Hard to believe, but the Seinfeld episode “The Contest” which TV Guide ranked #1 on its 2009 list of “100 Greatest Episodes of All-Time” was once considered to be controversial.
Never mind the fact that Larry David won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing in a Comedy Series for the episode, NBC didn’t think that masturbation was an appropriate topic for prime time television.
Which, in turn, probably made the episode, which originally aired on November 18, 1992, even funnier as Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer used euphemism after euphemism including the still oft-used phrase “master of my domain.”
Who that saw the show will ever forget exchanges like this?
KRAMER: Wait a second, wait a second. Count me in on this. (Clicks his tongue)
JERRY: You’ll be out before we get the check.
JERRY: It’s easier for a woman not to do it than a man.
JERRY: We have to do it. It’s part of our lifestyle. It’s like, uh.. shaving.
ELAINE: Oh, that is such bologna. I shave my legs.
KRAMER: Not everyday.
Classic stuff right there.
And now, thanks to an oral history of the episode published on Wednesday by New York Magazine, we have been treated to the true story that led to the amazing episode, which also happened to be the first appearance of Estelle Harris as George’s mother.
Larry David, writer of “The Contest”: I can’t believe I have to discuss this at my ripe age. I would say there was only one other person involved [in the actual contest]. Should I mention his name? I don’t even know — my friend Frank Piazza. I don’t remember what the bet was. There must have been some money involved. I think it was a small amount. [The contest lasted] two days. Maybe three. I just remember it didn’t last very long. I was surprised at how quickly it ended. I won handily, yes.
Kenny Kramer, friend of Larry David, a.k.a. the real Kramer: I wasn’t in [the contest] because I knew I would never win it.
David: By the way, [the idea] was in my notebook for some time and I never even mentioned it to Jerry [Seinfeld] because I didn’t think there was any way that he would want to do it, and I didn’t think there was any way the show actually could get done on the network. So it took me a couple years, you know, to even mention it to Jerry because it didn’t even occur to me that it was a possibility. But he was all for it.
David also said the he had decided that if NBC balked he was going to quit the show. Luckily, it did air, despite Warren Littlefield, former president of NBC, saying the broadcast standards executive who was there during a reading of the script, was like, “What the fuck?”
As for one of the best scenes in the episode, Michael Richards says knew it was going to be great…
“The Contest,” when we were at the table, we knew that was a winner. None of us were like, “Gee, I hope this hits,” or “I hope this was as good as our last show.” No way. We knew that show was swinging. It’s not a matter of conceit that I say that I knew when I put the money down on the table and go, “I’m out,” that that was going to get a laugh, particularly because it’s so quick. And who’s the first [one out]? Kramer, you know? It made me laugh!
How could it not? 25 years later it still makes us laugh.