The Seinfeld Episode Inspired By A Serial Killer

Back in the 1990s, Seinfeld was a certified phenomenon. The situation comedy, developed by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David and based on Seinfeld's standup persona, was famously a "show about nothing" that seemed to revel in the basic horribleness of its characters. TV Jerry and his core trio of friends — Elaine, George, and Kramer — were generally selfish and all-around terrible people. The fact that they usually got what they deserved was the show's saving grace.

Today the show is a bit of a time capsule of 1990s New York City life, and modern audiences may be a bit baffled by some of its references. One that stands out is the 1993 episode "The Masseuse," which pivots off the fact that Elaine's new boyfriend is named Joel Rifkin.

Depending on your age and where you live, that name might ring a bell. Joel Rifkin was one of the worst serial killers in New York's history, suspected of killing as many as 17 women between 1989 and 1993. And in a moment that really tested the "too soon?" aspect of comedy, the Rifkin episode of Seinfeld aired just five months after his arrest. Here's what you need to know about the Seinfeld episode inspired by a serial killer.

Joel Rifkin was a monster

As Biography explains, Joel Rifkin was a horrifying monster. After a difficult childhood where he was a frequent target of brutal bullying, Rifkin emerged as a maladjusted adult who'd failed at every effort to make friends and have normal relationships. As a teenager, he began having fantasies about strangling women, and when his parents gave him a car he used it to locate and pay for sex workers. This quickly became an obsession, and he spent more and more time and money on this activity. He was forced to move back in with his parents several times due to the money troubles this caused, and changed schools frequently as he skipped schoolwork and classes in favor of his new hobby.

In 1989, Rifkin finally gave in to his urges and murdered a sex worker calling herself Susie. He dismembered her body and removed identifying her fingers and teeth to make it difficult to identify her (Newsday reports that in 2013, she was finally identified as Heidi Balch), then distributed the body parts over a wide geographic area.

Rifkin went on to kill 16 more times. As noted by, Rifkin was only caught because of a dumb mistake: His truck was missing a license plate. When police tried to pull him over, he tried to flee, and when they finally stopped him a horrifying smell prompted them to search his trunk — discovering the decomposing body of Tiffany Bresciani.

Seinfeld riffs on Rifkin

As noted by Oxygen, Seinfeld scriptwriter Peter Mehlman had been reading about Rifkin, who dominated New York media in 1993. It inspired the story that would become The Masseuse, in which Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) begins dating a man named Joel Rifkin. A nice guy, Rifkin refuses to change his name just because a horrible monster shares it. Elaine becomes increasingly disturbed by the coincidence, especially when her co-workers tease her about not sleeping with her back to him, or jokingly warning her to be aware of terrible smells coming from the trunk of his car.

The dark humor comes to a head when Rifkin leaves tickets for a Giants game for Jerry's neighbor Kramer. When Kramer forgets his ID, the stadium uses the public address system to ask Joel Rifkin to come to Will Call, and the entire crowd stops to stare at Elaine and her boyfriend, prompting her to weakly assert, "He's not the murderer!"

In a moment of hilariously dark serendipity, this event finally convinces Elaine's Rifkin to change his name, and when he solicits suggestions from her she thinks for a moment and hits on what she thinks is a perfect solution: O.J. "You don't even use a name, it's just initials," she gushes. While O.J. Simpson never played for the Giants, he was still very famous during and after his playing days (via Pro Football Reference). It is, however, mildly ironic that just a few months after his episode aired, of course, Simpson would become a famous alleged murderer himself (via CNN).