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The Seinfeld Episode That Hit A Little Close To Home For Larry David

The Seinfeld Episode That Hit A Little Close To Home For Larry David

“Seinfeld” gets a lot of credit for its uniquely scathing and petty sense of humor, its quartet of brilliantly-wrought central characters, its candid observations on contemporary city life, and for just generally being a hilarious TV show. But it also deserves a lot of credit for the contributions it made to the medium of television by continually and fearlessly pushing it forward, utilizing the standard sitcom format as a playground for endless narrative and comedic invention. For a show about nothing, it certainly managed to be about a lot of things.

Many classic episodes of “Seinfeld” attest to the show’s tremendous originality — “The Chinese Restaurant” and its innovative structure, “The Outing” and its taboo-mocking approach, “The Parking Garage” and its sly, borderline existential deployment of claustrophobia. But there is one particular episode of “Seinfeld” that could be argued to be the boldest, most envelope-pushing of all — both for its prickly subject matter, and the light touch with which the show handled it. And, as it would happen, the subject matter in question was borrowed from co-creator and writer Larry David’s own life.

Larry David once won a contest like the one on The Contest

Like many of the best “Seinfeld” episodes — or, heck, most “Seinfeld” episodes in general — the Season 4 episode “The Contest” has a premise that is easy to summarize, but executed in ways that are impossible to predict. The premise in question is this: Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Kramer (Michael Richards) engage in a competition to see who can go the longest time as “master of their domain” — i.e. without masturbating. Temptations, frustrations, and disasters ensue.

While the episode’s famously airtight plot structure is certainly too efficient to have been ripped wholesale from real life, the central conceit was, as ever on “Seinfeld,” borrowed from the writers’ own experiences. In a 1999 interview with Conan O’Brien, Larry David, who wrote “The Contest,” revealed that he actually took part in a similar contest with some friends in real life — and won it.

Conan himself guessed as much, seeing as the winner of the contest on “The Contest” winds up being George Constanza, the character who most closely aligns with David’s real-life personality. “Yeah, I won the contest,” David admitted. “But I was weakening in the last couple of days.”

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