seinfeldfanfiction

What’s the Deal With ‘Seinfeld’ Fanfiction?

The sitcom about nothing has enjoyed an afterlife about everything

You’re either a Seinfeld fan or you’re not — and if you are, you likely know the series by heart. In which case, you’ve probably also looked for ways to keep the 1990s sitcom fresh and funny. Maybe it’s as simple as introducing a new fan to the petty issues of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer; for me, it’s writing analysis of one-off characters and reporting on chaos in Seinfeld meme groups.

Those memes, as it happens, are a measure of just how eagerly Seinfeld devotees took control of those 180 episodes of television. With a 1998 finale, the show drew to a close right as internet culture became a dominant force, thereby trapping its characters in an era before texting, streaming, apps or social media. A common refrain is that many of the farcical situations depicted would be easily prevented with smartphones. But, as if to prove that Seinfeld’s formula is timeless even though its context isn’t, people have labored to create an extended universe, as it were, for the cast to inhabit. One long-running example is @Seinfeld2000, which remixes content from Seinfeld, the actors’ real lives, Weird Twitter, trending topics and meme formats. 

Typically, @Seinfeld2000 has been described as a “parody account” — but it’s also fanfiction, a borrowing of roles, settings and scenarios for extra material that diverges from original storylines. And where Seinfeld fanfic is concerned, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. A corollary to Rule 34 (“if it exists, there’s porn of it”) might be that any successful piece of entertainment will generate fanfiction.

This example is from “Kiss Me, Kiss Me,” a story posted in 2017 by “tobeaskeleton” on Archive of Our Own, or AO3, a “fan-created, fan-run, nonprofit, noncommercial archive for transformative fanworks.” Technically, the piece could be considered “slash,” a genre in which men are romantically paired, but the text delves into more than the attraction between Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza. For her part, Elaine comes out as a lesbian, and we meet her new girlfriend — she happens to be a cousin of Kramer, who is revealed to have the most fluid orientation of all. “Pansexual Kramer is totally canon and this is weirdly cute and not as [out of character] as I thought it would be,” one commenter remarked.

Other readers commended the author’s knack for the Seinfeld gang’s voices and cadences. It’s true that while the text isn’t heavy on jokes, its comedic timing is superb. Beyond the mimicry, I see the story accomplishing dual ends. First, it subtly interrogates the artifice of a sitcom. From the opening: “On one rainy Tuesday in New York, Jerry Seinfeld was relaxing, watching the Mets game, when Elaine waltzed into his apartment with no warning, as usual. Seriously, what if he was actually busy or something for once?” (Indeed, one might as well ask how the Mets are playing in rain.) 

But the broader project of “Kiss Me, Kiss Me” is to resolve the endless sequence of heterosexual affairs that drive the show, freeing the characters from a meaningless life of serial dating — all through open and caring conversations around how people are drawn to each other. It concludes with Elaine marrying her girlfriend, and Jerry and George tying the knot as well, Kramer officiating both ceremonies.

The awakening to queer desire is analogous to @Seinfeld2000 tweets about Jerry using technology invented after Seinfeld was over, a way of “updating” the conventions and norms we accepted in the 1990s. It even pivots off a moment of gay panic from the series, with George recalling how alarmed he was to feel the stirrings of an erection as another man massaged his back. The fanfic “un-problematizes” this dated humor.

“That’s definitely fandom’s purview,” explains Aja Romano, a culture writer at Vox who reports extensively on fan communities. What’s more unusual, she says, is fanfic drawn from comedy. “Serialized comedies don’t often get much attention from fandom, and I think that’s because fandom often tends to focus on fundamental character traits and things they want to fundamentally alter, often so two characters can be together. That rarely gets a focus in sitcoms, where character traits are often less weighty and the situations are often much lighter.”

Fandom writers Gavia Baker-Whitelaw and Elizabeth Minkel noted as much in the latest issue of Rec Center, a fanfic recommendation newsletter: “This week we’ve got a multi-fandom list of fic from comedies, a genre that tends to get a lot less fanfictional interest than others (which is weird because many of them set up new situations every week! It’s perfect for us),” they wrote, introducing tales based on Veep, Schitt’s Creek, Grace and Frankie and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  

Luckily, it seems as though Seinfeld’s highly quotable, pop-philosophical takes on “nothing” make it perfect fodder for online creatives. “Seinfeld is really crucial to remix culture, it’s deeply memetic and prone to reinvention and recirculation,” Romano says. “So insofar as fanfic is also part of remix culture, it’s easy to see links there.”

That’s borne out in any number of spin-off narratives: For each piece of erotica in which George and Kramer hook up (“George is beautiful in the moonlight. He stands naked before Cosmo’s bedroom window, exposed for all the world, and it takes Cosmo’s breath away”), there’s another in which George obtains the Necronomicon, with which he hopes to achieve immortality, while Elaine fears her boss has become a vampire. Another adventure describes Jerry in 16th-century Prague, ill from dysentery, suffering explosive diarrhea in the street, then time-travels to scenes of historical figures also pooping. A favorite line: “‘Cool, I will respect your pronouns because i’m not a cunt!’ Jerry ejaculated, getting liquid shit all over everything in George’s house” — that’s George Washington, not Costanza. 

Closer to the realm of Seinfeld itself, you have fanfic relating the first date Jerry and Elaine went on, well before the pilot episode, and a sort of missing scene from the series finale. Another author uses the familiar environment of Monk’s Café to stage a riff on the existential angst in Sartre’s play No Exit, its title quoting the aphorism “hell is other people.” What’s fascinating there, and in every “crossover” fanfic — there’s a Clockwork Orange/1984 dystopian hybrid, a Star Trek mashup and a frankly incredible plot where Jerry does standup linking Super Mario 64 to a vore fetish at “some club in New York or something” — is how well the wallpaper of the Seinfeld reality functions as a blank canvas for whatever else the writer finds engaging. The possibilities are endless because you can break all the “rules” of the show without obscuring or sacrificing the indelible protagonists. No matter the absurdity, we always recognize them.

What I’m saying is, you don’t have to queue up “The Puffy Shirt” on Hulu for what feels like the billionth time to get your Seinfeld fix. Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer live on in the wilds of these fanfic archives, getting up to shenanigans you wouldn’t believe. Hell, even Jerry’s arch-nemesis, Newman, is out here plotting against the comedian. These stories may not have been penned by the likes of Larry David, but so what. As Jerry puts it in “The Novel,” a piece that imagines George developing literary ambition: “What is the deal with writing? It’s nothing but glorified fanfiction!”

Audience laughter. Freeze frame. Theme song plays. Roll credits.