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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.

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

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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

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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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