It has been 30 years since Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David’s groundbreaking sitcom Seinfeld first hit the airwaves, and the show is still as timeless and relevant as ever. This is mostly due to the central ensemble of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer—one of the greatest casts in television history—but they also had solid support from a wide range of minor characters. Of course, as with any show, some of those supporting characters were stronger than others, and, naturally, there were also some weak ones to contrast against the strong ones. So, here is every Seinfeld supporting character, ranked.
11 Susan Ross
Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer’s romantic partners came and went on an almost weekly basis, so many of them didn’t need to stand out with a quirk or comical personality, but it’s a different story with long-term relationships. What makes most of the long-term couples on Seinfeld work is that there’s a different kind of crazy on both sides—there’s no straight man. With couples like Frank and Estelle or Elaine and Puddy, there is no straight person, but they still clash because they’re crazy in different ways. The problem with Susan is that she was never really funny. The writers never gave her jokes; she was just the straight person to George’s antics.
10 J. Peterman
The J. Peterman character was funny at first. Elaine got a job writing for the J. Peterman catalog and found that the owner, J. Peterman himself, talks with the same kind of superfluous description and pontification as the prose in his catalog. He was also a weary world traveler with endless stories about how he discovered unusual products in exotic locations. However, the writers couldn’t really come up with ways to innovate the character, and he started to get a little tired and samey by the end. Peterman was funny, but he was a one-joke character who failed to really take off.
9 David Puddy
David Puddy was Elaine’s on-and-off love interest later in the show’s run. Their pairing acted as a hilarious parody of the on-and-off relationships we see in other sitcoms—like Ross and Rachel from Friends—with the twist being that Seinfeld never makes us care about Elaine and Puddy and actually goes out of its way to point out why they shouldn’t be together and how it’s ridiculous that they keep getting back together. Patrick Warburton always played Puddy perfectly, delivering each line with the deep-pitched intensity that would eventually make him a star, but he didn’t quite fit in with the comedic sensibility of Seinfeld. He’s a product of the show’s weirder later seasons.
8 Helen Seinfeld
Everyone’s mother is like Helen Seinfeld; she thinks she knows her son better than he knows himself, even if it’s something minor like whether or not he likes pumpkin pie, and she’ll find a reason to dislike anyone. Helen’s finest hour was the season 3 episode “The Pen,” as she immediately realizes that Jerry shouldn’t have taken Jack’s pen. She didn’t do an awful lot to stand out across the show’s history, but she was always blunt, to-the-point, and relatable. Plus, when she uttered the words, “Hello, Newman,” we saw the kind of real mother-son connection that we rarely see on television.
7 George Steinbrenner
George’s tenure at the New York Yankees began as a joke on the season 5 finale “The Opposite,” in which George does the opposite of what his instincts are telling him and gets the dream girl, the dream apartment, and yes, the dream job. But to the writers’ credit, they turned it into an interesting and convincing story arc. They turned George Steinbrenner into an absurd character with Larry David playing his voice—we only ever saw him from behind—as the idea of Steinbrenner and not the person: a fast-talking, quick-thinking buffoon who goes off on tangents and loves calzones.
6 Estelle Costanza
With the character of Estelle Costanza, Estelle Harris would create the “Jewish mother” stereotype that would eventually be used in everything from Family Guy to The Big Bang Theory. But the difference with Estelle is that she isn’t just a stereotype. She feels like a real person, like someone you actually know. She’s also the perfect comedic match for Frank since they’re both just as stubborn as each other and they both escalated to yelling almost immediately, then refuse to let up. This character defined Harris’ career, and she’s been doomed to play versions of this iconic character ever since.
5 Uncle Leo
Everyone has a relative who’s always excited to see them, tells them long, unwieldy stories, and holds onto their arm so they don’t walk away. What’s great about Uncle Leo is that he’s so frustrating, like when he tries to keep Jerry talking on the street when Jerry insists that he’s got a meeting to go to, but you can’t help but love him. In the later seasons, his characterization got a little ridiculous, as he called in an escort to Elaine’s hotel room and started a bookstore robbery ring. On the whole, though, he’s a funny and real character.
4 Morty Seinfeld
Morty Seinfeld might be Jerry’s father in the show, but his name and characterization are actually taken from Larry David’s real father. Like TV’s Morty, the real Morty had a career in men’s clothing, obsessed over tipping etiquette, and lived in a retirement community in Sunrise, Florida. The more specific a character is, the more relatable they tend to be, and no sitcom has nailed the elderly father role quite like Seinfeld did. The way he complains about filling out forms at the doctor’s office or how to split the check at a restaurant are so identifiable, and that’s what makes it hilarious.
Michael Richards was initially reluctant when the Seinfeld writers began to establish Newman as a sort of sidekick for Kramer, getting in on his get-rich-quick schemes and involving him in his legal troubles. But it quickly became apparent that Richards’ comic rhythms were in tune with Wayne Knight’s, and the result was a sitcom pairing for the ages. Newman is Jerry’s arch nemesis, and it’s never really explained why they hate each other, but they play the rivalry so well that we can see what they hate about each other without it being spoken. Knight leans into Newman’s cartoon villainy and it’s a joy to watch.
2 Jackie Chiles
Kramer’s lawyer Jackie Chiles wasn’t intended to become a recurring character. Since the O.J. Simpson trial and the McDonald’s “hot coffee” case dominated the media in the ‘90s, the Seinfeld writers decided to combine the two, with Kramer suing a coffee shop after getting burned by a scorching latte and his lawyer being a pastiche of O.J.’s lawyer Johnnie Cochran. But Phil Morris played the Cochran parody so well as Jackie Chiles that he continued to be brought back and was even hired as the gang’s attorney in the series finale. There was even talk of a Jackie Chiles spin-off after Seinfeld ended, but it never materialized.
1 Frank Costanza
George’s father was played with a calm, collected demeanor by John Randolph in his first appearance. Thankfully, he was replaced by Jerry Stiller for every subsequent appearance. Randolph is a fine actor, but his take on Frank wasn’t what the character needed. Stiller, on the other hand, played him as a really intense guy with quirky line delivery and a hot temper. Stiller made all the other actors crack up on the set by knocking it out of the park in every scene, while Frank is responsible for some of the show’s most hilarious running jokes, like Festivus and “Serenity now!”