While many sitcoms like to rely on stunt casting of super-famous actors for their guest stars (see Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt on Friends, Oprah and Steve Martin on 30 Rock, etc.), Seinfeld, for the most part, proved you didn’t need a big name to have a truly memorable guest character. So many anonymous character actors walked onto that stage, killed it, and went on to their next thing. Sometimes they were invited back a few more times. Sometimes they went on to do bigger things elsewhere.
Here we have the 13 Best Guest Stars on Seinfeld. But we have one rule: to qualify, they can’t have appeared in more than 10 episodes. Beyond that you get into characters like Uncle Leo, Newman and George and Jerry’s parents, and they were far too integral to the show to be considered guest stars.
13. Philip Baker Hall as Lt. Joe Bookman, the Library Detective
Philip Baker Hall is one of those actors who seems like he’s shown up in everything – and he has, with an amazing 173 film and television credits since 1970. He’s rarely been much more than a recurring character in anything, though. He’s a guy who walks on set for one day, knocks ‘em dead, goes home and collects his paycheck.
Arguably, there’s no more memorable example of this than his appearance on Seinfeld as the curmudgeonly, all business, just-the-facts library detective. He delivered a monologue for the ages when he appeared in Jerry’s apartment, investigating a missing copy of Tropic of Cancer. Try not to laugh when he describes Jerry’s “type” as “flashy, making the scene,” and suggesting that drawing “pee pees and wee wees” and “warping children’s minds” is what turns on Jerry and his “good time buddies.”
12. Patrick Warburton as David Puddy
Puddy really would not have been Puddy, and may not have appeared 10 times on the show, if not for Warburton’s take on him. It was all in the pervasive squint, the deep voice and the distinctive, abrupt delivery where he says only exactly what he means to say. For the most part, his personality was that of an easygoing, everyday bro, unless he was arguing with Elaine or taking in a New Jersey Devils game.
Never was his even-keel attitude more evident than when Elaine asked him, a true believer, if her lack of religion was a problem. “Not for me,” he said, plain as day. “I’m not the one going to hell.” Warburton’s sturdy, 6’ 2” frame was another key factor that sold him as a real “man’s man.”
11. Brenda Strong as Sue Ellen Mischke
Sue Ellen Mischke is actually less memorable for what she did as a character, and more for other characters’ reactions to her, let’s just say, physical features. Elaine was hilariously competitive with this former high-school classmate. She couldn’t stand that Sue Ellen walked around without a bra, nicknaming her “The Bra-less Wonder.” Kramer got into a car accident after seeing her walking down the street in all her “bra-less” glory. And Jerry fell for her, thanks to pretty much the same distinctive features. In a later episode, when she was attempting to out-bid Elaine for JFK’s golf clubs, a prim auctioneer even fell for her buxom beauty, hilariously declaring, “Ten thousand to the… shapely woman on the left.”
Sue Ellen and Elaine clashed one last time in the final season, when Elaine received what she believed was an “unvitation” to her wedding in India. Of course, Elaine decided to travel all the way to India for the wedding out of spite and ultimately ruined it when it was revealed that she had, in the past, slept with the groom.
10. Teri Hatcher as Sidra Holland
Much like Sue Ellen Mischke, Sidra was predominantly defined by her prominent physical features. Jerry and Elaine spent an entire episode trying to figure out whether or not Sidra had breast implants. Jerry was convinced she’s all natural, but Elaine was convinced otherwise. She accidentally touched Sidra’s “assets” when she fell on her in a sauna. “I needed them to help me break my fall. If it hadn’t been for them, I could’ve really injured myself,” Elaine explained. And that changed Elaine’s mind: “They’re real,” she said.
Jerry had already canceled their next date, because Elaine had previously convinced him of their fakeness. Sidra gave Jerry one last chance, but that led to one of the most memorable lines of the series, after she suspected Elaine’s fall was on purpose, offering her parting shot: “And by the way, they’re real, and they’re spectacular.” Not long after this memorable appearance, Hatcher blew up on Lois & Clark and Desperate Housewives.
9. Bryan Cranston as Dr. Tim Whatley
Raise your hand if you wish Dr. Tim Whatley was your dentist. He’d offer you a schtickle of fluoride and join you in a sweet sniff of the nitrous. But be careful, he might just re-gift you an awful label maker. And you may or may not be invited to his party – and you might never really figure it out. Also, you might wonder if he converted to Judaism just for the jokes. Oh, and he may very well do some indecent things to you while you’re out cold in his dentist’s chair.
So maybe you don’t want him to be your dentist. Or friend. Or be anywhere near you. But, before he was Walter White and before he was even the dad on Malcom in the Middle, Bryan Cranston brought hilarious life to Whatley on five episodes.
8. Reni Santoni as Poppie
Poppie was many things: Son of an Italian slave, father, restaurant owner, non-hand-washer, anti-abortion crusader, and a renowned couch urinator. To clarify, when we first met Poppie, he was the father of Audrey, Jerry’s date. Jerry watched in horror as Poppie refrained from washing his hands in the washroom, then went on to prepare food with his hands, leading to Jerry not wanting to eat Poppie’s pizza.
Later, in “The Couch,” Elaine sent him to the hospital following an abortion argument, then he popped by Jerry’s apartment and inexplicably peed on his couch. Twelve episodes later, he peed on the same couch again in the lobby of Mr. Pitt’s building. As for Santoni, he’s a celebrated character actor with nearly 100 acting credits to his name, including Dirty Harry and almost every police series since the ‘70s.
7. Steve Hytner as Kenny Bania
Seinfeld had its share of characters the leads found just plain annoying. But was there a more enjoyably annoying character than Kenny Bania? That’s probably the reason he was brought in for a total of six appearances throughout the series. Bania, as a fellow stand-up comic, seemed to look up to Jerry, but the feeling was far from mutual. For one thing, Bania was far too excitable for Jerry’s liking. For another, he was a horrible comedian. His trademark joke was, “Why do they call it Ovaltine? The mug is round. The jar is round. They should call it Roundtine.”
What else was annoying about Bania? He tried to claim that soup doesn’t count as the meal Jerry owed him. He tried to cut in line at the Soup Nazi’s place. Hytner’s role as Bania came early in his career as a screen actor, and led to a long and fruitful career as a regular on Working and guest stints on everything from Roswell to Curb Your Enthusiasm (as himself) to Modern Family.
6. Peter Crombie as Crazy Joe Davola
Seinfeld was not exactly known for its scares. But it can pretty safely be said that there was no more frightening character in the series’ run than Crazy Joe Davola. When he said he wanted to put the kibosh on Jerry, he wasn’t kidding. Imagine him in the context of a darker series. He could easily slip into a C.S.I. as a legitimate serial killer or Dexter as a man so bad he’d wind up on Dexter’s table. Peter Crombie injected a real threatening darkness into Davola’s disturbing calmness when he closed the door on Elaine in his apartment, after she had seen her pictures plastered all over his wall, and he said, “Fear is our most primal emotion.”
Later, he leapt from the audience during the taping of Jerry’s sitcom and shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis!” It’s a Latin phrase meaning “thus always to tyrants.” Some claim Brutus said it to Caesar after he murdered him. John Wilkes Booth claims to have said “sic semper” after murdering President Lincoln. So it’s no surprise a maniac like Crazy Joe Davola would make it his own.
5. Phil Morris as Jackie Chiles
While The Maestro didn’t make this list as a character, the season 7 episode named after him also introduced us to an intrepid lawyer named Jackie Chiles. At that point in the ‘90s, the O.J. Simpson trial was still fresh in pop culture, and Chiles was clearly patterned after one of Simpson’s lawyers, Johnnie Cochran, with his prominent mustache and flamboyant pronouncements.
He was very much a caricature, so he could be enjoyed on that level, but the writers also gave him some great lines to work with. He described Sue Ellen Mischke’s penchant for not wearing a bra as “lewd, lascivious, salacious, outrageous!” And two of the many times Kramer didn’t heed his advice led to the classics, “Who told you to put the balm on?” and “the most public yet of my many humiliations.”
4. Bob Balaban as Russell Dalrymple
Russell Dalrymple may have been the most tragic character in the history of Seinfeld. Appearing in five episodes during season 4, he went from President of NBC to lovesick Greenpeace officer who died falling out of a boat. But he had some truly memorable moments along the way. Somehow he fell for Jerry and George’s pitch for a “show about nothing,” until (as they often did on this show) breasts got in the way.
George stared at his daughter’s (a young Denise Richards) cleavage, then Russell stared at Elaine’s, which called the whole thing a wash. But it was then that his obsession with Elaine began. Of course, his feelings were left unrequited and he eventually took off to Greenpeace because she pretended to be in to environmental causes. Balaban is one of those actors who has appeared in just about everything during a long career that dates back to 1965 – and he’s also an accomplished director and producer, who was nominated for an Oscar for co-producing Gosford Park in 2002.
3. Brian George as Babu Bhatt
Babu is another tragic character in the Seinfeld canon, another man whose livelihood was ultimately ruined by the lead characters (see the Soup Nazi, Russell Dalrymple, arguably Jackie Chiles) and their callousness. At least in this case, Jerry had the best of intentions. When Babu’s restaurant wasn’t doing well, Jerry suggested Babu offer only the food of his native Pakistan. Unfortunately, that seemed to attract even less business and his restaurant went under.
In a later episode, Jerry tried to get him another job with the help of George’s girlfriend, but when she broke up with George, that help didn’t come. Babu had to head back to Pakistan, declaring Jerry a “very, very bad man” on his way out and vowing revenge. He got his revenge in the finale, offering a damning testimony and sending Jerry to jail.
2. Matt McCoy as Lloyd Braun
Lloyd Braun, the character, appeared on Seinfeld in three episodes, but was only played by McCoy the last two times. Peter Keleghan played him less memorably in his first appearance, season 5’s “The Non-Fat Yogurt.” McCoy brought to the role the doe-eyed, not-all-there look of a man who’s fresh out of an asylum and is trying to re-familiarize himself with the world. Let’s call it pitch-perfect sitcom-grade insanity.
Kramer became overly protective of Braun – especially when anyone questioned his sanity. Case in point: Braun wanted a hot dog at the movie theatre, but the only one left was from “the silent era,” according to the cashier, dried up and shriveled. “You’d have to be insane to eat it,” he said. Kramer declared it a “perfectly sane” food to eat, and ate it, in his misguided defense of Braun’s sanity. In a later episode, he sold computers with George and Frank, when his insanity reared its comically ugly head once again: he claimed to have sold many computers over the phone, but it turned out the phone was never plugged in.
1. Larry Thomas as Yev Kassem, The Soup Nazi
“No soup for you!” There, we got the catchphrase out of the way. The phrase is iconic for a reason: it perfectly encapsulates the Soup Nazi’s character. He’s the fascist leader of a trivial world – a world of soup. His power doesn’t really amount to anything outside of his soup restaurant, but he wields that small amount of power with an iron fist. His lack of real power outside of that realm was highlighted when Elaine found his recipes in an armoire and put him out of business. It’s just that simple to overthrow this despot.
In much the same way Library Detective Bookman’s first name was revealed in the finale, so was the Soup Nazi’s “real” name: Yev Kassem. And, like Jackie Chiles, this character had a real-life inspiration: the owner of a Manhattan soup restaurant called Soup Kitchen International, who had very strict rules about ordering.
Who are your favorite guest stars on Seinfeld? Let us know in the comments!