From the Hamptons to Soup Nazis: ‘Seinfeld’ Writers Celebrate 30th Anniversary Through These NYC Locations
By Frazier Tharpe and Nate Houston
THE SOUP NAZI ("The Soup Nazi")
The Original Soup Man (259 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019)
"I pitched a bunch of ideas and it wasn't going so well, then I started talking about this guy, the Soup Nazi, and they started laughing. His name is Al Yeganeh. He's someone I used to visit when I was writing for David Letterman. I'm pretty much George in that very first scene and Dave Hanson is the writer that introduced me. But it's pretty much like the first scene is written. Like ‘Wait, what? The soup is great but if I don't follow the rules they'll take it away?’ He's called the Soup what? The Soup Nazi?’
And I came out of that conversation with them saying there's your first episode. And I pretended to understand what they were talking about. But as I left Larry and Jerry's office, I could not have been more confused. It wasn't a traditional pitch, where I was saying here's the story, here are the characters, here's how it moves through the plot and here's how it resolves. You know, it was really a baptism by fire. I was just tossed into the middle of the swimming pool as a Seinfeld writer.
The next morning it was all over the New York media. We could not have been more surprised by that reaction, because I guess everybody in the local media there would get [the] soup and immediately recognized Larry Thomas as a guy who looks like Al Yeganeh and it became this big deal. For at least a year whenever I was back in New York, I never let on for a second that I was the guy that wrote it, because I didn't want to be kicked out of the soup line.
And when eventually I did go there with Jerry and he saw Jerry and recognized him, he screamed at him, and kicked him out. And Jerry said, "But I made you famous." And he goes, 'No you didn't. The Today Show made me famous,' and he weirdly held out a half-inch VCR tape [saying] 'This made me famous.' I still don't know what was on that tape. So he, like a lot of people, took to exception to being referred to as a Nazi on national television, and understandably so. Especially in this day and age. And I don't know that he's ever come to terms with it, nor have I ever discussed it with him, or Jerry either. That's what we all should be doing at Complex, is we should be getting us all in the room, and talking for the first time and working this out. It's been long enough.
I watch the episodes now, I look back and I see what was going on in my life 30 years ago. There are all of these little biographical touches, things that were bugging me at the time and oddly they're very accurate. Like The Wig Master. I was living with a young woman at the time and she said, "My friend is going to stay with us for a month." That immediately created a boundary issue for me and we were starting to fight about it. That's something that I could not stop thinking about. Like why she found [him being a Wig Master for Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat] to be perfectly normal, and I found everything she was saying to be perfectly insane. Or how, I need[ed] paid parking for my Jeep, and suddenly, one Saturday afternoon, I discover there are prostitutes using it.
Or being at a party and seeing my boss dance and he intimidates me until I see him dance and now I realize he's human and he's a worse dancer than I and I'm not intimidated [anymore]. That becomes “The Little Kicks.” The the thumbs up and the kicking was a very accurate portrayal of the way Lorne Michaels danced, and that's who it's based on. Lorne has inspired a lot of comedy and if this reaches some sort of legendary status, here he is again. So I hope he's not offended by it.
Those are the moments in life I really live for, and right now there's no place to put those, So you know, that's where Seinfeld was genius kind of therapy writing, is I could put this on television and put my point of view out of this incident that happened in my life and then be done with it, you know? I always thought the junk mail episode that I wrote would be a little bigger than it was, because it really... I thought it would touch a nerve with all the paper being wasted, that was being delivered to houses everywhere in America. I was talking to him the other day. The world is so much more complex and full of issues and etiquette problems than it's ever been, from airlines to grocery stores to people on phones in traffic to the online dating scene and... it's just a mess. And I think we could come back right now and do nine more seasons. We won't, but I think we could in a second.
As told to Complex by Spike Feresten
THE HAMPTONS ("The Hamptons")
"It was the last episode we shot of that season. I remember when we finished the last shot, Jerry looking over at me and saying, 'Well, there it is. There's your season.' That felt pretty good."
"Getting the last episode of the season was always kind of a chase. All the guest actors were really good, which is another advantage of shooting an episode late in the season, because that's usually pilot season, so it just so happens that a lot of great actors from New York are in town hoping they could hook onto a pilot. Like the girl who goes topless in the pool in front of Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer, Melora Walters. She was in Magnolia and a few other things."
By the way, that happened also. In England I was in summer houses, a guest. All of a sudden, a woman went topless and it just kind of ... That's what basically was the germ of the whole show, was remembering about this one guy whose girlfriend suddenly went topless, and I'm thinking, "God, I wonder how he feels about that."
It was a getaway episode, but at the same time, it was much smaller than most of the getaway episodes. It happened to take place in a different locale, but it was very small. It was like a French farce, people coming in and out of rooms.
One thing I remember is how they made such a brilliant set. When Elaine is out there with the doctor and they're on this deck in the Hamptons, it just was this incredibly beautiful set. There were little twinkling stars on the backdrop. It's hard to believe all that was shot on a soundstage. The only thing we shot on-location was Kramer on the beach with the lobsters. That was the only scene that was shot off the stage, and that was just on the beach in Pacific Palisades.
I love the Ugly Baby. Parents always think their new baby is adorable and that’s just...not the case sometimes.
This [script] was [a] real struggle. Larry gave the last great ingredient, because he was the one who suggested what if George went into the pool when it was cold and Jerry's girlfriend saw him naked. I just said, 'Oh, so you mean like shrinkage?' And Larry, without batting an eyelash, just said, 'Oh yeah, shrinkage. And use that word. Use it a lot.' Because Larry had such an incredible...Larry was just so in-tune with what he thought was funny, and he was extremely confident in that.
Instead of conversations that would normally take place in the coffee shop, it was taking place in somebody's room. Like shrinkage conversation, that would probably normally have been a great coffee shop conversation. You know, the great conversation where something astounding would happen, and then boom, cut to the coffee shop, and mainly Jerry and George would talk about it. But if it involved Elaine, maybe the three of them would talk about it."
As told to Complex by Peter Mehlman
THE CHINESE RESTAURANT ("The Chinese Restaurant")
Hunan 5th Ave (323 5th Ave, New York, NY)
"The Chinese Restaurant" is one of the seminal episodes, if not the seminal episode. And the reason is that at that crossroads moment in the show, what was really going on, Larry had not fully taken control of the show yet. And there's this kind of power struggle basically in terms of the creative direction of the show between NBC, Castle Rock and Larry. And I always backed Larry in all arguments, regardless. And as he says as George in the show, he wanted the show to be about nothing. That's true.
And so NBC and Castle Rock were concerned because traditional sitcoms always had a plot, a contrived clock to drive the story. And so Larry came up with the Chinese Restaurant idea, which had no story or plot or anything. It was like an existential one act play. People waiting for a table in a crowded restaurant. So simple yet so profound. And it was great."
But back when Larry first presented the script to NBC, the series’ seemingly about nothing blueprint had yet to be established, leaving then network president, Warren Littlefield to decry “Nothing happens. Am I missing pages?” and Jerry to recall “They held it back, and didn’t run it until towards the end of the season because they were so sure that this was really going to be one of the real bombs.”
"So we came up with a very simple organic ‘plot’ that they also wanted to make a movie and I added the esoteric detail of the movie being Plan 9 From Outer Space. It added that story driven layer that then became a new creative challenge: to figure out stories that themselves would be funny beyond the content that went on within the scenes."
With the episode succeeding in its rejection of traditional sitcom formulas, "The Chinese Restaurant" planted the flag for the type of conversational humor that would carry the next seven seasons, so much so that when asked about its importance, Jason Alexander proclaimed “To me, it was the defining beginning of the anarchy that was Seinfeld.”
As told to Complex by Larry Charles, w/ additional quotes from Seinfeld Season 2's 'Inside Look'
Paisano’s Pizza ("The Calzone")
Joe’s Pizza (7 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014)
Of all the bizarrely mercurial bosses of Seinfeld, George Steinbrenner may reign supreme. George's tenure with the Yankees coincides with the best years of the show, and that correlation is on full display in classics like "The Calzone."
George Costanza is, of course, loosely inspired by Larry David, so it only tracks that a die-hard Yankees fan like David would write his counterpart into a job there. "I don't know the man," David once said of creating Seinfeld's Steinbrenner, "but from seeing him interviewed on television and seeing his quotes in newspaper stories, I came up with this version of the way he speaks, the going on and on on subjects, and going from one topic to another almost without stopping for a breath."
Despite voicing frustration at some of his moves as an owner, the show's mirror-Steinbrenner wasn't intended as a hit piece—Larry called in for permission. "At first he was confused. But he gave us the permission, and I think it's a credit to him. A lot of people take themselves so seriously that they have refused to allow us to portray them on the show."
Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010, said of the show's depiction of him "I was prepared not to like the show, but I came away laughing my head off. Hey, if you can't laugh at yourself, you're in bad shape." With David himself handling voice duties, how could he not? In Larry's hands, Steinbrenner is mercurial yes but endearingly so, and him latching onto something like a lunch order had enough power to steamroll any subplot around him.
Such is the case with Jerry, Elaine and their respective love interests—although Todd GACK is one of the more memorable names this show has ever come up with—but Kramer cooking his clothes is formidable enough to make this a classic nonetheless.
Quotes via The New York Times.
Nexus of the Universe ("The Maid")
1st St and 1st Ave
Charles: "The show could not have existed in the first place without New York. Only New York at that time, when Larry and Jerry were hanging out at The Improv and places like that, was that scene germinating. That embryonic scene where people met, funny people met and hung out and shared ideas and were up all night. And all that kind of stuff. That is the real birth of Seinfeld, that's where it really is born.
"A lot of the funny ideas that we had when we'd be hanging out, those references to New York things, that would just make us laugh. That was kind of a shorthand for a lot of things. And we were able to then extrapolate from those very specific New York references and find humor that sort of expanded out from those things that made you laugh in the first place. Like ‘why are you laughing at that?’ and then kind of seize upon that answer to sort of build episodes."
There is arguably no episode with a greater or more incisive obsession on Manhattan banality than "The Maid," wherein Kramer treats the prospect of his girlfriend moving downtown as if she's moving to New Jersey, and the city's new 646 area code powers Elaine's entire subplot.
Seinfeld season 9 flirted with absurdity but it's hard to complain about when the cast sell it so well. George essentially takes this episode off, save a good bit of physical comedy at his office, but everyone else is in top gear as always. The sexiness of the 212 area code and the ugliness of 646 is almost too niche for a show that loves to wade into the crevices of NYC life. And yet, when Elaine can't so much as make an interested guy take her number once she lays her new digits on him, it's a laugh riot.
Kramer's story, while equally ridiculous, has a little more relatability to it. NYC outsiders look at our endless fleet of taxis, functional (comparatively at least) subway system and the like and assume we're zipping all over town at every whim. Real New Yorkers know that, in spite of those things, we can get extremely lazy and confined to our neighborhoods, especially on the weekends. Sure, it would've made more sense if Kramer's shorty moved to Brooklyn instead, but we don't enjoy Seinfeld to watch these four narcissists react to sensible inconveniences. And as such, Kramer engaging "downtown" like it's a foreign city leads to a plethora of great one-liners until we get the visual gag: Cosmo looking more lost than Kevin McCallister in a phone booth at 1st and 1st, the inadvertent "nexus of the universe." And wouldn't ya know it, a bar on that corner has a sign bearing the same above it now.
As told to Complex by Larry Charles
Tom’s Restaurant (2880 Broadway, New York, NY)
Feresten: "Seinfeld is a talking show where the comedy is generated by conversations and when I wrote an episode I was usually in the diner after there was an incident. So we could discuss it in a funny way before moving on to the, 'So now what are you going to do?' moment. The diner is also important because anybody can walk into the diner. If we need characters to walk in or we need somebody else from the gang, nobody's going to scratch their head when George walks in out of nowhere, right?"
Charles: "Something that Larry and Jerry were so great at, something that I love doing also, was just having these comical existential conversations. And they were really fun to write and you had—especially with Jerry and Jason and Julia— three people that were just expert at playing that. The diner gave the writers a chance and it gave the actors a chance to really exchange thoughts and ideas. And really let the audience get to know these characters so deeply, so innately, that they personalized it to a large degree. So [as a result] the diner becomes like an incredible metaphor as well as a very specific location."
Mehlman: "The coffee shop was the great place for those kind of conversations, because you shoot the characters over the shoulder, and the cuts would be back and forth between them, which made it go really fast. Larry was very into the dialogue flying by."
Charles: "Two [great diner moments] that pop in my mind are from my own episodes. George and Kramer in "The Keys," which then became the two-parter, "The Trip." George and Kramer sit at the coffee shop and Kramer's discussing this yearning. He wants something more than what he has. And George is really afraid of that idea. And it's just one of my favorite things that I wrote and one of my favorite things that those guys acted.
"And “The Bubble Boy,” the scene where Brian Doyle-Murray, as the Bubble Boy's dad, is telling the sad story of the Bubble Boy to Jerry and Julia. And he's weeping and Julia is weeping, and they each pick up napkins and dab their tears from their eyes, and Jerry picks up the napkin and wipes some food from off his face. And it's just a great, it says everything about who Jerry is. It was, if I'm not mistaken, an improvised moment by Jerry. Sometimes a joke can just explode and that was one of those.
“The Outing” and “The Contest” [wherein the plot generates in the diner] were episodes that had been discussed for a while. And they got put off for a while, which worked out in their favor...they germinated long enough to really find the tone that was unique, and almost defined the term Seinfeldian. And they're almost like twin episodes, complementary episodes—as is that whole season, by the way. One long stream of consciousness episode essentially.
"The rumor about Jerry, because he was meek, was a real thing and we would laugh about it. At that time, particularly in America, people were feeling very awkward about the entire subject. Here we found a way through the reality of the situation, which gave it honesty, to sort of deal with that accusation. And ‘not that there's anything wrong with it,’ that became the key to it, which was Jerry and Larry saying this is only going to work if somehow or another you say the funny thing and then you sort of are able to say, ‘but it's okay.’ And not that there's anything wrong with what came out of that. We just kept putting that in and it became that kind of catch phrase that really worked in almost every situation. The rhythm of that line makes people laugh."
As told to Complex by Spike Feresten, Peter Mehlman and Larry Charles
CHAMPAGNE VIDEO ("The Smelly Car," "The Comeback")
Champagne Video (213 W 79th St New York, NY)
Mehlman: "I always tried very hard to keep to Larry's original vision of the show, which was really small, slice-of-life stories," Mehlman says of his scripts. "I wasn't into really big things happening, like Kramer riding on the back of a hook and ladder, or the "Puerto Rican Day Parade," or stuff like that. I wanted simple. All my stories—all my favorite ones [at least], were really tiny little slice-of-life stuff."
Well it doesn't get more slice-of-life than giving the gang a recurring local video store to rent movies from. Champagne Video was a staple haunt in the show throughout, appearing way back in season 1 even. It could be used to reinforce other recurring bits in the series, like the infamously erotic Rochelle, Rochelle, which in Mehlman's "Smelly Car" got George into some trouble all of us pre-Netflix movie-watchers can appreciate: the dreaded rewind fee. (In fact, in spotting Susan in the aisles or using the customer database to stalk people, George probably engages with Champagne the most out of the cast.)
But Elaine is the subject of Champagne Video's crown jewel subplot, when a barely pubescent teen uses his artful movie picks to basically Cyrano her into falling for him.
That teen was played by Danny Strong, an avid video store goer himself at his local Manhattan Beach shop where he struck up a friendship with one of the spot's more knowledgable clerks: Quentin Tarantino. "I would just literally sit and chat with him for 45 minutes, an hour at a time about movies, and he got me turned on to all these different movies that 10 year olds don't see," Strong said of QT. "He was a fantastic video store clerk, because he was such a movie buff. This particularly video store, Video Archives, was known as being sort of Manhattan Beach's "avant garde" video store." The story of Quentin's video-store film education is well known, but Strong saw his hours spent there pay similar dividends: after scoring memorable recurring roles on cult favorites like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Strong became a prolific writer-actor-producer in Hollywood, penning the Mockingjay movies, The Butler, Recount, Game Change and most notably, co-creating Empire.
As told to Complex by Peter Mehlman with additional quotes via IGN
ROYALE PASTRY SHOP
Royal Bakery/Schnitzer’s (237 W. 72nd St., New York, NY)
Often cheered for its aptitude at turning banality into entertainment, Seinfeld’s true genius lay in its ability to extract the meaningful from the mundane by way of its everyman cast of characters. No episode is this more evident in than "The Dinner Party," where the gang’s simple act of gathering a babka and a bottle of wine produces insight on the cost of social norms, the morality of eating poultry, race relations, and even a run in with a dictator.
This “not being heavy on plot” approach to humor, as explained by Jerry, allowed the episode to broach a wider array of everyday subjects, and reach a larger population by remaining a show “really about character” as Michael Richards put it. From George balking at the price of being invited to a party, or Elaine’s withering enthusiasm as she’s stuck in the limbo that are New York bakery lines, "The Dinner Party" so effectively pulls its laughs from base human nature.
Charles: "One of the great dichotomies of Seinfeld is that it's so specific in terms of place, in terms of references, and yet the show does transcend New York and transcends culture, transcends ethnicity. I've been all over the world at this point and have bumped into people everywhere, Arab countries, African countries, that love Seinfeld, that have a friend who's like Kramer or like George."
Feresten: "Larry and Jerry asked us not to invent stories and create stories. What they preferred was us to come in and tell them stories from our life. For me that was come in and tell them stories from my nine years living in New York City, and things that either got me angry or I couldn't stop thinking about or situations where I wanted to act differently, but didn't quite have the courage to do so. These silly things were happening to me all the time, and I just happened to write a lot of those down, and didn't know what to do with that list until I met Larry and Jerry.
"The genius of what Larry and Jerry put together is they created this space where we could plug [our real-life experiences] into a show. And then the part that I didn't realize is that the viewers would relate to it in some enjoy it. I thought that was just us laughing at this. I can't believe everyone else is enjoying it too, but, God bless."
Mehlman: "The goal of a TV show should have included in it the desire to have some impact on the culture of the society, to make some dent in the cultural landscape of a country. That's the most gratifying thing about it. Just the fact that you can hear people on the street just say, 'Blah blah blah, yada yada yada," and you're like, 'Oh my god. They wouldn't be saying that if not for me. That's pretty cool.'"
Charles: “I was just in New York a couple of weeks ago, at my brother's house and there was a whole bunch of people there. And people [were] trad[ing] Seinfeld quotes the way they probably traded Bible quotes in the Old West. Everybody was using a Seinfeld quote to sort of underscore some point that they were making or some story they were telling.”
Feresten: "I continue to meet fans of the show who are teenagers, and that really tickles me. It makes me laugh that they're somehow relating to this show that we wrote 30 years ago, but that's what's wonderful about what Larry and Jerry put together. They put together a classic comedy, and they got out just in time and they deserve all the money for it. They did it right."
Wale and Jerry Seinfeld Interview
Wale and Jerry Seinfeld might be one of the strangest friend pairings in history. Sit down and grab a cup off coffee with this odd couple.
The Best Episodes of 'Seinfeld,' Ranked
Narrowing down the more than 150 episodes of Seinfeld to the 10 best isn’t easy, but we’ve done it. The show is one of the most popular sitcoms of all time and almost 20 years after the final episode aired, its influence endures. These are the 10 best episodes of Seinfeld, ranked.