The Lookout

Seinfeld fires off letter to the Times ripping critic

Michael Richards and Jerry Seinfeld in a scene from "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee."

Jerry Seinfeld really has a lot of free time on his hands.

On Tuesday, the New York Times published a column by Neil Genzlinger critical of screenwriters he thinks overuse the word "really" in their scripts.

"Civilization crumbles a little bit almost every time I turn on the television," Genzlinger wrote, "and a single word-and-punctuation-mark combination is inflicting the damage. You've heard it too, no doubt, and if you're a person who values grace and urbanity and eating with utensils rather than burying your face in the plate, you've winced whenever some TV character has spewed it. It's the snarky 'Really?,' and it's undoing 2,000 years' worth of human progress."

Seinfeld—whose excellent, unscripted reality series of webisodes, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," is just that—was not amused by Genzlinger's criticism. He fired off a letter to him that the Times published in Wednesday's paper.

"Your column about the overuse of the term 'Really?' was so deeply vacuous that I couldn't help but feel that you have stepped into my area of expertise," Seinfeld wrote. "Really, Neil? Really? You're upset about too many people saying, 'Really?'? I mean, really. O.K., fine, when it's used in scripted media, it is a little lazy. But comedy writers are lazy. You're not fixing that.

"So, here's the bottom line," the 58-year-old comedian continued. "If you're a writer, fine, don't use it. But in conversation it is fun to say."

More from Genzlinger's column:

"Really?" was once an expression of wonderment that also acknowledged a gap in the user's knowledge. Back when Einstein first announced that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, the "Reallys?" that resulted were saying: "I am astounded by your discovery, so much so that I can scarcely wrap my head around it. You, sir, are a genius."

Seinfeld seethed:

What I do not say or write, as you did in the part about responses to Einstein's theories, is "wrap my head around it."

Are you kidding? No, no, no, Neil. No sir.

When I hear people say, "If you can wrap your head around it," I want to wrap their heads around something, like a pole.

There's no "wrapping." There's no heads going around.

Don't preach to us about "Really?" and then wrap our heads around things.

You crumbled a bit of civilization off there yourself.

Seinfeld's eponymous sitcom—which ran for nine seasons from 1989 to 1998 on NBC—has earned him millions in syndication. But perhaps he was set off by Genzlinger's zinging of his former co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who now stars in the HBO comedy "Veep."

"What did Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Selina, the vice president of the United States, say to a staff member who had prematurely sent out a news release about his own promotion?" Genzlinger wrote. "'Really?' John C. Calhoun and who knows how many other oratorically inclined former vice presidents turned over in their graves."

It's not the first time Seinfeld's had a byline in the paper of record. In 2008, after the death of comedian George Carlin, Seinfeld contributed an op-ed ("Dying Is Hard. Comedy Is Harder.") about the legendary comic:

The honest truth is, for a comedian, even death is just a premise to make jokes about. I know this because I was on the phone with George Carlin nine days ago and we were making some death jokes. We were talking about Tim Russert and Bo Diddley and George said: "I feel safe for a while. There will probably be a break before they come after the next one. I always like to fly on an airline right after they've had a crash. It improves your odds."

Genzlinger ended his column with a nod to Carlin, too. "George Carlin once had a list of seven words you couldn't say on TV," he wrote. "Time for an update."

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