How 'Seinfeld' Changed the Life of Annie Korzen
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Work & Money

How 'Seinfeld' Changed My Life

What the atmosphere on the set was really like.

1990s TV screen with different scenes from the show
Alvaro Dominguez

My agent called one day to tell me about an audition for a few lines on a new sitcom. A better-known actress had turned down the role, saying it was too small for her. In Hollywood the general rule is “Don't ever accept a job as a bit player, because then you will always be stuck in that category.” Self-respect was not a luxury I could afford, so I went in and got the job. On Seinfeld!

When the show aired, my husband, Benni, didn’t get it.

“It’s not about anything,” he said. 

How right he was. My few lines turned into the recurring character of Doris Klompus, a neighbor at Jerry’s parents’ Florida condo complex. My TV husband, Jack Klompus, was always fighting with Jerry’s father.

I’m in some of the classic episodes: “The Pen,” “The Cadillac,” “ Raincoats.” My role was so minor that the audience didn’t even notice when I played a second character: the obnoxious lady sitting next to Elaine on an airplane. I can be pretty blunt in real life, so the nagging wife and the busybody passenger were easy fits.

The atmosphere on the set was very New York Jewish. There were always containers of Chinese takeout lying around, and on the first day of the Jewish New Year, Jerry was very concerned about getting to temple on time for services.

Jerry is known for being very loyal to his friends, and I saw proof of that one day when he anxiously checked his messages every half hour to get word on the pending birth of his buddy Larry Miller’s baby. Eventually, I got friendly with the cast — which mostly meant listening to stories about their sex lives — definitely my idea of a good time.

Liz Sheridan, who played Jerry’s mom, told me about her affair with James Dean. Jason Alexander claimed to be the world’s best kisser. And Sandy Baron, who played my husband, shared every salacious detail about the time he was set up on a blind date with a woman who turned out to be actually blind. Best sex he ever had.

One of my favorite actors was Jerry Stiller, who in real life was nothing at all like Frank Costanza. Jerry was a devoted family man and an accomplished Shakespearean actor. I once ran into him at a Chekhov play, and he awed me with an erudite analysis of the piece. Next, he posed the question that serious thespians have been asking one another since time began: 

“So? You workin’?”

The sad truth was that I was still a mostly unemployed bit player — until the day I realized that I was sort of famous. I was at a party and met one of those Seinfeld fanatics who watches every re-run. Not only did he know who both my insignificant characters were, but he could quote all of my insignificant lines. Another guest was impressed, even though it was clear that she’d never seen the show. 

“You were on Steinfield? Could I get an autograph for my nephew?”

Then I went to Australia to perform one of my solo shows and the newspaper headline said, “Seinfeld actress coming to Sydney!” 

We have a friend who is a Major Hollywood Player. This guy was so uninterested in me that he introduced me as an afterthought: “Oh, and this is Benni’s wife.” We were eating with him in a showbiz deli, which means that I chewed my brisket in silence while Mr. Hollywood spoke exclusively to my husband. Suddenly I spotted someone waving at me and calling my name. I went over, and it was Jerry, who — nice guy that he is — just wanted to say hello. Everyone in the restaurant stared, and I could sense them thinking, Who is that woman schmoozing with Jerry Seinfeld? She must be Somebody. 

When I returned to our table, Mr. Hollywood began to include me in the conversation. He now introduces me by saying, “And this is my very dear friend Annie Korzen. You’ve probably seen her on Seinfeld. 

Now comes the bad news. At first, I was pretty comfortable with Jerry and Seinfeld cocreator and head writer Larry David. Then the show became a global phenomenon, and I got intimidated by their fame. They hadn’t really changed, but I became shy and awkward in their presence. When most people get shy and awkward, they get tongue-tied. I have the opposite reaction: I get tongue-untied and can’t stop chattering. Each time I ran into them, I launched into a crazed, desperate, nonstop, inappropriate monologue. My brain would say, “Shut your stupid mouth — you are making a gigantic ass of yourself.”

But I just yammered on, even though I saw the glazed look in their eyes. Two men I admire now probably think I’m a total nutcase, but I’m still glad I took the job.

I sometimes think about the actress who turned down the role because it was too small. It certainly was. I had only a few lines in each of four episodes. But those tiny residual checks keep trickling in, and over the years, Seinfeld has earned me well over $80,000. Plus, my association with the show — however modest — has opened all kinds of doors for me. 

When I pitched a humorous essay to the venerable New York Times, the editor wrote back immediately that he wanted the piece. The very next thing he said was, “So, tell me — what was it like to work on Seinfeld?”

I got really lucky here because no one could have possibly predicted this sitcom’s spectacular success. After all, the characters are, for the most part, whiny, dishonest and manipulative. Why would we want to spend time with these shallow fools?

I think I know the answer. We all want to be accepted for who we are, and that’s what Jerry and George and Elaine and Kramer provide. No matter what crazy-ass things they say to each other, no matter what crazy-ass things they do to each other, they always just let it go and move on: They forgive and forget — which is how we should treat people we love. So, the TV show that’s “not about anything” is really about a big, fat F-word called Family, and I will be forever grateful that I got to be a part of that miracle.

ANNIE KORZEN has written humorous essays for NPR’s Morning Edition, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and many other media outlets.  She has performed her solo shows on three continents and is a Moth Mainstage storyteller. The author of Bargain Junkie: Living the Good Life on the Cheap, she has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.

Seinfeld images courtesy Photofest NYC

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