Jerry Stiller Is Gone, But Frank Costanza Remains
When Carrie Fisher died there was a tendency by many on the Internet to memorialize her death with some form of the words "Rest In Peace, Princess Leia," or "May the force be with you, Princess Leia." While those sentiments were sweet, there was also such an oversaturation of Star Wars remembrance that it felt as if Princess Leia the character had overshadowed Carrie Fisher the person. Others spoke up to remind us that Carrie Fisher was more than Princess Leia, as her accomplishments were numerous, and she was more than those accomplishments, as she was a person, and people are much more than the sum of their achievements. And so comes the delicate balance we strike as fans when trying best to memorialize an actor who played a beloved character.
With that in mind, I want to be careful when I say this next thing: Jerry Stiller as Frank Costanza was funny as fuck. Of course Jerry Stiller amounts to more than the loud-mouthed, cantankerous Seinfeld character. He has had a long and storied career in Hollywood and was by all accounts, a beloved father, husband, and friend. But as a fan, I didn't know Jerry Stiller. I only knew Frank Costanza and seeing the cast of Seinfeld honor the man on Twitter and recount how much he made them laugh gave me more comfort than a brassiere for men ever could. So I hope you can forgive me in wanting to share with you these moments that absolutely wrecked me (and the Seinfeld cast) with laughter, and I promise I won't end this piece with some schmaltzy bullshit like "Frank Costanza finally found his serenity now."
Here's the clip making its way around the internet where Frank Costanza's raw, misplaced machismo is enough to send Jason Alexander rolling on the floor. Julia Louis-Dreyfus can barely get through a take. Still, Stiller never breaks character because, like LeBron James barreling down the lane for a dunk, maintaining Frank Costanza's level of contempt for the world requires building momentum from the very first step. Never once do we watch that scene and think Frank isn't willing to grab that coatrack and snap it over George's head, and it's that level of emotion that makes him so goddamn funny.
Here is the other side of what made Frank Costanza so great as he plays across Estelle Harris, his onscreen wife. Jerry Stiller can't manage to say Boca Vista, so rather than keep trying, he leans into the other way and butchers it so badly with "del besta vico" that it sounds like he's about to have a stroke. It couldn't be more perfect because if there were one way to describe the character of Frank it would be "man who's always on the verge of a stroke."
This clip isn't an outtake, but it's pure genius as Frank, upon hearing about the death of his son from George Steinbrenner, takes the moment to chide him for his trade of Jay Buhner. Even though George doesn't appear in this scene, it is so telling as to the nature of their relationship that it's almost touching. George Costanza has either tried to bamboozle Frank so many times that Frank simply doesn't believe George is dead, or Frank has so much misplaced rage that to yell at George Steinbrenner is the only way for him to properly mourn his son.
Regardless, we feel it's a fitting tribute, and while Jerry Stiller may no longer be with us, we're glad that Frank Costanza will never allow him to fade away.
Dan is on Twitter and will talk about life with you in lieu of getting a therapist and he also hosts The Bachelor Zone Podcast, where you can hear him give a sports-style breakdown of all things happening on The Bachelor.
Top Image: Sony Pictures Television