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From Soup Nazis to Nuts: 100 Best ‘Seinfeld’ Characters

Close talkers, braless wonders, library cops and bad tennis pros: we rank the most memorable members of the ‘Seinfeld’ universe

From Soup Nazis to Nuts: 100 Best 'Seinfeld' Characters

NBC

For “a show about nothing,” Seinfeld certainly had a lot of somebodies weaving in and out of its fictional Upper West Side universe. 

For every one of the sitcom’s main foursome, there were practically dozens of agitated relatives, annoyed ex-boyfriends and girlfriends, beleaguered shopkeepers, bad dates, celebrity drop-bys and put-upon coworkers. (There were even nice “opposite” versions of Seinfeld, George and Kramer — the “Bizarro Jerry” crew.) In fact, when we talk about our favorite Seinfeld episodes or quote our favorite lines, many of them revolve around the nut cases, nasty New Yorkers and “no soup for you!” villains who entered in the main characters’ orbit: Hey, remember the one with the “close talker”? Or the one where Kramer’s girlfriend has the “Jimmy legs”? “So my ex-boyfriend came over last night, and yada yada yada, I’m really tired today.” “Elaine, you gotta have a bayyy-beeeee!”

So we’ve assessed and assembled the 100 greatest Seinfeld characters, and ranked them in order of their significance to the Seinfeldverse, their overall hilarity factor and our own personal preferences. Yes, Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer are here — and so are the soup nazis, the library cops, the bubble boys and the horny dentists who make the series so endlessly re-watchable. Sit back, grab some Junior Mints and enjoy.

NBC

20

George Steinbrenner

Best-known episode: "The Calzone"
The real-life owner of the New York Yankees was George's boss for several seasons — usually shot from behind (played by Lee Bear or Mitch Mitchell, although Larry David provided Steinbrenner's voice). The Seinfeld version is only slightly more capricious than the real Steinbrenner, whether he's wearing Lou Gehrig's uniform pants or shouting, "I'll say it again — I haven't had a pimple since I was 18 and I don't care if you believe me or not! And how's this, you're fired!" GAVIN EDWARDS

See Also:

• And They're Spectacular! 10 Actors on Their Memorable 'Seinfeld' Roles
• Master of Their Domain: 10 Great 'Seinfeld' Episodes
• Not That There's Anything Wrong With These: 5 'Sein-Fail' Episodes
• Stopping Short: 10 'Seinfeld' Episodes You Forgot You Loved
• Close Talkers and Double Dippers: 15 Phrases 'Seinfeld' Spawned
• Yada, Yada, Yada: Larry David on 25 Years of 'Seinfeld'
 Milos, Mets, Magic Loogies: The 25 Greatest 'Seinfeld' Sports Episodes

Michael Yarish/NBCU Photo Bank

19

Helen Seinfeld

Best-known episode: "The Pen"
She loves her son. She hates air conditioning, open cookie boxes, Aunt Stella and the ocean. (When Jerry tries scuba diving, she demands answers: "What's so great about underwater? What's down there to see?") Helen Seinfeld has a salty tongue for the gossip-loving seniors of Del Boca Vista, but she stands up loyally for Jerry, making her one of the show's truly beloved characters. "How can anyone not like you?" she asks. "You're a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful boy. Everybody likes you — it's impossible not to like you. Impossible. Morty?" Played by Liz Sheridan, still kicking at 86, Helen remains proud of her son even if she still hopes he might snag a job at Bloomingdale's someday. ROB SHEFFIELD

NBC

18

Sidra Holland

Best-known episode: 'The Implant"
Oh, they're real — and they're spectacular. In the glorious pantheon of one-shot "Jerry's girlfriend" characters, none makes an impression quite like Teri Hatcher's Sidra, the woman Elaine accuses of having fake breasts. ("This chick's playing with Confederate money!") Sidra reappears in the courtroom finale as the arm candy of lawyer Jackie Chiles, who confirms that they are real and spectacular. At the time, Hatcher was a 29-year-old starlet best known for low-budget flicks like Brainsmasher: A Love Story. But she went on to fame and fortune — the only actress who can claim to be both a Bond girl and a Seinfeld girl. ROB SHEFFIELD

Teri Hatcher on Her Seinfeld Role

Joey Delvalle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

17

Kenny Bania

Best-known episode: "The Soup"
Stand-up comic Kenny Bania, played by Steve Hytner, wanted Jerry Seinfeld's approval so badly he'd do anything, including giving him a suit for almost nothing and asking him for mentoring sessions. Bania also had a knack for putting a positive spin on almost everything. ("The best, Jerry! The best!") But all these traits, including the comedian's litany of jokes about things that dissolve in milk, made Seinfeld loathe him. But hey, Jerry's loss is Ovaltine's gain. KORY GROW

Steven Hytner on His Seinfeld Role

NBC

16

Sue Ellen Mischke

Best-known episode: "The Caddy"
For four episodes, veteran TV actress Brenda Strong portrayed Sue Ellen Mischke, the heiress of the Oh Henry! candy bar fortune, the "bra-less wonder," defendant in an O.J. Simpson-esque trial and, most importantly, Elaine Benes' archenemy. Elaine frequently engaged in Sisyphean attempts to outfox her childhood adversary, who enjoyed a life of "high society" and Kennedy heirloom auctions while Benes was stuck chilling in Apt. 5A every day. Strong is a two-time Emmy nominee thanks to her time on Desperate Housewives, but it's her turn as Mischke that still has men rolling down their car windows to yell "Sue Ellen" at her as she walks down the street. DANIEL KREPS

Brenda Strong on Her Seinfeld Role

Photo courtesy NBC

15

Manya

Best-known episode: "The Pony Remark"
Oh, how she loved that pony. ("Its lustrous coat, its flowing mane — it was the pride of Krakow!") No TV show ever had as many delightfully nasty old folks as Seinfeld, and as played by 79-year-old Roszika Halmos, Manya is a real piece of work. She's a second cousin of Jerry's mother who dies suddenly after he ruins her 50th anniversary dinner by making a joke about ponies. Manya thunders, "I had a pony! When I was little girl in Poland, we all had ponies!" Jerry has a point, though — why would anyone leave a country packed with ponies to immigrate to a non-pony country? ROB SHEFFIELD

J. Delvalle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

14

Mr. Pitt

Best-known episode: "The Gymnast"
Roughly every third episode, Seinfeld's channel-mate Law & Order would feature a storyline about evil, out-of-touch rich people who ruled New York like their personal kingdom. Mr. Pitt was this show's goofy counterpoint: Played with supreme starchiness by the late Ian Abercrombie, he was a wealthy eccentric so consumed with finding just the right pair of white socks and eating his Snickers with silverware that he made Elaine's life hilariously miserable. To this day, we can't see Woody Woodpecker without thinking fondly of him. TIM GRIERSON

Michael Yarish/NBCU Photo Bank

13

Morty Seinfeld

Best-known episode: "The Wizard"
Like his son, Morty Seinfeld is a man devoted to his gripes and grievances. A retired raincoat salesman — he invented the beltless trenchcoat — Morty now lives in Florida, where he sometimes serves as president of his condo board. (Even if Jack Klompus accuses him of sleeping on the job more than Ronald Reagan.) He's all furrowed eyebrows and shrugging shoulders, the essence of human exasperation. Given a Wizard computer organizer, Morty just uses it to calculate 12.4 per cent tips. ("The service was slow, and God forbid they should refill the water.") Barney Martin was a real-life New York City cop for 20 years before going Hollywood — in 1967 he played Goering in Mel Brooks' The Producers. He died in 2005 at 82. Morty's a man who knows the fundamental truths about America — as he proudly tells Jacobo Peterman, "Cheap fabric and dim lighting. That's how you move merchandise." ROB SHEFFIELD 

NBC

12

Dr. Tim Whatley

Best-known episodes: "The Yada Yada"
Before he was Breaking Bad's Walter White or Hal, the dad on Malcolm In the Middle, Bryan Cranston's most noteworthy recurring TV role was his series of five appearances on Seinfeld as dentist Tim Whatley. We first meet him in "The Mom and Pop Store," when he throws a Thanksgiving Eve party and invites everyone but Jerry. In "The Labelmaker," Whatley is the source of the term "regifter," after he recycles a present from Elaine. In "The Jimmy," Jerry discovers that Whatley stocks Penthouse in his waiting room, and later suspects that Whatley and his hygienist took advantage of him while he was passed out on nitrous. ("Is this guy a dentist or Caligula?!) But Dr. Whatley's finest half-hour happens in "The Yada Yada," when he converts to Judaism "for the jokes." "Jerry, it's our sense of humor that sustained us as a people for 3,000 years," he says — off by 2,000 or so — and then asks his hygienist for "a schtickle of fluoride." In his final appearance, in "The Strike," he hosts a Chanukah party that Elaine calls "Studio 54 with a menorah." JENNY ELISCU

Bryan Cranston on His Seinfeld Role

Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

11

J. Peterman

Best-known episode: "The Van Buren Boys"
By the time the J. Peterman character first popped up in the finale of Seinfeld's sixth season ("The Understudy"), the real-life J. Peterman mail-order catalog was well-known among those who could afford the luxury-priced clothing items it advertised with lengthy, rhapsodic narratives. For everyone else, J. Peterman may as well have been a complete Seinfeld invention. Actor John O'Hurley brought the character's eccentricities to life over the course of 20 episodes, imparting him with an overstuffed baritone that O'Hurley said was inspired by "Forties radio drama, combined with bad Charles Kuralt." A wealthy entrepreneur who'd traveled the world extensively, O'Hurley's Peterman was nonetheless a buffoon, lost in his own myth and devoid of common sense. He suspects Elaine of taking opium after the poppy seed muffins she eats set off a false positive on a drug test, and when he gets burnt out on work, he ditches the company and hides in "Burma." "You most likely know it as Myanmar," Peterman tells Elaine on the phone, "but it will always be Burma to me." Of course, O'Hurley has had ongoing success as an actor and voice talent since Seinfeld, but Jacopo Peterman will always be the role that defines him. In 2001, the real J. Peterman even persuaded O'Hurley to invest in a relaunch of the brand, following a 1999 bankruptcy filing. JENNY ELISCU

Courtesy Everett Collection

10

The Soup Nazi

Best-known episode: "The Soup Nazi"
Actor Larry Thomas only featured on one episode of Seinfeld, for a mere six scenes, but he left one of TV's most memorable characters ever in his wake. The Soup Nazi was a disciplined, eccentric, misunderstood man — "most geniuses are," Kramer explains — trying to restore order in this chaotic world one Mulligatawny at a time. He was capable of eviscerating a little man like George with a simple "Next!"; a crusader against public displays of affection and bad Al Pacino impersonations; and a soup artisan who could make Newman squeal "Jam-ba-la-ya!" and make Jerry choose bisque over women. To this day, Thomas can't go an hour in public without a stranger demanding he yell "No soup for you!" in their face. DANIEL KREPS

Larry Thomas on His Seinfeld Role

See Also:

• And They're Spectacular! 10 Actors on Their Memorable 'Seinfeld' Roles
• Master of Their Domain: 10 Great 'Seinfeld' Episodes
• Not That There's Anything Wrong With These: 5 'Sein-Fail' Episodes
• Stopping Short: 10 'Seinfeld' Episodes You Forgot You Loved
• Close Talkers and Double Dippers: 15 Phrases 'Seinfeld' Spawned
• Yada, Yada, Yada: Larry David on 25 Years of 'Seinfeld'
 Milos, Mets, Magic Loogies: The 25 Greatest 'Seinfeld' Sports Episodes

Estelle Costanza

Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

9

Estelle Costanza

Best-known episode: "The Contest"
Actress Estelle Harris' portrayal of George Costanza's shrieking, domineering mother became a regular after she caught him "treating his body like it was an amusement park" in "The Contest." But in addition to the character's ever-watchful eye over her son, it was her love-hate chemistry with Jerry Stiller's Frank Costanza, her contempt for Jerry Seinfeld's snooty parents and superheroic skill for making large amounts of paella that made her truly unforgettable. KORY GROW 

Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

8

David Puddy

Best-known episode: "The Dealership"
What does it say about Elaine that the closest she ever got to a soul mate was this face-painting, high-fiving New Jersey Devils fan and Arby's enthusiast? Dumb but sweet, Puddy was that rare benign presence on the show, counterbalancing Elaine's judgmental, petty edge with his Zen-doofus serenity. (Actually, he was a Christian, which kind of freaked her out.) The underlying joke of their on-again/off-again relationship: She was convinced she could do better, while all of us knew he was way too good for her. TIM GRIERSON

Michael Yarish/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

7

Frank Costanza

Best-known episode: "The Strike"
George's highly combustible father. Co-creator of the mansiere (or "the Bro") and inventor of "the stop-short." Former army cook, fluent in Korean; once met the Rev. Sun Myung Moon ("a hell of a nice guy"). Next to Newman, Frank Costanza – first portrayed by John Randolph, but made famous by Jerry Stiller – is unquestionably the star of the Seinfeld supporting cast, so choosing his best episode is impossible. Instead, we'll go with one that best sums up everything we love about him: "The Strike," a Season Nine standout in which Frank rekindles Festivus, the anti-Christmas he created decades earlier after beating a man with his bare hands. Whether he's berating his son ("You don't need glasses! You're just weak!"), engaging in the airing of grievances  or challenging George to a wrestling match, this is Frank at his most unhinged and irrepressible…which is just the way we like him. JAMES MONTGOMERY

Alice S. Hall/NBCU Photo Bank

6

Uncle Leo

Best-known episode: "The Bookstore"
Braggart, book thief, general kvetch — Len Lesser was so gifted at playing Uncle Leo, you could almost feel his vice-like grip on your arm and hot breath on your neck as he leaned in to tell you about Cousin Jeffrey's latest success down at the Parks Department. Leo slunk around stealing from Brentano's ("I'm an old man. I'm confused! I thought I paid for it. What's my name?"), lifting Jerry's watch out of the trash and accusing cooks of anti-Semitism, but he still managed to be loveable. Sadly, we'll never know what his "crime of passion" was. Jerry! Hello! CARYN GANZ

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

5

Newman

Best-known episode: "The Label Maker"
Hello, Newman. A postal worker who lives down the hall from Jerry and Kramer, Newman is the show's primary antagonist: "Mark my words, Seinfeld! Your day of reckoning is coming, when an evil wind will blow through your little playworld and wipe that smug smile off your face!" There's no obvious reason for him and Jerry to be sworn enemies — he's no more self-absorbed or scheming than any of the lead characters. But he did work the same postal route as David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, which can't be a coincidence. GAVIN EDWARDS

Wayne Knight on His Seinfeld Role

Carin Baer/NBCU Photo Bank

4

Cosmo Kramer

Best-known episode: "The Merv Griffin Show"
The history of TV comedy is full of wacky neighbors, but none so crazed as Kramer — this guy lives in a world all his own, bristling with so much manic energy, his hair seems to give off Bride of Frankenstein-style electric sparks. A wholly original comic creation, he's like the Jewish Falstaff that Shakespeare must have always wanted to create. To his mother, he's "Cosmo"; to the DMV, he's "ASSMAN"; but to everyone else, he's simply Kramer. "His whole life is a fantasy camp," as George says. "Do nothing, fall ass-backwards into money, mooch food off your neighbors and have sex without dating."  

Michael Richards was years older than his castmates — he had a good decade on Jason Alexander or Julia Louis-Dreyfus. And since he'd toiled in relative obscurity his whole career, Kramer came as a total surprise — that hair, those pants, that voice, the body rebop that kept earning very un-Seinfeld-like bursts of affectionate applause. It's safe to say Kramer would have topped this list back when Seinfeld was still in production. (Richards' offstage troubles might have hurt the Kramer mystique a bit — or maybe The Big Lebowski, which cleverly cloned the character as "the Dude.") But Kramer remains one of a kind. He is a loathsome, offensive brute — yet we can't look away. ROB SHEFFIELD

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

3

Jerry Seinfeld

Best-known episode: "The Voice"
The popularity of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the resulting awareness that the George character was modeled after David's neurotic rudeness, has caused a lot of second and third generation Seinfeld fans to undervalue Jerry's role. It never mattered that the "IRL" Jerry Seinfeld was kind of a terrible actor, or that he sometimes couldn't read his lines without cracking a smile. Even when he was having trouble keeping a straight face, Jerry was still the perfect straight man. Elaine and George and Kramer may be the more enduring, iconic characters, but Jerry was the firmament of the show — the axis around which all the other characters orbited. In "The Dog," Elaine and George try to hang out sans Jerry and find that he is the only thing they can find to talk about with each other. ("Wait, have you ever seen him throw up?")

His obsession with what Elaine calls "the excruciating minutiae of every single daily event" is the soul of the show — without which, a "show about nothing" could never have remained so compelling for nine years and 180 episodes. And then there's Jerry's need to blow tiny flaws in the women he dates way out of proportion. From "Man Hands" to "The Two Face" to the woman he dumps because her mentor is dating Kenny Bania, he became the archetypal too-picky dude. In "The Voice," a girlfriend gives him an ultimatum: stop pretending her belly button has a funny voice ("Helloooooo… La la la") or stop dating her, and naturally he chooses the voice. When he nearly settles down with Jeannie Steinman (played by Janeane Garofalo), it feels like a cheat. The Jerry we love will never be satisfied — and we can relate. JENNY ELISCU

Jan Sonnenmair/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

2

George Costanza

Best-known episode: "The Comeback"
He was, in no particular order, a petty human being, a pathological liar, a spendthrift, an egomaniac, a hypochondriac and a self-loathing schlemiel. Whether he's making up an implausible excuse that involves Art Vandelay, using his "dead fiancee" to gain entrance to an all-models club, brushing off his actual dead fiancee's passing with an indifferent "Huh" or knocking over children to escape a fire, George was the wizard of id. ("I feel like my old self again. Neurotic, paranoid, totally inadequate, completely insecure. It's a pleasure.") 

He's not just the alter ego of the show's co-creator Larry David; he's also the craven heart of Seinfeld, and it's impossible to imagine this misanthropic masterpiece of a TV show without him. Jason Alexander had a field day playing Jerry's right-hand man, turning this self-involved sidekick into a sitcom creation with no equal. Neither the actor nor the writers ever made him seem likable or sentimental, yet somehow, we were with this character every warped step of the way. Jerry was charismatic, Elaine was tart and sexy, Kramer was wacky and eccentric — but George was us, all of our bad instincts and selfish motivations crammed into one compact Costanza frame. GAVIN EDWARDS 

Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

1

Elaine Benes

Best-known episode: "The Sponge"
(Somewhat) lovable loser. Persnickety smart aleck. Erratic goofball. Seinfeld's three other leads can be boiled down to types. But no box could contain the full essence of Elaine Benes, the show's most complex, quirky and ultimately hilarious character.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus did her brilliant work under the radar, seamlessly weaving Elaine's idiosyncrasies into each episode without overshadowing her co-stars. She grabbed lines off the page and went full Jackson Pollock every time she opened her mouth: "He took. It out." "Maybe the dingo ate your baby." "I touched them."

Kramer was the most ostentatious physical comedian, spinning into doorways and sticking in his too-tight jeans, but Elaine was the most nuanced actor in her own body. She jerkily kicked her way into awkward-dancing history, but also exploded at the site of George's toupee, went full Stanley Kowalski after overdoing it on muscle relaxers and made Russell Dalrymple marvel at her ketchup secret.

Elaine's sexual vitality was itself a revelation. Her character was groundbreaking, even for the Nineties — a woman in her thirties not obsessed with marriage and children, passionate about abortion rights and favored contraception methods. Her sexual appetite rivaled her male peers (she was the second one to exit "The Contest" and she flipped out when Jerry banned Puddy from doing "the move"). And she had actual career aspirations, too, though her dream jobs in publishing were always thwarted by the idiocy around her.

Elaine was comfortable with her hapless pals, but was most aware of a life beyond examining the "excruciating minutia of every single daily event." She wasn't exactly a cock-eyed optimist, but she let herself live and love and hate and scheme and laugh in ways Jerry, George and Kramer never could. She was the straw that stirred the drink, and, ironically, the character who wasn't originally part of the lineup. We wouldn't want to imagine the Sein-world without her. CARYN GANZ 

See Also:

• And They're Spectacular! 10 Actors on Their Memorable 'Seinfeld' Roles
• Master of Their Domain: 10 Great 'Seinfeld' Episodes
• Not That There's Anything Wrong With These: 5 'Sein-Fail' Episodes
• Stopping Short: 10 'Seinfeld' Episodes You Forgot You Loved
• Close Talkers and Double Dippers: 15 Phrases 'Seinfeld' Spawned
• Yada, Yada, Yada: Larry David on 25 Years of 'Seinfeld'
 Milos, Mets, Magic Loogies: The 25 Greatest 'Seinfeld' Sports Episodes

 

 

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