“Seinfeld” isn’t just the single most quintessential comedy to come out of the 1990s or even just one of the best sitcoms of all time. It’s one of the greatest TV shows ever made, hands down. It’s filled with some of the most unforgettably brilliant comedic writing ever penned and some of the best characters ever put to screen. Decades after it went off the air, we still can’t get enough of Jerry Seinfeld and his friends — ex-girlfriend turned bestie Elaine Benes, lovably weird neighbor Cosmo Kramer, and his neurotic ol’ pal George Costanza. And let’s not forget the entire whirlwind of wackjobs surrounding the central foursome.
And, of course, like any great sitcom, “Seinfeld” boasts more than its fair share of epic running gags that still crack us up to this day. But that means competition for the title of “best ever” is fierce. So what recurring bits are in the running? Which one’s at the top? Get ready to laugh because these are the best “Seinfeld” running gags of all time.
Everyone handles stress, anger, and disappointment differently. Some people shut down, preferring to be alone until they cool off. Others blow up. Others turn to vices or try to distract themselves with various habits. George Costanza, meanwhile, likes to shout in the third person. It makes no sense, so don’t try to understand it. Just know that whenever he feels cornered or insulted, he’ll lash out with a “George is gettin’ upset!” or something equally cringey and hilarious.
This leads to a hysterical situation in Season 6, when George is suspected of stealing equipment from the Yankees. Mr. Wilhelm stops by George’s office, hearing him ordering new athletic gear and thus seemingly confirming his intuition that Costanza is a thief. Wilhelm accuses him directly and uses George’s excessive sweat as proof. But George has an alibi: He’s eating hot chicken. “George likes his chicken spicy,” he says.
Later on, George Steinbrenner gets roped into the situation and also accuses George Costanza of stealing. Our boy, insulted and rattled by the accusation, defends himself in the third person. “George would never do anything like that,” he says. To which Steinbrenner replies, “No, why would I? I own it.”
Of course, George simply speaking in the third person is only mildly funny in and of itself. But the show’s writers upped the ante by taking this little gag and using it to stuff the character into increasingly ridiculous and hilarious situations. Now that’s good writing.
For someone depicted as successful and desirable throughout the show, Jerry Seinfeld sure does pal around with some stone-cold losers. For example, Kramer is just absurd and off-putting (imagine meeting him in real life!). And Elaine is fairly normal but not without her annoying eccentricities and baggage.
George, in particular, struggles in nearly every aspect of his life. He can almost never hold down a job, is famously unlucky with women (despite the fact that he’s got a new model hanging on his arm in seemingly every other episode), and spends extended stretches of time living with his hilariously obnoxious parents. Obviously, it’s not surprise at all that a man like this would be scrambling to get his act together before it’s too late, which leads him to a lot of dead ends and bad ideas. In many cases, he needs Jerry to bail him out. But when he calls, frantically pleading with Jerry to perform various tasks so his schemes don’t fall apart, Jerry loves to play dumb with a hysterically mean answer — “Who is this?” If you’ve seen the show, you probably read that in Seinfeld’s iconic voice.
George, of course, has no patience for this joke, which only makes it funnier to watch. The icing on the cake is when Jerry calls Elaine, demanding that she help him out. She responds with her own version of “who is this?” Of course, this leads him to bang the phone into the receiver, just like George does. Classic stuff.
Everyone focuses (for good reason) on Kramer’s magnificently over-the-top entrances into Jerry’s apartment. But an equally helpful insight into who this character is comes from the fact that Kramer never knocks when he shows up at Jerry’s. That’s because Kramer seems to think that Jerry’s apartment, and all that lies within, is his for the taking. He raids Jerry’s fridge and cabinets, eating milk, fruit, and snacks as he so desires. He plops on Jerry’s couch, grabs the remote, and watches whatever show he wants. He borrows Jerry’s clothes and tools without a second thought.
Jerry — apparently so used to this — never puts up much of a fight. However, when he does mention it, Kramer insists Jerry is welcome to enter his apartment at will and eat his food too, but Jerry almost never sees a reason to visit Kramer’s unit across the hall. In fact, we’ve only seen the inside of his home on a handful of occasions ourselves, and we can’t blame Jerry for wanting to steer clear (or, for that matter, Kramer for always wanting to hang at Jerry’s rather than his own place).
Kramer is the worst kind of neighbor — obnoxious, loud, rude, entitled, and completely lacking in self awareness. But, man, is he funny to watch from the safety of our own couches.
Kramer is just the type of character who works better the less you know about him. He’s a bizarre man with a mysterious life, and his eccentricities (to put it mildly) are much more fun to watch when there’s no background to explain them. We barely ever see the inside of his apartment (and when we do, it’s usually too dark to see much anyway). We don’t know what he does for a living. We discover entirely new facets of his personality seemingly every time a B plot focuses on him (who knew he was such an expert at all things Miss America?). Heck, we didn’t even know his first name was Cosmo until halfway through Season 6. And outside of the main friend group, we don’t know what company he keeps.
But he does mention a few of his buddies every once in a while, like the mysterious Bob Sacamano. According to Kramer, who mentions this never-actually-seen man on multiple occasions, Bob works in a condom factory, survived rabies, sells Russian hats, and developed a shrieking, high-pitched voice after receiving a botched hernia surgery at the same hospital George is recovering in (we’re sure that put a neurotic mess like George right at ease). We’re not sure if any of that is true, let alone possible, but we do know Bob is indeed real. Jerry even becomes friends with him (and develops mysteriously Kramer-esque habits) after they get to chatting on the phone one night.
Listen, we get it. If we were a balding, unemployed man who lived with his parents a la George Costanza (his words, not ours), we’d be at least tempted to make up more attractive attributes about our lives too. We like to imagine, though, that we’d be a little more creative (not to mention believable) than he was when he impulsively invented “importer/exporter” Art Vandelay in order to lie his way through various awkward situations.
He originally invented Vandelay as a fictional person he and Jerry were going to meet (they were really there so Jerry could accidentally “run into” a woman he knew worked there). However, he brings the character up later on to bolster his resume in job interviews, to appease the unemployment office (which wanted proof he was actively looking for work), and even to impress Elaine’s boss in the publishing industry — he claimed Vandelay was an “obscure” writer but one of his favorites — in order to secure a job there.
Hilariously, the judge who presides over Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer’s trial in “The Finale: Part 2” was named Arthur Vandelay. If only he’d known how his name was illicitly used to get George jobs and women over the years. Say what you will about the much-maligned final episodes of “Seinfeld,” but that’s a fantastic send-off to a hilarious running gag.
Quick, what do you do when someone gives you surprising information? If your name is Elaine Benes, you probably shout “get out!” and shove the person backwards with both hands. And it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad info either. For example, remember when she learned from Jerry that another woman had commented on her shoes? In that scene, she shoved Jerry — who was only the messenger — so hard that he fell into Kramer. And then there was the time Jerry told her about an apartment where the rent was only $400 a month — fact that prompted Elaine to, you guessed it, shove Jerry. In one scene, she even forcefully shoved a man who was still in his hospital bed after a surgery. In her defense, she felt some remorse for that one.
It’s worth noting that her shoves got more violent as the show went on. At first, they were mild pushes. But later, she’d knock you right over. For example, when Jerry told her George was getting married, she shoved him backwards and into his own room. We didn’t see him fall, but we did hear him crash into some furniture before hitting the ground. And when Kramer told her he got a nice piece of furniture from the “Soup Nazi,” she rammed him so hard that he tumbled through the door.
It’s funny stuff. You know, from all the way over here.
We never figure out what Kramer does for a living or how he manages to afford an apartment in one of the world’s most expensive neighborhoods. But he does seem to be something of a Renaissance man. What he lacks in basic fashion sense or social skills, he makes up for with a seemingly endless array of minor marketable talents, including one for coming up with business ideas themselves.
In one episode, he reveals himself to be an expert on the Miss America pageant — annoying Jerry by stealing his date (a contestant) and coaching her for the big event. Who knew? In another episode, Kramer invents a coffee table book about coffee tables that itself turns into a coffee table. In another episode, he teams up with Jerry’s dad to sell valuable old coats. In another, after getting constant calls from curious would-be moviegoers, Kramer realizes his new phone number is only one digit away from the number for 555-FILM, where people call to get information on movie times. Naturally, he decides to help people out in selecting movies and getting to the right theater. In still more episodes, he invents beach-scented cologne, builds a prototype of the “Bro” (also known as the “Manssiere”), creates the concept of a pizza place where you make your own pie, and even runs a bottle deposit scam with Newman.
In real life, we’d tell someone like this to get a job, but we honestly can’t get enough of these hijinks.
Throughout the course of the 9-season show, Jerry dates a seemingly absurd number of beautiful women. In real life, they’d be firmly out of his league. In the show, though, they just can’t get enough of this mildly successful comedian with the mullet and a bunch of weirdo friends. So we suppose a man with so many options doesn’t exactly need to settle.
And, boy, Jerry does not settle. Ever. In fact, he sprints in the opposite direction, frequently dumping beautiful women over the flimsiest reasons. In one episode, he breaks things off with a woman because she wouldn’t try a slice of pie at Monk’s Cafe. In another episode, Jerry simply can’t get over the fact that his date laughed at a stupid commercial for Dockers. In another, the woman actually breaks up with him but only because he refused to stop saying “hello” in a bizarrely deep, silly voice. So even though she pulled the trigger, the ball was in his court, and he chose a lame joke over her (only to grow bored of it within a day). In one episode actually centered around Jerry and George’s immaturity, Jerry realizes the error of his ways after dumping a woman for eating peas individually rather than scooping them up with a spoon.
It’s all frustrating but hilarious to watch, especially because Jerry and his friends have more than their fair share of obnoxious flaws themselves.
Jerry makes at least as many enemies as friends over the course of the show. After all, much of the comedy comes from his being a selfish snob who pals around with equally inconsiderate ne’er-do-wells like George, Elaine, and Kramer. And while you can definitely sympathize with many of the people Jerry angers, like Apu and Tim Whatley and the countless women he dumps for the shallowest possible reasons, there’s a handful who are so obnoxious and unlikeable that you have no choice but to side with Jerry. At the top (bottom?) of that list is none other than Newman, Wayne Knight’s portly, cackling, scheming mailman from downstairs.
Whenever the two run into each other, the greetings are mirrored. Newman, who’s always up to no good, cackles, “Hello, Jerry!” while Jerry sneers back, “Hello, Newman.” There’s no missing the contempt they have for each other, and it’s never not funny. Newman himself seems to delight in their seemingly endless, low-intensity rivalry, which makes Jerry’s disgust upon seeing him all the more hilarious.
Kramer’s entrances into Jerry’s apartment used to be fairly standard, indicating they were never intended to be the classic bit that kept on giving that they eventually became. But over time, we’re glad actor Michael Richards and the writing staff recognized the comedic potential of these manic walk-ins because seeing Kramer twirl, smash, stumble, sprint, and dance his way into the iconic Upper West Side flat — always without knocking first — simply never gets old. And that’s despite it being easily the most repeated joke on the show, occurring literally hundreds of times over the course of the show’s nine seasons.
Adding to the comedy is the fact that whenever he bursts through the door, nobody inside the apartment is the least bit startled to see a gangly, 6’5″ man crash through the door like he’s running from the cops. They simply take it in stride: It’s just Kramer being Kramer. What do you expect?
The real George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, wasn’t initially a fan of Larry David’s lampooning of him on “Seinfeld,” but he came around after watching an episode of the show and realizing it was A) hilarious, and B) all done in good fun. We suppose it’s hard to be insulted by a caricature of yourself when said caricature is such a bizarre, almost otherworldly person that there’s nothing that can be reasonably traced back to you. And that wacky detachment from reality is precisely why the show’s version of Steinbrenner — George’s boss when he works for the Yankees — works so well.
He’s an outrageous, hilarious character who’s never seen from the front. And he’s always singing the wrong lyrics to “Heartbreaker” or rambling about everything from alcoholic chickens to calzones until his employees are forced to slowly back out of the office as he rants and raves. Perhaps his best moment, as well as one of the funniest “Seinfeld” moments in the entire show, is when George, trapped in the mini-bedroom he’s made for himself beneath his desk, has Jerry call in a bomb threat to get Steinbrenner out of his office before he’s caught. Instead, Steinbrenner shouts, “A bomb? Quick, everybody under the desk!” And soon, he’s joining Constanza in his hiding place. You certainly can’t make bomb threat jokes today, but man, are we glad we got this little gem.