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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.

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41

Mickey Abbott

Best-known episode: "The Stand-In"
For seven fabulous episodes, Kramer and his good friend Mickey Abbott — a tough-talking, ill-tempered little person (do not call him a midget) — were the DeVito/Schwarzenegger of Must See TV. The gangly Kramer and his tiny cohort often found employment together that accentuated their odd coupleness, like when Abbott was a department store elf alongside Kramer's Santa in "The Race," or when Abbott portrayed a child actor's cue marker on a soap opera in "The Stand-In." Abbott was portrayed by Danny Woodburn, a former stand-up comedian who later had roles in Watchmen (as Rorschach's jailhouse tormentor) and Death to Smoochy along with over 100 TV appearances. DANIEL KREPS

Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

40

Susan Ross

Best-known episode: "The Invitations"
What sort of woman would want to marry George, even after she caught him picking his nose, he got her fired from NBC by kissing her in front of her boss and he tried to scare her off by demanding a pre-nup?  That would be Susan Biddle Ross (played by Heidi Swedberg), who experimented with lesbianism before returning to George and getting killed by licking the envelopes of their wedding invitations; George chose stationery so cheap, the glue was toxic. 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

NBC

39

The Chinese Restaurant Maitre’d

Best-known episode: "The Chinese Restaurant"
A quick dinner at the Hunan 5th Avenue turns into an existential nightmare, as the unflappable maitre'd keeps promising the table will be ready in "five, 10 minutes." James Hong is one of the all-time great Hollywood character actors — he played an evil butler in Chinatown, the scientist who designs replicant eyes in Blade Runner and Tia Carrere's dad in Wayne's World 2. If you're playing Six Degrees of Seinfeld, you can use Hong to connect to pretty much any classic Hollywood film or TV show. Yet this might be his greatest role. ROB SHEFFIELD

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38

Marisa Tomei

Best-known episode: "The Caddy"
The Oscar-winning actress plays herself — or rather, a version of herself who is hot for quirky, funny, bald men, and is sitting at home hoping for a date. When George hears that, he becomes obsessed, fantasizes about Tomei and badgers a friend in a hospital bed for her phone number. When Marisa and George go for a date in the park, they hit it off — until she finds out he's engaged and punches him in the eye. GAVIN EDWARDS

NBC

37

Mr. Wilhelm

Best-known episode: "The Bottle Deposit"
Supervising George Costanza can't be good for anybody's mental health, and it definitely takes a toll on Mr. Wilhelm. This Yankees executive is played by Richard Herd, although he's a dead ringer for Karl Malden — he always looks like he has steam coming out of his ears. Mr. Wilhelm sometimes forgets to take his medication, which is why he fails to notice how incompetent George is, and discusses work projects by dropping cryptic clues about the Petula Clark song "Downtown." He also gets abducted and brainwashed by a carpet-cleaner cult. ("Most of the world is carpeted. And one day, we will do the cleaning.") But then Mr. Wilhelm meets the saddest fate of all: He takes a job with the Mets. ROB SHEFFIELD

NBC

36

Jason Hanky

Best-known episode: "The Apology"
James Spader has played his share of villains. (Like in the indie thriller 2 Days in the Valley, which must hold some kind of record for casting Seinfeld one-shots — the film also has Teri "Sidra" Hatcher and Lawrence "Alton" Tierney.) But Spader's Jason Hankey is the kind of creep who refuses to loan George a sweater because he doesn't want George stretching out the neck hole. When Hankey joins a 12-step program, George demands a Step Nine apology for the neck hole incident, even if he has to make a scene at Baskin Robbins. ROB SHEFFIELD

Joey Delvalle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

35

Jackie Chiles

Best-known episode: "The Caddy"
Lawyer Jackie Chiles is a parody of Johnnie Cochran (famous for defending O.J. Simpson) who takes on a demented life of his own, representing Kramer when he sues tobacco companies or burns himself with coffee. ("Outrageous, egregious, preposterous!") When Chiles appeared in the finale (unsuccessfully defending the gang at an epic trial, but getting to sleep with Sidra), his scenes took a long time to shoot: actor Phil Morris so amused the cast that they kept breaking into laughter. GAVIN EDWARDS

Seinfeld, Jack Klompus

NBC

34

Jack Klompus

Best-known episodes: "The Pen"
Morty Seinfeld's nemesis at the Del Boca Vista retirement community, Jack Klompus possesses a coveted "Astronaut pen" that he gives to Jerry, setting off a chain of events that would change the course of condo life forever. Klompus – played by Borscht Belt vet Sandy Baron, who passed away in 2001 – takes things too far at a roast to honor Morty's service as community president ("His administration did excel in one department: the hiring of incompetents!") and, in the two-part "Raincoats," smashes the window of Morty's garage to obtain a box of beltless coats. Finally, he accuses Morty of embezzling funds from the condo treasury in order to buy a brand-new Cadillac, usurps his power and purchases the car for $6,000. Of course, he ends up driving it into a marsh. Florida! JAMES MONTGOMERY

Barry Slobin/NBCU Photo Bank

33

Bette Midler

Best-known episode: "The Understudy"
Of course the star of Broadway's Rochelle, Rochelle: The Musical had to be the Divine Miss M! If anyone could embody that sassy title character and her strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk, it's Midler. In an episode based on the 1994 Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan scandal, Midler is injured during a softball game and ends up in the hospital. But even there, she is nothing short of a grand dame, wearing a luxurious, feather-collared blue robe in her hospital bed, while Kramer caters to her every whim. JENNY ELISCU

Joey Delvalle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

32

Izzy Mandelbaum

Best-known episode: "The English Patient"
"Mandelbaum! Mandelbaum! Mandelbaum!" Lloyd Bridges' portrayal of the octogenarian palooka at the Seinfelds' retirement community will forever be remembered by that three-word chant and his catchphrase, "It's go time!" As legend has it, he once trained with Charles Atlas in the Fifties ("1850s?" Jerry wonders aloud) and he's willing to defend it by lifting anything – even if it means throwing out his back. It's a trait he shares with his family members, who each wind up in the hospital lifting things, but hey, at least they've got each other, and that chant. KORY GROW

NBC

31

Marcy

Best-known episode: "The Yada Yada"
We only meet Marcy for one episode, but she's immortal, unforgettable, yada yada yada. She likes to fast-forward through conversations with the phrase "yada yada," which can mean anything from bad egg salad to a shoplifting binge. But when she says, "My old boyfriend came over last night and yada yada yada, anyway, I'm really tired today," George wonders if she's yada yada-ing sex. She might be George's coolest girlfriend, but she's definitely the most succinct. Marcy is played by the great Suzanne Cryer — star of stage, screen, yada yada. ROB SHEFFIELD

Photo courtesy of NBC

30

Lt. Bookman

Best-known episode: "The Library"
You thought Les Miserables' Javert was a dogged enforcer of the law? The French police inspector has nothing on Lt. Bookman, a New York Public Library cop who hates outstanding late fees almost as much as he hates "drawings of pee-pees and wee-wees in The Cat in the Hat." Having forgotten to return his copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer back in 1971, Jerry is forced to deal with 20 years of overdue-book fees — and worse, incurs the wrath of the NYPL's in-house bruiser. Before he became a staple of Paul Thomas Anderson's big-screen rep company, Philip Baker Hall was a journeyman theater actor with a handful of TV credits to his name; per Hall himself, his pulpy, rat-a-tat-tat take on Bookman "opened doors" and helped turn him into one of the best go-to gruff guys in the business. "That is one tough monkey," Jerry says as Bookman strides away, late-fee check in hand. You have no idea, joyboy. DAVID FEAR

Philip Baker Hall 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

Seinfeld, Alton Benes

Photo courtesy of NBC

29

Alton Benes

Best-known episode: "The Jacket"
Elaine's dad Alton Benes is an old-school hard-boiled writer with a Hemingway-style code of manliness, including a taste for Scotch and spicy food. Shockingly, he fails to find her friends amusing, telling Jerry, "We had a funny guy with us in Korea, a tail gunner. They blew his brains out all over the Pacific." Legendary film noir tough guy Lawrence Tierney starred in 1940s classics like Born To Kill and Dillinger, before coming back to play the crime boss in Reservoir Dogs. But Alton Benes might be the scariest character he ever played. ROB SHEFFIELD

NBC

28

Bob Sacamano

Best-known episode: "The Heart Attack"
Entire lists could be written about Seinfeld's often-referred-to-but-completely-unseen characters, and none of them would be complete without Bob Sacamano. We first hear about him when Kramer describes a routine hernia surgery gone wrong that apparently left his buddy "sitting in a chair by the window" with a high, squeaky voice. From then on, Sacamano becomes a jack of all trades, having at various times manufactured defective condoms that nearly make George a father, sold Russian hats made out of nutria in Central Park and offered knock-off "Wizard" personal organizers that end up costing Kramer a condo board election. Apparently "Bob Sacamano" was the name of Seinfeld writer Larry Charles' real-life friend, though no word on whether the real-life Sacamano also had rabies. CADY DRELL 

NBC

27

Donald Sanger, The Bubble Boy

Best-known episode: "The Bubble Boy"
Unlike John Travolta's affably goofy character in the 1976 TV movie The Boy in the BubbleSeinfeld's Bubble Boy was just an asshole. Like that Travolta character, Donald Sanger is modeled after the real-life David Vetter, a boy whose immune system was so weak it required him to live his entire life in a sterilized plastic "bubble." We never actually see him, but Sanger (voiced by Jon Hayman, a writer and consultant for the show) has none of the sympathetic qualities usually attributed to kids who battle lifelong illness. He berates his devoted mother ("What the hell do I gotta do to get some food around here? And if it's peanut butter, shove it in your face!"), and when he meets Susan Ross, he suggests, "How about taking your top off?" It's actually kind of a relief when she accidentally deflates his bubble and he's rushed off to the hospital. JENNY ELISCU

Seinfeld, Babu Bhatt

Photo courtesy of NBC

26

Babu Bhatt

Best-known episode: "The Café"
All this Pakistani immigrant wants is to open his own restaurant — the Dream Café — and serve New Yorkers their choice of tacos, moussaka or franks and beans. (Patrons should be careful with those hot face towels, however.) Keeping an eatery afloat in NYC is rough, however, so Jerry offers a tip to Babu: serve nothing but Pakistani cuisine. Bad advice. Still, Jerry makes it up to him, by getting the beleagured Mr. Bhatt a job at the local diner and an apartment in his building…if only the comedian hadn't accidentally had Babu's visa-renewal application sitting in his mail pile for months. As played by Israeli-Indian actor Brian George, Babu starts out as an example of America's melting-pot dream — and ends up as the embodiment of the phrase "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." DAVID FEAR

Courtesy Everett Collection

25

Keith Hernandez

Best-known episode: "The Boyfriend"
Arguably the greatest sitcom guest role by a professional athlete, Keith Hernandez — a baseball legend who played an indispensable role in helping Jerry's beloved New York Mets win the 1986 World Series — staged an unforgettable bromance with the stand-up comic, only to see the friendship erode after it becomes a bizarre love triangle with Elaine. The moustached Met also provided us with one of the most cockiest bits of dialogue ever by simply declaring, "I'm Keith Hernandez." (And don't even get us started on the Roger McDowell cameo in that spitting incident Zapruder film.) Between Keith's '86 heroics, his role on the best broadcasting team in baseball, and his memorable guest spot on Seinfeld, it's a travesty Hernandez's #17 hasn't been retired at Citi Field yet. DANIEL KREPS

Keith Hernandez on His Seinfeld Role

Seinfeld, Judge Reinhold

NBC

24

Aaron

Best-known episode: "The Raincoat"
Kind-hearted Aaron – Elaine Benes' boyfriend, played by Fast Times at Ridgemont High's Judge Reinhold – was so polite and so generous, probably because he needed closeness in his life. The thing is, he wanted to be a little too close to Seinfeld and his friends, getting right in their grills and earning him the nickname the "Close Talker." What was funny was his penchant for ignoring personal space and proximity wasn't just reserved for people; when he offers to take the Seinfelds on a special tour of a museum, he promises, "You can examine the artwork up close." KORY GROW

Phil Totola, Seinfeld

NBC

23

Phil Totola

Best-known episode: "The Stand-In"
He took it out. He took. It out. Jerry's softball buddy goes on a date with Elaine, but it turns into a disaster. Because he took it out. It. Out. ROB SHEFFIELD

 

NBC

22

Lloyd Braun

Best-known episode: 'The Gum"
George never could compete with his nemesis Lloyd Braun — at least not in the eyes of Estelle Costanza. She kept comparing her son to Lloyd while he was growing up. And even after Lloyd spends time in the nuthouse — he got there by saying "serenity now" until it drove him insane — Estelle still wishes George could be more like him. ("Good for you, Lloyd!") He works for a failed mayoral campaign in "The Non-Fat Yogurt," supplies Chinatown chewing gum in "The Gum" and almost wins a prize Waterpik selling computers for Frank Costanza in "The Serenity Now." ROB SHEFFIELD