Seinfeld remains one of television’s most beloved sitcoms, but the series has also stirred up some controversy, including one episode being banned.
Seinfeld (1989-1998) aired a controversial episode in season 9 that was subsequently banned from syndication. As the long-running “Seinfeld vs. Friends” rivalry suggests, “the show about nothing” is arguably the best sitcom of the ’90s — if not all time. The show elevated the mundanity of everyday life to absurdity, and the characters often found themselves embroiled in ridiculous scenarios. One such situation, however, crossed the line of good taste and resulted in a controversy.
Seinfeld introduced an abundance of phrases and characters into the American pop culture lexicon. The show starred Jerry Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself, spending time with his friends George Constanza (Jason Alexander), Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Kramer (Michael Richards). The friends were unabashedly narcissistic, but still managed to be funny and likable thanks to show’s stellar writing; however, the episode “The Puerto Rican Day” went too far with its controversial content, which resulted in the episode being pulled from broadcast.
In “The Puerto Rican Day,” the gang finds themselves stuck in a traffic jam due to the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, where Seinfeld is set. All of the characters embark on a series of misadventures as a result of their predicament. Kramer embraces the cultural festivities, but a carelessly discarded sparkler leads him to light a Puerto Rican Flag on fire. After Kramer stomps on the flag to extinguish the flames, he’s chased down by an angry mob, some of whom are wearing clothing emblazoned with the colors of the Puerto Rican flag. He manages to evade them, but they attack Jerry’s car, which has been abandoned by the friends. Kramer claims, “You know, it’s like this every day in Puerto Rico.” Later, Jerry finds his car in a stairwell outside a nearby building.
After the Seinfeld episode first aired on TV, NBC faced backlash over the episode’s negative portrayal of Puerto Ricans. Manual Mirabal, who was the president of the National Puerto Rican Coalition at the time, stated ”It is unacceptable that the Puerto Rican flag be used by ‘Seinfeld’ as a stage prop under any circumstances,” according to an article in the New York Times. Then Bronx Borough President, Fernando Ferrer, a Puerto Rican, said the episode ”crossed the line between humor and bigotry.” Mr. Ferrer specifically took offense to the idea that riots and vandalism happen every day in Puerto Rico, as Kramer suggests. In the days following the episode’s initial May 7, 1989 air date, NBC issued an apology. ”We do not feel that the show lends itself to damaging ethnic stereotypes because the audience for ‘Seinfeld’ knows the humor is derived from watching the core group of characters get themselves into difficult situations.” NBC didn’t air the episode as a rerun, and Columbia TriStar withdrew it from syndication. In 2002, the episode resumed airing in its entirety.
Before Seinfeld ended in 1998, several other moments came under scrutiny for featuring politically-incorrect content. Season 6’s “The Jimmy” shows Kramer being mistaken as disabled due to a pair of bizarre athletic shoes, and Novacaine induced drooling and slurring after a trip to the dentist. One plotline on the Seinfeld season 9 episode “The Merve Griffin Show” revolves around Jerry drugging his girlfriend so he and his friends can play with her toy collection. Season 6’s “The Diplomat Club” has George scrambling to produce a black friend to prove to his boss he isn’t racist. The series often addresses its characters’ lack of sensitivity when it comes to minorities, but there are also instances of blatant sexism, female objectification, homophobia, and racism.
In 2015, EW reported on comments Jerry Seinfeld made during an interview with ESPN radio personality Colin Cowherd. Seinfeld admitted to not performing his stand up on college campuses because the audiences are too politically correct. He suggests Seinfeld isn’t a show for today’s teens, arguing such youth don’t grasp the meaning of certain words and/or concepts: “They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s sexist;’ ‘That’s prejudice. They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.” As far as his comedy is concerned, Seinfeld went on to say that the subject matter he chooses he does so merely because he believes he can make it funny.