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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.

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

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

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

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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

NBC

21

Bob and Ray/Cedric

Best-known episode: "The Sponge"
The Hostile Gays make their first appearance in "The Soup Nazi," lifting an armoire Kramer was guarding for Elaine on the sidewalk simply because they want it. But they return with a vengeance (and one slightly different character name) in "The Sponge," chastising Cosmo for participating in the city's big AIDS Walk without wearing a red ribbon. ("Who! Who does not want to wear the ribbon?") When Kramer, beaten and battered, drags himself across the finish line, he has no idea he'll face the hilarious twosome (played with brilliant flair by Yul Vazquez and John Paragon) once more — when he inadvertently sets fire to a flag in "The Puerto Rican Day." CARYN GANZ

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

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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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