As you may know, we love Seinfeld – the show is probably in the top 5 of all television shows ever. We wrote about it once before in Seinfeld Episodes. We were wondering how could we write about it again, something fun, something to get our mind thinking about the show again, and it struck: what about the characters outside the Big Four? Not only that, but we love character actors – and there are plenty to choose from. We also once got to talk to an actor who played the iconic maître d in the classic episode The Chinese Restaurant, James Hong, who we also once wrote about, Character Actors: Unsung Heroes. These characters help put all the crazy stories together in a way that maybe makes sense. Tell us in the comments did we miss anyone, and who was your favorite?
During this pandemic, I’ve been trying to find some laughs, so naturally, I went back to checking out some Seinfeld. I still get genuine, hearty laughs from these, even from episodes I’ve watched many times. I do start to wonder if the show has aged to the point where younger people may not get the humor anymore – I have no idea if there are substantial numbers of newer fans discovering the show and enjoying it as much as I did. Either way, it still holds up for me, and here are some of my top 10 supporting characters that I love seeing pop-up in episodes.
- J. Peterman – I’m glad the real J. Peterman Company allowed actor John O’Hurley to create this eccentric character with a distinctive cadence to his speech. I think Jerry was the only one of the four not to have a storyline with Peterman, although his father did briefly work for him. He was at his best in the “Apocalypse Now” spoofing episode, when Elaine tracks him down in some remote jungle to get him to sign an expense report. “The horror, the horror”.
- Jackie Chiles – Played by Phil Morris, Jackie was a very thinly-veiled parody of Johnny Cochran and represented Kramer on three different lawsuits. Each time, Kramer’s doofus antics cheated Jackie out of his big payday.
- Dr. Tim Whatley – Before Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston created one of the most memorable Seinfeld characters – yet was only in five episodes. While under anesthesia for dental work, Jerry thought Whatley looped him into a threesome, then Jerry was accused of being an “anti-dentite” when he got mad at Whatley for converting to Judaism for the jokes.
- Sue Ellen Mischke – The “bra-less wonder”, she’s a former high school classmate turned nemesis of Elaine. When she wears a bra (Elaine’s gift) as a top instead of underwear, she causes Kramer to crash his car, leading to a trial sequence that parodied the OJ Simpson case.
- Bob Sacamano – Here’s a character we never see, but his advice and support as a friend of Kramer end up causing havoc in several episodes. At one point, he works in a condom factory and gives Kramer a bag of defective condoms. My favorite is when Jerry buys a Russian hat from Bob for $40, which turns out to be made of rat fur – which leads to the closing of Kenny Roger’s Roaster Chicken.
- Estelle Costanza – Jerry Stiller gets all the props for playing Frank, but Estelle Harris is underrated for what she does with the character of George’s mom. Her barely hidden disdain for Seinfeld’s parents is just as funny as her crazy outbursts with George and Frank.
- Lloyd Braun – A childhood friend that George’s mom always wishes George would take after. After spending time in a mental institution, he helps Kramer with a movie theater plan, then works for George’s father – fake-selling computers. I never put together that this character was played by two different actors.
- “Slippery Pete”– Another of Kramer’s dubious friends, Slippery Pete is an underground electrician that helps George try to move a Frogger arcade machine, so he doesn’t lose his high score. Veteran character actor Peter Stormare makes the small role memorable with his usual sleazy and slightly menacing edge.
- Mr. Lippman – Another in the trio of memorable Elaine bosses (the other being Mr. Pitt). He ends up inadvertently bankrupting his employer, Pendent Publishing. Then later steals an idea from Elaine to open a muffin top shop. I love it when he and Elaine debate the exclamation point in the shop’s title, “Top Of The Muffin To You!”.
- Poppie – The restaurant owner who famously doesn’t wash his hands in the bathroom and leads to Jerry refusing to eat part of his girlfriend’s pizza. He reappears in later episodes with incontinence and ruins Jerry’s couch.
DJ: Great characters, all of them. Peterman’s Brando bit in the jungle is classic. Estelle Harris doesn’t get enough credit for playing off of Jerry Stiller, she hangs with him on every verse like they were a real couple. I would have picked Whatley as well, very iconic in this universe and figures in a lot of big moments. Cranston is great like he was on “King of Queens” and “Malcolm in the Middle”. Lloyd Braun is another good one and whence we get the famous “Serenity Now!” episode.
Seinfeld has always been about the characters for me. Jerry is the straight man for every other character, main or otherwise. There were so many good ones to choose from, it was hard to see who made the cut. I can’t believe no one picked the Soup Nazi or even Newman. Maybe Newman is more like a main character B, somewhere in between. I was thinking we could have done a post on just significant others of the four. Here are my top 10 in no particular order.
- Kenny Bania – The annoying comedian peer of Jerry’s, he has both ups and downs in their relationship, he may have never fully gotten the meal he wanted at Mendy’s, but he did get Uma Thurman’s number. “He was gold Jerry, gold!”
- Frank Costanza – I know Jerry Stiller had a career before Seinfeld and a famous offspring, but damn, his work in Seinfeld and later King of Queens is all-time. “Serenity Now” is still something I quote, and don’t get me started on the “Feats of Strength”. He is in my Hall of Fame.
- David Puddy – The best of Elaine’s eccentric boyfriends. Patrick Warburton has had a productive career in sitcoms and voice-over work, but he will always be remembered as Puddy. He was a Jesus-Fish loving, face painting, mechanic/car salesman. The eight-ball jacket may be my favorite of Puddy’s idiosyncrasies. “Yeah, that’s right”.
- Karl the Exterminator – Poor Karl, just wants to do his job, but George drags him to meet his boss, Mr. Morgan, so he can prove he has an African-American friend (don’t ask). George tells Morgan that in high school, Karl was a football player nicknamed “The Exterminator” and yes, the plan fails.
- Lt. Joe Bookman – I laugh whenever I think of this early Seinfeld episode. Phillip Baker-Hall plays Lt. Bookman the library cop with such an overzealous seriousness that makes him so damn funny. I think Jerry is laughing in some scenes for real.
- Mr. Kruger – One of George’s many bosses, Mr. Kruger was the owner of Kruger’s Industrial Smoothing. He didn’t seem to really care too much about the business, but he did nickname George “Koko” and could spin an office chair “no handsies”. Despite not caring, he did have to see “Festivus” to prove George’s lack of giving spirit was due to this childhood trauma and not ethical malfeasance.
- Uncle Leo – “Jerry, Hello!”, the best Uncle on TV – The great Len Lesser does more with less. Maybe one of Jerry’s only relatives we see outside his parents. He is loud and funny and comes best without eyebrows. Is he an Adonis or grim death? You decide.
- Eddie Sherman – A co-worker of Elaine’s who she keeps promoting because she is scared to fire him, ends up writing for the Peterman catalog together. Eddie is great, he is rough around the edges and has violent ideas. The episode he is in, “The Fatigues” is great, also gets Frank and Bania some classic work.
- Donna Chang – Jerry dates Donna Chang because he thinks she is Chinese, come to find out she’s not driving Jerry to tell her “You’re not Chinese you know.” Little racist for Jerry to want specifically to date a Chinese girl, but hey, it was the 90s. Why does he still continue to date Donna? Well, “she is still a woman”.
- Sidney Fields – Jerry joins a Big Brother-like program for seniors, and poor Jerry gets stuck with cantankerous Sidney Fields. Sid is played by great sitcom character actor Bill Erwin, who was nominated for an Emmy for this role. Erwin makes me laugh in every sitcom I have seen him in. He calls Jerry “Idiot” and says his voodoo loving caretaker is stealing from him.
MG: “The Fatigues” is such a fun episode because of the strong supporting players – it’s one of my favorites. Kruger is my favorite George boss – although neither of us wrote about George Steinbrenner (sorry Larry David). I love the book-stealing episode with Uncle Leo where Jerry imagines him in prison like DeNiro in Cape Fear. I’ve come to really appreciate Warburton’s work as Puddy, more recently than when I first saw his episodes. He really crafted a hilarious deadpan character and I’m assuming that’s why they kept bringing him back for more episodes.