Depictions of Jewishness in ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

The Jewish tropes in Seinfeld and (more pointedly) Curb Your Enthusiasm have been sporadically written about by race realists.

From a different perspective, here are the abstracts of 4 unpublished conference papers by Evan Cooper on the theme of Jewishness in Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm:


  • Cooper, Evan. “I’m a Little Scared of Elaine: Representations of Jewish Women on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm”Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Marriott Hotel, Loews Philadelphia Hotel, Philadelphia, PA, Aug 12, 2005 <Not Available>. 2013-07-26 Abstract:

Over the last fifteen years, there has been a significant increase in the number of Jewish women on television situation comedies. Such representations have frequently been criticized for perpetuating stereotypes of Jewish women, specifically the stereotypes of the Jewish American Princess and the Jewish Mother. In this paper, I analyze two popular situation comedies, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm and the ways that they represent both Jewish and Gentile (non-Jewish) women.

I first trace the history of dominant images of Jewish women in American popular culture and then give a comparatively brief description of both shows. Analyzing both major and guest characters, I argue that the Jewish women on both shows diverge from the familiar depictions of Jewish women. While Gentile women are typically genial or diffident figures, Jewish female characters on both shows are assertive women who are considerably more comfortable with their anger.

Given the inherently problematic nature of ethnic humor, I conclude the paper with a call for more research that seeks to understand how audiences actually receive comic representations of minority groups. In particular, I argue for more case studies of shows like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

  • Cooper, Evan. “We’re not Men: Representations of Jewish and Gentile Men on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal Convention Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Aug 10, 2006 <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 Abstract:

During the 1990s, the situation comedy Seinfeld was a massive popular culture phenomenon. Though initial concerns about being too Jewish meant that only the Jerry Seinfeld character could be overtly identified as Jewish, the show featured Jewish creators, writers, and actors. Just as significantly, the characters were all based on real-life Jews and the show exuded a Jewish comedic aesthetic. Centered around the social lives of its four single thirtysomethings living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the show also dichotomized between Jewish women and men and, respectively, Gentile (non-Jewish) women and men.

After a brief description of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld’s co-creator Larry David’s subsequent series, I present a typology of Jewish men on television. I then analyze the representations of Jewish and Gentile men on both Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Particular attention is paid to the ways that Jewish men are feminized. I conclude the paper by discussing the difficulties inherent in analyzing mass media comedic texts and consider how the shows may be received by Jewish and Gentile audiences.

  • Cooper, Evan. “Well, It’s Very Emasculating: Jewish Men and Women on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm”Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Hilton San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, Aug 07, 2009 <Not Available>. 2014-11-29 Abstract:

With its ironic fatalism, archetypal Jewish characters, and distinctively Jewish vernacular, Seinfeld ranks as probably the most Jewish sitcom ever on network television. Despite its widespread popularity, the representations of Jewish women and men on both Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, the co-creator Larry David’s subsequent series on HBO, have received precious little attention.

Following a brief description of both shows, I address the ways that the shows representations of Jewish women diverge from the stereotypical Jewish American Princess (JAP) and Jewish Mother. In contrast to the stereotypically sexually frigid, physically unattractive, and overly materialistic JAP, the defining characteristic of younger Jewish women on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm is typically their uncompromising punisher streak. Likewise, the older Jewish women do not push food or employ guilt like the stereotypical Jewish mother. In contrast, younger and older Gentile women are habitually depicted as either genial or aloof and dismissive. Whereas Gentile men are stolid, uncomplicated, and prone to violence, Jewish men are feminized figures neurotic and voluble teetotalers with cultural tastes more commonly associated with gay men. The paper concludes with a discussion of how such representations are likely to be perceived by Jewish and non-Jewish viewers.

  • Cooper, Evan. “You Know, Support the Team: Representations of Gentile Masculinity on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Colorado Convention Center and Hyatt Regency, Denver, CO, Aug 16, 2012 <Not Available>. 2014-11-24 Abstract:

While much has rightfully been written about racial and ethnic stereotypes in popular culture, considerably less attention has been devoted to the stereotypes of White men and women. As a partial corrective, this paper examines the images of White, non-Jewish (Gentile) men on two popular situation comedies: Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. I choose these two because they share the same creator (Larry David) and because they are arguably the two most “Jewish” sitcoms in television history.

In order to explore this phenomenon, I first provide a brief description of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. After quickly elucidating upon the different Jewish male types on both shows, I discuss the depictions of the different Gentile male types on both shows. Particular attention is paid to fundamental differences in sociability between Jewish and Gentile main, secondary, recurring and guest male characters. I also provide a quantitative analysis of the differences between the portrayals of Gentile and Jewish guest male characters. Given the differences in these portrayals, I argue that Jewish masculinity, for all its comic flaws, is normalized on both Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm whereas Gentile masculinity is depicted as odd and incomprehensible. I conclude by considering the social significance of the shows and, in particular, how the representations of Gentile and Jewish men are likely to be understood by viewers of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

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