“Seinfeld” is one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, and the eclectic cast of characters is a big reason why. Of course there are regulars, from the core four to Newman, Mr. and Mrs. Costanza, George Steinbrenner and many more. Then there are the characters who showed up infrequently, often only once. Think of all the people whom Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer dated. Some of them were already known. Others were more of the “before they were famous” variety. Either way, here are some of the famous folks who had small roles in the show about nothing.
Hernandez is not an actor by trade. No, he made his name playing at an All-Star level for the New York Mets. So naturally he got to play himself in “Seinfeld.” While that seemed to stretch his acting chops, it was still an enjoyable couple of episodes featuring Hernandez, who befriended Jerry and dated Elaine.
Hatcher had already made some TV appearances before her role as Sidra on “Seinfeld,” though she was a few years away from the resurgence she experienced on “Desperate Housewives.” If you don’t remember Sidra by name, this should jog your memory: “They’re real, and they’re spectacular.”
Eventually Cox would be on arguably the only sitcom from the ‘90s comparable to “Seinfeld”: “Friends.” Here, though, she plays one of the many women whom Jerry dated, and several of them went on to greater success. The casting agent for “Seinfeld” had an eye for talent.
Like Cox, Messing would end up starring in a different successful NBC sitcom. Though she’s known now as the titular Grace from “Will and Grace,” she appeared a couple of times as Beth on “Seinfeld.” Jerry waited out two different relationships she was in, although in the end things didn’t work out, as Beth turned out to be prejudiced against more than just dentists.
It took years for Keener to really get her career rolling, probably starting with 1999’s “Being John Malkovich.” However, she worked occasionally before then, including playing an artist girlfriend of Jerry’s who plagiarizes a love letter. Of course, she also painted the iconic portrait of Kramer that ended up as a fine poster for dorm rooms.
Lovitz was famous prior to his appearance on “Seinfeld.” He had already been on “Saturday Night Live” for years and voiced Jay Sherman for the entire run of “The Critic.” Lovitz is an idiosyncratic performer, but he was a delight as a less-than-delightful friend of Jerry and George who pretends he had cancer.
Bridges had put together a couple of different careers before his appearances as Izzy Mandelbaum, workout warrior and owner of a crepe restaurant. He had been a dramatic actor before being cast in “Airplane!” turned him into a comedic performer for his second act. Cameos like this proved that he had the chops for it.
Leeves, along with fellow “Hot in Cleveland” star Wendie Malick, both had roles in “Seinfeld.” Leeves, who also played Daphne on “Frasier,” played the more memorable character though. She was Marla, a virgin, in a couple of episodes, most notably “The Contest.”
Tobolowsky is one of those character actors who seems to pop up in everything. Most memorably, he played Ned Ryerson in “Groundhog Day,” but he also made a noteworthy turn as an alternative doctor in an early “Seinfeld” episode. George goes to see Tobolowsky’s “Tor,” and ends up getting turned purple by his “medicine.”
Gertz had been in a ton of movies and TV shows prior to “Seinfeld,” but she wasn’t famous enough for it to totally reek of gimmicky casting. Many people watching certainly weren’t screaming at their TVs “Hey, it’s Muffy Tepperman from ‘Square Pegs’!” Also, did you know that she and her husband are part owners of the Atlanta Hawks? That’s fun, right?
“Seinfeld” was known for the little nicknames the characters gave to different kinds of people. They were particularly interested in the various kinds of “talkers” out there. Judge Reinhold, another famous ‘80s actor, like Jami Gertz, played one of them. He’s a “close talker,” which means he stands too close to people when he speaks to them. And yet Jerry’s parents love him. He’s also weirdly kind of a parody of Oskar Schindler? “Seinfeld” could be a weird show.
Most cameos on “Seinfeld” featured an actor as some sort of quirky character. Occasionally, though, actors (or baseball players) appeared as themselves. That’s what Midler did, although she certainly seemed like a skewed version of herself — unless the torch singer is actually a trash-talking softball player in real life.
Voight made a brief appearance as himself, but he made an impact — literally, in the case of George’s arm. George had purchased a car that was rumored to be owned by Voight. When George sees the “Midnight Cowboy” star, he approaches him, only to be bit on the arm by the legendary actor.
Schneider was well-known before he cameoed on “Seinfeld” due to his turn in the iconic film “Surf Ninjas.” Oh, also he had been on “Saturday Night Live” for four seasons. Though Schneider keeps it low key, he also weirdly sticks out in a way other known actors don’t necessarily do.
George has a crush on Marisa Tomei, who had an Oscar for “My Cousin Vinny” and was generally known as being great and charming then and now. So when George finds out he might have a chance with the actress, he jumps at it, even though he’s engaged to be married to Susan. Fortunately, George gets a slap from both Tomei and Susan for his attempted philandering.
“Seinfeld” loves actors who made names for themselves in the ‘80s. Spader was the ultimate creep in his movie roles, and he is always very much “James Spader” in every role he takes. That includes in his one-episode run on “Seinfeld,” where he plays a recovering addict who won’t apologize to George for an offhand insult from years prior. It’s George at his pettiest, and it’s quite delightful.
Don’t mess with Raquel Welch. That’s what we learn from this episode. She takes down both Kramer and Elaine in fights. Whatever you do, don’t mention that she doesn’t swing her arms when she moves. It’s a one-way ticket to a beatdown.
What is it about future “Will and Grace” actresses appearing on “Seinfeld?” Mullally apparently was almost cast as Elaine before the role went to Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Fortunately, things ended up working out for both of them. Mullally plays Betsy in her “Seinfeld” appearance. She dated George while he was busted for double dipping.
When you cast Carol Kane, you are getting a Carol Kane performance. This was a case of “Seinfeld” wanting a specific kind of actor, and Kane certainly is up for the part. She did great work on “Taxi” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” but her cameo on “Seinfeld” showed that she can make an impact in even a few scenes.
When you see Lauren Graham, then unknown, as Jerry’s girlfriend, you could tell she was going to be a star. She oozed charm in his role, even if her character is overshadowed by her mom in a “The Graduate” riff from late in the show’s run. Eventually, Graham would go on to star on “Gilmore Girls.”
Root and Tobolowsky are in a fight for the role of “best character actor named Stephen.” They both had small roles in “Seinfeld,” though Root’s is a little more down to earth than Tobolowsky’s turn as a quack. Around the time of this cameo, Root was just getting started on an overlooked sitcom of the same era “NewsRadio.”
Did you know accused college briber Loughlin was once a successful actress? It’s true! When she wasn’t playing Becky on “Full House,” she was playing the girlfriend of Jerry who gets him in touch with his emotions. It doesn’t go well for Jerry. Or George, for that matter.
Stormare excels at playing comedic creeps. Case in point: his role as a nihilist in “The Big Lebowski.” He’s right up that alley in his character on “Seinfeld.” Stormare plays a guy fittingly named “Slippery Pete.” He helps George move a Frogger machine out of a pizzeria.
You may not recognize Favreau in his “Seinfeld” role and not just because he was young and not yet famous at the time. Favreau plays a clown, which means he’s hidden under makeup and a wig. Remember when George fled a kitchen fire, pushing children and old people out of his way? Favreau plays the clown who put the fire out with his big shoe.
Odenkirk has turned out to be a surprisingly good dramatic actor, as indicated by his Emmy nominations for “Better Call Saul.” However, for years he was known primarily as a comedian, particularly thanks to his HBO program “Mr. Show.” Though he was primarily working in the sketch comedy milieu early in his career, Odenkirk stepped into an acting role as a boyfriend of Elaine’s studying to be a doctor.