This week’s listmaker: Marc Allan. Marc is a writer and associate director of university relations at Butler University.
Most nights between 7 and 8 p.m., when I should be doing something productive, I turn on TBS and watch Seinfeld. This borders on insanity given that a) I’ve seen every episode countless times, to the point that I can recite pretty good chunks of the dialogue; b) I could easily watch the uncut versions on DVD or Crackle any time I want; and c) I actually have things I’d like to accomplish before I die.
But no, I watch Seinfeld. Almost 15 years after the last original episode, I’m still obsessed with the show that supposedly was about nothing but really was about the minutia of daily life.
My obsession tends to boil over during the summer, when I go to Los Angeles for the Television Critics Association press tour. There, actors, writers and producers meet with critics to talk about their current projects. I always find a way to talk about Seinfeld with anyone who’s had a connection to the show. I told Jason Alexander five ways that his first post-Seinfeld series, Bob Patterson, resembled Seinfeld, asked Wayne Knight where the weirdest place was that anyone said “Hello, Newman” (the Vatican) and talked to Christa Miller about how she ended up playing two different characters on the show.
I’ve probably had 40-50 encounters with people who had some role in Seinfeld, and I’ve collected a few souvenirs along the way. These are my favorites.
1. The Jon Voight pencil. Everyone else in the world wants to talk to Jon Voight about his famous daughter. When I met him, I asked about his appearance on Seinfeld. (In the episode “The Mom and Pop Store,” George buys a used Chrysler LeBaron that, according to the salesman, once belonged to Jon Voight. But Jon Voight, the actor, or John Voight, the periodontist? George isn’t sure. After he finds a pencil with teeth marks in the glove compartment, he tries to get a dentist to match those to bite marks the actor Jon Voight left on Kramer’s arm.) After Voight told me a bit about how he ended up on the show (nothing that exciting), I asked whether anyone ever asked him to bite a pencil. He said yes, he had honored that request on occasion. So I searched the hotel for a pencil. The next day, he was back for another panel. When he walked into the room, I was waiting for him. I handed him the pencil, he bit it and handed it back to me. No words were spoken. It was perfect.
2. The Marisa Tomei laugh. A couple of years ago, Marisa Tomei participated in a TV series about the constitution. While she was onstage promoting that series, I was sitting there thinking, “I wonder if she actually likes short, stocky, bald funnymen,” as she said she did in the episode “The Cadillac.” So I went up to her and, after politely asking a couple of questions about the constitution project, I said, “One other thing I’ve gotta ask you: Do you actually like short, stocky, bald funnymen?” She giggled and said, “That will remain a mystery, always.” Then she giggled some more. I have this recorded. If you ever see me on the street and I have my voice recorder with me, I’ll gladly play it for you.
3. The Heidi Swedberg autograph. One of my sisters worked for an artist-management company in Los Angeles. While she was there, Heidi Swedberg, who played George’s fiancé, Susan, on 28 episodes of Seinfeld, was a client. My sister offered to get me an autographed photo. I gladly accepted. I asked my sister to have her write, “To Marc, You can stuff your sorrys in a sack, mister,” which was a line she said in the episode “The Betrayal.” And that’s what she wrote. (My sister also got me an autographed picture of Larry Thomas, who played the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. But hell, you can buy his “No Soup for You!” autograph on eBay. It’s just not the same.)
4. The Peter Mehlman response. A year or so ago, I got a new TV (a Sharp, which has a fantastic picture) and noticed something in the episode “The Scofflaw” that I’d never seen before: Elaine’s ex-boyfriend, author Jake Jarmel, was doing a book signing at Waldenbooks, and the book he supposedly wrote was called “What’s With the Pepper?” I wondered: “What’s with that title?” Well, one of the beauties of living in the Internet age is that if you have a question, you can probably find an answer. That episode of Seinfeld was written by Peter Mehlman, so I looked on Facebook and, sure enough, he has a page. I sent him a message asking about the title. He wrote back: “At dinner with friends, one guy puts a pound of pepper on his burger. Another guy says, ‘What’s With The Pepper?’ At the time, it sounded like a good book title.”
5. The Jay Karnes and Julia Campbell look of shock. I met Karnes (who played Dutch on “The Shield”) at a Fox party a few years back. We were talking about “The Shield” – a genius cop show, by the way. If you missed it, catch up – when his wife walked over. He introduced her, and I immediately blurted out, “You played Lisi on Seinfeld!” in the episode “The Frogger.” They looked at me approximately the way you’d look at your dog if he suddenly started talking. They asked how I possibly remembered the character’s name. I had to explain my obsession. To their credit, rather than slowly inching away from the crazy man, they continued to talk to me. But I’m sure at some point they’ll be telling the story of the insane writer who knew a little too much about nothing.