PUFFY SHIRTS, LOW TALKERS, AND THE CIGARS OF SEINFELD
It has been over twenty-five years since we were first introduced to Seinfeld. Cocreators of the landmark sitcom, Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, were able to blend cigars into a surprising number of episodes for comedic effect. In particular, Larry David and Michael Richards (Cosmo Kramer) are long-time legit cigar enthusiasts.
While Jerry and the other cast members of the show may not be as closely identified with cigars as some other comedy legends, upon inspection, they more than do their comic forebears justice. When a stogie is placed in the hands of Jerry, Elaine, George or Kramer, zany and memorable notes are created.
Further enhancing Seinfeld’s cigar legacy, Larry David is frequently seen enjoying a stick on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Jerry’s follow-up show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, features a couple of episodes that are cigarcentric as well. The Steve Harvey episode in season six is a highlight reel in and of itself.
Cigar & Spirits Magazine takes a look back at some of the stogie-infused storylines built into those masterful scripts throughout the show’s nine-season run. The following are some of the high-water cigar moments featured on Seinfeld. If you can recall all or most, you are surely Master of Your (cigar) Domain.
THE WALLET 1992
Season 4, Episode 5
Kramer lights his hair on fire. That slug line alone should trigger a guffaw right off the bat. Elaine, George and Jerry are sitting down and discussing her current boyfriend who happens to be her “svenjolly” shrink. He is just one in a litany of her kooky paramours. Kramer comically bursts into Jerry’s apartment seeking a torch for his cigar. He turns on a stovetop burner, bends and leans in with cigar in mouth, and draws several times to light it up. A moment later, puffing away and standing above the threesome, we see a ferocious smoke cloud emanating from the top of his head. He lets out a wild scream and frantically runs into the bathroom to douse his smoldering dome. That highly anticipated scene occurs about sixteen minutes into the episode. It never fails to illicit a giggle attack even though we have seen it many times.
THE BUBBLE BOY 1992
Season 4, Episode 7
“The Bubble Boy” storyline revolving around an unseen character is a benchmark moment in the show. The classic confrontation over a game of Trivial Pursuit between George and the crass “boy in a bubble” is one of Jason Alexander’s best turns. The episode starts as a simple weekend getaway at Susan’s family lakeside cabin but quickly becomes a catastrophe. The plot points include Elaine’s heartstrings getting tugged at by The Bubble Boy’s emotional father while an indifferent Jerry eats a sandwich; the ensuing madcap race to “make good time” by George en route to the cabin; Jerry’s futile battle with a coffee shop waitress over an autographed photo he would like returned; and Kramer’s decision to enlist Jerry’s girlfriend, Naomi (who possesses a cringe-worthy “Elmer Fudd sitting on a juicer” cackle), to insinuate themselves into the cabin weekend, even though they are mostly unwanted, are some of the highlights.
Early in the episode, George passed along a box of Cubans that were given to him by Susan’s father. Kramer is elated by his score and enjoys the cigars throughout the show. The long-suffering Susan, who in the course of several seasons endured many comedic assaults by Kramer and George, would soon pay the price for George’s generosity.
Kramer breaks into the cabin with Naomi while the others are persevering through their madcap journey upstate. Kramer and Naomi set out for a night swim but he carelessly leaves his lit cigar near some newspapers, and the fire destroys the cabin. The rest of the party arrive shortly thereafter and watch in astonishment as the cherished cabin burns down.
The kicker: Kramer bolts and rushes towards the inferno while screaming, “My Cubans!”
THE CALZONE 1996
Season 7, Episode 20
Elaine’s boyfriend du jour, the smarmy Todd Gack, was supposed to score some authentic Cuban cigars for Jerry so he could pass them out at George’s impending nuptials. The three hundred dollars Jerry paid him garnered a virtually unsmokable Peruvian product. Elaine and Jerry are lamenting the whole Gack situation while seated on his sofa. Elaine comically chomps the cigar she’s stuck in the corner of her mouth, leaning back, legs up on the coffee table. She poses, “What kind of a name is Todd Gaaaaack anyway?” Her delivery of this line is spit-take inducing worthy. Additionally, she wonders aloud why the inferior Peruvian cigars are so terrible. Jerry replies, “It’s like trying to smoke a chicken bone.”
THE FOUNDATION 1996
Season 8, Episode 1
This episode has no shortage of storylines. Jerry’s breakup with Jeannie Steinman, the brief return of “Mulva,” The ill-fated Urban Sombrero, the development of Susan’s posthumous foundation, J. Peterman’s madness in Burma, and Kramer’s karate exploits all make this episode jam-packed with laughs.
Kramer persuades Elaine into thinking she has the right stuff to assume the helm at the catalog in Peterman’s absence. Kramer uses himself as an example because he recently looked within and listened to his “katra,” or spirit, to learn “ka-ra-te.” In doing so, he has been able to dominate at the dojo even though he initially doubted himself. Kramer persuades Elaine to ignore Jerry’s derisive comments about how she will lead the clothing empire to ruination.
Inspired by Kramer, she decides to let go of her self-doubt and take charge of the company. (Unbeknownst to her, Kramer’s been sparring with children, not adults, in the karate class.)
Thereafter, she telephones Jerry to gloat about successfully putting her first issue to bed in retaliation for his mocking her. She is feeling like a big shot, leaning back in her chair, legs up on her desk, self-assuredly chewing up a Churchill, and it’s a hoot. Her affectation of a hard-boiled, old school newspaper editor is a brilliant comedic take. She proceeds to lay into Jerry, insisting that he is the real “doofus” and not Kramer. Cigar firmly planted in her mouth throughout the conversation, she peppers him with a few more shots regarding his “weak” story about his latest breakup. Jerry, miffed by her pomposity, decides to tell her to go see Kramer at the dojo for herself. Subsequently, she witnesses Kramer man-handling the children and decides to take him down in front of his tween competition. The episode ends with Elaine realizing the “Urban Sombrero” she featured in the catalog has ruined the careers of businessmen throughout New York City.
Before we move forward, let us offer a word or two about Julia Louis Dreyfus. She is one of our favorite comediennes of all time, and more than held her own with the male principals in the show. She has arguably had the most post-Seinfeld success of her cast mates. Her work on The New Adventures of Old Christine and HBO’s Veep has arguably given her the most post- Seinfeld success and comedy cred. As illustrated above, the way she used a cigar to illicit a laugh several times during the sitcom’s run is just about genius.
THE ABSTINENCE 1996
Season 8, Episode 9
This episode is chock full of funny vignettes around George and Elaine’s issues with abstaining from sex. Additionally, Jerry’s mishaps at his old high school’s Career Day as a guest speaker add a lot of laughs to the mix. However, Kramer’s cigar scenes make the episode memorable, and features one of our favorite exchanges between Jerry and Kramer in the canon of the show. Kramer is ordered to vacate Monk’s coffee shop because he fired up a cigar in the diner. He comes across others who have been tossed to the curb and are lost without smoke-friendly establishments. Kramer decides to set up a smoking lounge in his apartment for his brethren. He engages in what appears to be several days of non-stop cigar smoking and partying in his apartment with the other revelers.
Kramer enters Jerry’s apartment and invites him to “pipe night” at his place. Jerry notices that Kramer’s face has become leathery “like an old catcher’s mitt,” and his teeth have become offensively brown. (The make-up used to illustrate this transformation is hysterical.) Kramer grabs a toaster and glances at his reflection. He’s repulsed by the radical change in his appearance and comically rails that his face is now crinkly and craggly. He despondently declares that he has lost his allure, his “twinkle.” Jerry points out that he has experienced a lifetime of smoking in seventy-two hours. Kramer ashamedly tells Jerry that he is now “hideous” and he should look away from him.
Kramer decides to enlist the services of attorney Jackie Chiles and forge a union “to take on Big Tobacco.” In a recurring theme throughout the seasons, Kramer subverts Jackie’s efforts in a case by agreeing to a non-monetary settlement without his approval. He is rewarded with his likeness on a Times Square billboard showcasing him as a smoking cowboy, much to the dismay of Chiles.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT 1997
Season 8, Episode 17
The bevy of writers and directors throughout the show’s run is amongst the best in sitcom lore. However, Louis Dreyfus’ acting choice in which she expresses her hatred of “The English Patient” is not something you can put down on paper or direct. The way she squirms in her seat while watching J. Peterman’s beloved movie—a movie she loathes—while contorting her face in agony, conveys nothing short of flesh crawling. It’s pitch perfect. George’s story arc in the episode is expertly integrated, as is the Mandelbaum Magic Pan segment.
Much of the episode is triggered by Kramer’s plans to produce Cuban quality cigars in America. His get-rich-quick cigar scheme involves transporting Cubans (“Are we talking about people or cigars?”), and his plans to become a cigar mogul wreak havoc throughout the episode. Kramer procures investors, and enlists Jerry to pick up his “Cubans” while visiting his parents in Florida. Kramer neglects to tell Jerry that he will be picking up actual people and not simply cigars. As it turns out, they are Dominicans passing themselves off as Cuban cigar rollers. The plan falls apart when they are found to be impostors.
Kramer, now stuck with his fruitless imports, senses they are plotting a rebellion against him. Jerry decides to help Kramer out by getting “his Cubans” jobs rolling crepes at the Magic Pan restaurant. Unfortunately, it does not go according to plan, and many patrons are scorched because the crepes were rolled too tightly.
THE VOICE 1997
Season 9, Episode 2
The on-and-off-again relationship between Elaine and Puddy had a bundle of bizarro moments. Jerry seizes an opportunity to call Elaine out on her inability to stay broken up with her droll and dim-witted boyfriend. Previously, Elaine and Puddy ran into one another at the coffee shop while on one of their many breaks. Jerry tells her it’s inevitable she’ll relapse and sleep with him. Elaine and Jerry bet fifty dollars she’ll no longer see or sleep with Puddy. Throughout the episode, in a series of quick back and forth clips, we see Elaine sheepishly slapping cash down on Jerry’s kitchen table for every sexual backslide involving Puddy. Jerry, leaning back in a chair, legs atop his kitchen table, raucously laughing while working a cigar and avariciously taking her money, is classic. It is one of the best laugh-out-loud-with-a-cigarin-your-mouth moments ever filmed, rivaled only by De Niro’s Max Cady and his diabolical squawks in the 1991 remake of Cape Fear.