June 22nd, 2017 – While you can imagine what the Seinfeld gang would be observing and cracking jokes about today by following “Seinfeld Current Day” on Twitter, the jokes they did make during the sitcom’s nine season run still slide into conversations on a regular basis. And the reactions to some of their more controversial jokes still make many lists when discussing banned episodes from sitcoms over the years.
On May 7th, 1998, the 20th episode of the ninth season aired. It was called “The Puerto Rican Day,” and it was the last episode before the series finale. Amidst the “plot about nothing” style, which became famous early on in the series, was a flurry of what some considered disrespectful and inaccurate stereotypes.
The episode finds Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer leaving a Mets game early only to get stuck in a traffic jam caused by the Puerto Rican Day parade. The group splits up and it’s Kramer that causes much of the controversy for the episode.
While chatting with a disgruntled driver, Kramer lights a cigar with a sparkler and shares his thoughts about the jammed up streets saying:
“Come on, man. You need to lighten up. You know, a feeling like this only happens once a year. Yeah, it’s like this every day in Puerto Rico.”
During the comment, Kramer tosses the sparkler into a convertible where it lands on the Puerto Rican flag. Noticing it has caught fire, Kramer takes it out and begins stomping on it.
KRAMER: Ooh! !Dios mio!
MAN: Hey! There’s a guy burning the Puerto Rican flag!
A mob chases Kramer who makes his way into an apartment for cover. With George, Jerry and Kramer all pretending to be interested in the apartment for rent, they realize nobody is watching Jerry’s car. They look out the window to see the same angry mob shaking the abandoned car.
KRAMER: Well, you know, it’s like this every day in Puerto Rico.
NBC quickly drew criticism from many sides including the National Puerto Rican Coalition.
The scene was an ”unconscionable insult” to Puerto Ricans, said the president of the National Puerto Rican Coalition, Manuel Mirabal. “It is unacceptable that the Puerto Rican flag be used by ‘Seinfeld’ as a stage prop under any circumstances,” he continued.
The Bronx Borough President, Fernando Ferrer (who is Puerto Rican himself) said the episode “crossed the line between humor and bigotry.” According to coverage of the pushback from The New York Times, “Mr. Ferrer said it was a slur to depict men rioting and vandalizing a car and suggesting that it happens every day in Puerto Rico.”
At the time, NBC issued an apology saying the show relies on its viewers understanding of the way the show sources comedic moments.
“We do not feel that the show lends itself to damaging ethnic stereotypes, because the audience for ‘Seinfeld’ knows the humor is derived from watching the core group of characters get themselves into difficult situations,” the network said in a statement.
NBC’s president, Robert Wright, added ”Our appreciation of the broad comedy of ‘Seinfeld’ does not in any way take away from the respect we have for the Puerto Rican flag.”
Following the outcry and the apology, the episode was banned in future syndicated airings. In 2002, however, “The Puerto Rican Day” was put back into rotation.
Do you think Seinfeld crossed a line in “The Puerto Rican Day” episode? Do you think if the episode were aired for the first time today it would run into controversy? Give us your throwback thoughts!