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What's the Deal With "What's the Deal With..."?

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The phrase, "What's the deal with..." is so synonymous with a specific brand of '90s observational comedy, I bet you just read those words in Jerry Seinfeld's voice. Ask someone to do a impersonation of the comedian (don't actually do this), and they'll assuredly whine, "What's the deal with..." before either trailing off or mentioning some quotidian subject of scorn. It's funny because he always said it! Or did he?

After searching through the scripts for every episode of Seinfeld, the phrase, "What's the deal with..." was never used sincerely (i.e. said in the context of genuine observational humor) during the show's entire run, including all the pre-intro stand-up sets.

The closest the series comes is during the season two episode "The Deal," and Jerry doesn't even say it. At Monk's, George asks Jerry, "What's the deal with Aquaman? Could he go on land, or was he just restricted to water?" before they change subjects and venture into a conversation about Jerry sleeping with Elaine.

The phrase wouldn't be said again in the series for another five years, and from that point forward, all instances of "What's the deal with..." are self-referential and used to make fun of the hokey phrase. In all, and not including "The Deal," it's only said in five of Seinfeld's 180 episodes:

1. "The Invitations," Season 7, Episode 24

Jerry decides his fiancé Jeannie (played by Janeane Garofalo) is too similar to himself after she uses the hackneyed joke structure twice:

Jerry: Well it's been quite a night. I could sure use a cup of coffee.
Jeannie: Hey! What's the deal with decaf? How do they get the caffeine out of there, and then where does it go?
Jerry: I dunno.
...
Jerry: (to the waitress): I' ll just have a cup of coffee.
Jeannie: Bowl of corn flakes.
Jerry: More cereal? That's your third bowl today, you had it for breakfast and lunch.
Jeannie: Hey! So what's the deal with brunch? I mean, if it's a combination of breakfast and lunch, how comes there's no lupper or no linner?

Turned off by this, Jerry cancels the engagement.

2. "The Abstinence," Season 8, Episode 9

Jerry bombs at his former junior high school with, "Hey kids. What's the deal with homework? You're not working on your home!"

3. "The Summer of George," Season 8, Episode 22

George pitches a joke to Jerry for use at the Tony Awards—"What's the deal with those guys down in the pit?"—which Jerry rejects: "They're musicians. That's not a joke." Later, when deciding between playing frisbee golf and going to see Jerry, George imagines Seinfeld delivering the stale gag, "What's the deal with airplane peanuts?"

4. "The Butter Shave" Season 9, Episode 1

Jerry sabotages his own act to prevent hack comedian Kenny Bania from riding his coattails:

Jerry: What's the deal with lampshades? I mean, if it's a lamp, why do you want shade? And what's with people getting sick?
...
Jerry: I mean, what's the deal with cancer?
Audience Member: I have cancer!
Kramer: Oh, tough crowd.

5. "The Finale," Season 9, Episode 24

The series ends with Jerry doing a failed set at the prison where he and the gang are serving time:

"So, what's the deal with the yard? I mean, when I was a kid my mother wanted me to play in the yard. But of course she didn't have to worry about my next door neighbor Tommy sticking a shiv in my thigh. And what's with the lockdown? Why do we have to be locked in our cells? Are we that bad that we have to be sent to prison, in prison? You would think the weightlifting and the sodomy is enough. So, anyone from Cellblock D?"

Seinfeld routinely made fun of tired sitcom tropes, so it's no surprise that they went after his would-be catchphrase. Still, it would seem that somewhere between 1991's "The Deal" and 1996's "The Invitations," What's the deal with... became prevalent enough to co-opt. According to Google, the phrase's appearance in magazines and books rose exponentially starting around the show's premier before it leveled out in the mid-2000s (the show ended in 1998):

What's the deal with data journalism?

Beyond searching through old episodes of Seinfeld, I couldn't find evidence of him using the phrase in televised stand-up appearances, either. One place I was able to find it was in his 1993 book of quips and jokes, SeinLanguage. In it, there is only one instance of "What the deal with...":

Can someone please tell me what is the deal with B.O.? Why do we need B.O.? Everything in nature has a function, a purpose, except B.O. Doesn't make any sense. Do something good—hard work, exercise—smell very bad. This is the way the human being is designed. You move, you stink.

So, beyond that example, before he started making fun of it on his own show, Jerry Seinfeld's oeuvre is pretty much completely devoid of the phrase "What's the Deal With...". This raises the question: Who started saying it?

The answer is...Jerry Seinfeld (gasps fill the auditorium).

The culprit appears to be a 1992 Saturday Night Live episode hosted by Seinfeld himself. In a sketch called "Stand-Up and Win," he plays the host of a game show where lame comedians answer questions like, "What's the Deal with Airplane Food?," "What's the Deal With the Black Box?," "What's the Deal With Count Chocula?," and so on and so on.

Naturally, he was in on the joke from the very beginning. Despite this, "What's the deal with..." is still being used by hack headline writers to this very day, including yours truly.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Who Was Chuck Taylor?
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From Betty Crocker to Tommy Bahama, plenty of popular labels are "named" after fake people. But one product with a bona fide backstory to its moniker is Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers. The durable gym shoes are beloved by everyone from jocks to hipsters. But who's the man behind the cursive signature on the trademark circular ankle patch?

As journalist Abraham Aamidor recounted in his 2006 book Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History, Chuck Taylor was a former pro basketball player-turned-Converse salesman whose personal brand and tireless salesmanship were instrumental to the shoes' success.

Charles Hollis Taylor was born on July 24, 1901, and raised in southern Indiana. Basketball—the brand-new sport invented by James Naismith in 1891—was beginning to take the Hoosier State by storm. Taylor joined his high school team, the Columbus High School Bull Dogs, and was named captain.

After graduation, instead of heading off to college, Taylor launched his semi-pro career playing basketball with the Columbus Commercials. He’d go on to play for a handful of other teams across the Midwest, including the the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio, before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company's name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.)

Founded in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1908 as a rubber shoe manufacturer, Converse first began producing canvas shoes in 1915, since there wasn't a year-round market for galoshes. They introduced their All-Star canvas sports shoes two years later, in 1917. It’s unclear whether Chuck was initially recruited to also play ball for Converse (by 1926, the brand was sponsoring a traveling team) or if he was simply employed to work in sales. However, we do know that he quickly proved himself to be indispensable to the company.

Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback, and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.

In addition to his myriad other job duties, Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.

After leaving the All-Stars, Taylor continued to publicize his shoe—and own personal brand—by hobnobbing with customers at small-town sporting goods stores and making “special appearances” at local basketball games. There, he’d be included in the starting lineup of a local team during a pivotal game.

Taylor’s star grew so bright that in 1932, Converse added his signature to the ankle patch of the All Star shoes. From that point on, they were known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Still, Taylor—who reportedly took shameless advantage of his expense account and earned a good salary—is believed to have never received royalties for the use of his name.

In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court, and soon both Taylor and his namesake kicks were beloved by a different sort of customer.

Still, even though Taylor's star has faded over the decades, fans of his shoe continue to carry on his legacy: Today, Converse sells more than 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day, 365 days a year, to retro-loving customers who can't get enough of the athlete's looping cursive signature.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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