The inaugural episode of Saturday Night Live’s 25 season was as star-studded an event as the show had ever produced.
Musical guest David Bowie astonished the crowd with renditions of both his new single “Thursday’s Child” and the timeless classic “Rebel, Rebel”, but the clear star of the evening was comedian Jerry Seinfeld.
Having just finished up a nine-season run of his eponymous hit sitcom, Seinfeld was well aware of the fact that many fans were let down by a series finale in which Jerry, Elaine, George and Cramer are sent to jail for the crime of “criminal indifference” after the gang made jokes while witnessing a carjacking.
Viewers might have found it to be a lackluster way for a legendary show to end, but it provided the perfect setup for one of the decade’s funniest skits.
It begins with the following voiceover: “On May 14, 1998, Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer were sentenced to one year in prison for violating the Massachusetts good samaritan law, then, due to a series of sarcastic quips made to prison guards, and a series finale regarded by most critics as ‘satisfactory as best’, Jerry Seinfeld was transferred to a maximum security prison. That facility is known as… Oz.”
For those of you who might not know, Oz was a notorious prison drama that aired on HBO for six seasons between 1997 and 2003. A vision of nearly every kind of hell imaginable, the inmates at Oswald State Correctional Facility are subjected to constant violence, emotional anguish, and political turmoil from within their own ranks as well as the institution itself. It’s a fantastic show that is well worth your time, provided you have the stomach for the unspeakable.
You might think that someone like Jerry wouldn’t be able to hold his own for long with the characters Oz, including the mild-mannered but quickly hardened Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen), white power gang leader Vernon Schillinger (J. K. Simmons), sociopath Ryan O’Reily (Dean Winters) and disabled narrator Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau), but all of the inmates seem to like the comedian well enough once he gets going.
Even though the sketch is hilarious, it does joke about subject matters such as institutional sexual assault so watch it with a degree of caution.
As great as the Seinfeld / Oz mashup is, it was a missed opportunity of grand proportions to not include biker gang leader Jaz Hoyt, played by Jerry Seinfeld’s real life second cousin Evan Seinfeld, among the characters who made a cameo.
It is unclear how close the two Seinfelds are, as both men have led drastically different lives. Jerry is 14 years older than Evan and while both of them were born in Brooklyn, Jerry grew up in the Massapequa section of Long Island while Evan’s family stayed in Canarsie.
Regardless, we live in a universe where Jerry Seinfeld’s legendary observational humor has been applied to Evan Seinfeld’s tales of Urban Discipline. “Hey Cousin Evan, what’s the deal with these ‘Tales from the Hard Side’? Why don’t you tell some nice ‘Stories from the Soft Side’ that everyone can enjoy?”