Originally Published December 14, 2020.
Seinfeld is my favorite show. I’m not going to go into all the reasons why I love it so much and why I think it’s the greatest show of all time because that stuff is out there. Let’s focus on the margins with this one. How about we decide once and for all the top 5 characters that appeared on Seinfeld for 3 episodes or less?
The key to a successful run as a sitcom is the quality of the extras and Seinfeld had more than their share. Think of some of the most adored sitcoms of all time and you will find that they all have one thing in common: they were not afraid to prop up a multitude of minor characters. This gave shows like The Office, The Simpsons, Parks and Recreations, Cheers and on and on a freshness and variety and Seinfeld was no stranger to this formula and developed their second-tier characters smarlty. Personalities like Newman, J. Peterman, Jackie Chiles, Puddy, Jack Klompus, etc. could oftentimes carry a show, especially in the case of Newman and took pressure off of the main characters to provide the comic clout on a week to week basis.
But like Mr. Pitt looking into a 3 dimensional picture, let’s look deeper than just the second tier characters of Seinfeld. The following list is of characters that only appeared at most in 3 episodes (the finale doesn’t count since they brought back so many of them) but their moment was legendary. These actors, characters got their pitch and absolutely knocked it out of the park.
First, honorable mentions: Keith Hernandez (Keith Hernandez!), Mabel Choate (Marble Rye lady and an old bag), Brody (the bootlegger), Poppie, The crazed mechanic, The Maestro, Ricky (TV Guide guy), Bob and Cedric, Jean Paul (the marathon runner), Sid (car parking guy), Babu (such a strong 1st episode from him but not as strong of a second), Jimmy (3rd person guy), and Gary Fogle (Jon Lovitz fake cancer patient guy). The worst character to appear in 3 episodes or less is of course Babs Kramer. They totally botched that character, that moment and her casting.
Now, without further ado, here’s the top 5,
5. The Soup Nazi: Honestly, I wanted to leave him off and promote Bob and Cedric but in the end, I just couldn’t. Mainly because Bob and Cedric are two people. The Soup Nazi is the only character on this list that even a non-Seinfeld fan would be aware of and part of a superb episode. He was so great that they even named the episode after him. That’s some muscle. And even though the main characters are just as funny as the Soup Nazi during their confrontations, it’s the Soup Nazi that sets the tone and brings out their worst. He’s lower on this list than he probably should be due to becoming a pop culture cliche (somehow “No soup for you” and “Got fill-in-the-blank?” have remained in the public conscience since the mid-90s), which probably isn’t fair on my part, but he deserves to be here nonetheless.
His best line: “You’re pushing your luck, little man.”
4. Dr. Reston: Reston is only in three episodes but somehow is able to pull off being a multilayered character who excels at being both creepy and funny and is very much worthy of being on this list.
The genius of Reston’s character is that he’s Elaine’s boyfriend while also being her psychiatrist. Comedic combination gold. When Elaine has a relational problem, she takes it to her “sven-jolly” psychiatrist, Reston, who’s got the goods on her and the awkwardness is played out beautifully on screen. He’s just a bit too deviously smart for Elaine (and eventually Kramer) so when Elaine brings tries to break it off with him during one of her sessions, he immediately cuts her down to size with this dagger: “Elaine, do you remember your dream where you had a sexual encounter with a Chinese woman?… I’m concerned about you Elaine.”
To be sure, Reston is a bad guy and would deservedly be #metoo’d if he were an actual psychiatrist who actually did take phone calls from the mysterious ‘Bobo’ to make lunch plans while conducting a therapy session with his client/girlfriend. But bad guys can be funny and Elaine eventually does get out of the relationship thanks to the help of Kramer which is a whole ‘nother story.
Best line: “Elaine, have you been urinating a lot again?”
3. Eric the Clown: I have to admit, it was hard for me to not put him higher, though #1 is clearly number 1. I love Eric the Clown and his roughly 30 seconds of screen time in one episode.
Eric (what kind of name is that for a clown!?!) the Clown is so beaten with life that his general disgust with George’s line of questioning almost sends him to his breaking point. The guy is just trying to go through the motions, make a few balloon figures for the kids, collect a check and get back to his no doubt seedy apartment. But, no. He meets George who just can’t get over the fact that this clown doesn’t know who Bozo is. I admit that George brings out the best in Eric which kind of hurts his candidacy on this list but not enough to drop him any lower. And I am so with George on this. How can a clown not know who Bozo is? I probably wouldn’t handle it the same way George did but it’s worth addressing. Eric the Clown has finally reached his breaking point with George when he delivers this line:
“Me forget it? You should forget it! You’re livin’ in the past, man! You’re hung up on some clown from the sixties, man!”
And the way he accentuates “sixties” takes the comedy to another level. You watch this scene and you’re just amazed at how well the actor nailed his one moment on the show. Then you go and find out that it’s Jon Favreau who is almost single handedly fixing the Star Wars universe and it all makes sense.
His best line: “I don’t know who Bozo is, what? Is he a clown?”
2. Shaky the Mohel: You’ve got to be good to top Shaky the Mohel. Every single line this guy utters is gold, Jerry, gold. He’s the worst person possible to be doing, you know, what he does for a living. As soon as he enters the room, the roller coaster ride with Shaky begins. Except it’s the kind of roller coaster that is just one big drop while simultaneously having to slice a piece of skin off the most sensitive part of a baby boy’s body. He of course butchers it. No pun intended since, you know, Shaky the Mohel’s brother was a butcher.
His best line: “I coulda been a kosher butcher like my brother. The money’s good. There’s a union, with benefits. And, cows have no families. You make a mistake with a cow, you move on with your life.”
1. Mr. Bookman the library detective. The pacing, timing, and delivery of every single line this guy utters in is perfection. He nails every single one. Bookman is the one character on the list that didn’t need any of the main cast to be funny. Phillip Baker Hall delivers untouchable fastballs one after another and Jerry does his best to keep up but clearly breaks character a couple of times and rightly so. The guy delivers blow after blow from the saddest hills ever imagined (A library detective hunting down delinquent book returners) while also criticizing Jerry’s lack of instant coffee availability. It’s a truly timeless scene that would make a top 5 list of Seinfeld moments in my book.
Here’s to you, Mr. Bookman. You did it. You’re finally getting the respect you’ve always deserved.
His best line: “Maybe that’s how you get your kicks, Seinfeld. You and your good time buddies.”