew Seinfeld the show. Oppenheimer, mostly through oral testimonies of friends, relatives and neighbours, describes a man who is driven, focused, and isolated, who only looks after himself.

Most likely, anyone in the world who knows Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian, knows him through his highly successful sitcom, which was famously about nothing. The sitcom featured four absurdly selfish characters who all seemed to lack morals. (The last episode sees the four jailed in Massachusetts for failing to help a fat person in distress? they were too busy making fun of him). While Jerry Oppenheimer tells us his book is about Seinfeld the man, not Seinfeld the show, he goes to great lengths to make connections to these characters, and in the end, concludes Jerry is quite like them.

Not that there is anything wrong with that?

Most fans wanted the show to be real (as the Seinfeld neighbourhood bus tours in New York can attest to), and, apparently, it was. Repeatedly, Oppenheimer hears from old friends and girlfriends that watching the show was strange, as conversations they had would appear or events they experienced would be featured. Unfortunately, this is one of Oppenheimer's weaker approaches. Throughout the book, he dumbs down his material by making multiple references to the show, as if his readers might forget the connections, for example, between Mike Costanza, Jerry's college friend, and George Costanza the sitcom character. The repetition highlight's Oppenheimer's need to capitalize on the sitcom's success to give his biography value. While this book will no doubt satisfy readers who are interested in the details of Jerry Seinfeld's college love life and the "real" story behind his wife snatching scandal, I must point out that Oppenheimer missed great opportunities to make this book about something bigger.

There was a long comedy career for Seinfeld before his NBC show. His stand-up craft was honed on the comedy circuit, which had been created out of the ashes of disco clubs. (This is one of the few interesting historical facts Oppenheimer offers. I won't ruin it for you by explaining it all here). Jerry was making large sums of money long before he became the highest paid TV star. He was a neat freak and a cereal freak from early on in his youth, and his personal style has altered little. Oppenheimer tells us these details through extensive interviews conducted with friends, fellow comedians and actors who knew Jerry on the comedy club circuit in New York and LA. A history of the comedy boom of the eighties is touched on, but given no depth in Jerry's story. Using Seinfeld as a hook to reveal the inner workings of a pop-culture phenomenon could have been interesting.

Another missed feature seen in this book is the theme of contradiction. Seinfeld is a neat freak who loves cars and motorbikes. He is a man who has been mistaken for gay many times but whose public scandals have involved one underage girl and one married woman. He is a man whose best friends are both African-American, but who never featured a significant black character on his long running sitcom. While Oppenheimer enjoys the dirt these contradictions kick up, he does not challenge them or investigate them. Again, here is a potentially interesting route of investigation missed.

It is unnecessary to ask why Oppenheimer ignored the more interesting aspects of Seinfeld's life. Pop-culture audiences, while arguably more intelligent than ever, still enjoy seeing a star torn out of the sky. Oppenheimer, and his publishers Harper Collins, have clearly focused on this one marketing aspect for his biography.

Seinfeld: The Making of an American Icon is yet another example of how tabloid culture has robbed us of a more intelligent, and more interesting, approach to storytelling.






Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.


Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.


Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.


'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.


Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".


12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.


Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.


Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.


Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".


Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.