An Oral History of “The Bizarro Jerry”: The Nerdiest ‘Seinfeld’ Episode Ever
At the end of Seinfeld’s seventh season, co-creator Larry David left the show and with him went the traditional way of writing a Seinfeld episode. Unlike most other sitcoms, where stories were largely written with a full writer’s room weighing in, a Seinfeld writer would generally draft an episode on their own, then they’d turn the script into Larry and Jerry. From there, Larry and Jerry would refine it and the result would be a Seinfeld episode.
But when Larry left, there were too many responsibilities on Jerry Seinfeld to punch up episodes all on his own, so he went for a blended model where, after a writer completed a draft, it was refined by the room of Seinfeld writers. The result was a somewhat different feel for the last two seasons of the show. Some felt it was broader, some felt it was less “real,” but writer David Mandel prefers to say that the show got “weirder.” And, perhaps the best example of how weird the show became arrived right in the beginning of Season Eight, where Elaine meets the Bizarro versions of Jerry, George and Kramer.
At the beginning of the episode, Elaine dumps her boyfriend, Kevin. But, when she delivers the perfunctory offer of “just being friends,” he gladly accepts. Before long, Elaine finds out that, as a friend, Kevin is reliable, considerate and perfectly willing to visit a museum of miniatures. “He’s like your exact opposite,” she tells Jerry, to which Jerry responds, “So he’s Bizarro Jerry,” referring to the Superman villain who speaks and acts the opposite of Superman. But Bizarro Jerry wasn’t Elaine’s only new friend, as she soon meets Kevin’s friends Gene and Feldman, Bizarro versions of Gene and Kramer.
Twenty-six years after its debut, “The Bizarro Jerry” remains one of the most memorable episodes of Seinfeld, and it only could have been pulled off in a later season of an immensely popular show. Full of Seinfeld in-jokes, the episode assumes the audience understands a typical Seinfeld story and puts a backwards spin on things. It also contains one of the most iconic moments in the entire series, where Jerry, George and Kramer have a standoff in the street with their Bizarro counterparts with Elaine is stuck in the middle.
Here to talk about the episode is its writer, David Mandel, as well as each of the “Bizarro” actors who had to study their counterparts and figure out what exactly playing their opposite meant.
David Mandel, Seinfeld writer: Some of my earliest comic book exposure as a kid came from these wonderful hardcovers that DC put out in the 1970s of both Batman and Superman. They covered everything from the 1930s to the 1970s and that Superman book was my first exposure to the villain known as Bizarro Superman. That was followed by DC Digests that I read at summer camp, which were these reprints of stuff from the 1960s. There was plenty of Bizarro stuff in there.
Anyway, all that was rattling around in my head for years and when I started working on Seinfeld I began to introduce nerdier content into the show, like Wrath of Khan references and there was this conversation between Jerry and George about what Iron Man wore under his armor.
Of course, there had been Superman references on the show because Jerry was a Superman fan, so when I pitched the concept of the Bizarro Jerry, Jerry was all over it. He knew what it was and loved it and he saw why that would be funny. I always give him credit because he was the one to say “take it further.” It’s because of Jerry that there’s that ending scene of the show where they actually talk in Bizarro-speak. That was Jerry saying “Go for it.” That happened a lot in those final two seasons, Jerry encouraged the writers to go further.
I was part of that second generation of Seinfeld writers. The first generation had been there early on, when the show was struggling. They were there for the journey of what the show would become. Then, as those writers left and Larry left, new writers came in. This group of writers had been watching Seinfeld at home and loving it and we came into the show with a bit of a perspective of the home viewer. So, in seasons Seven, Eight and Nine, there are more jokes that don’t quite break the fourth wall, but they’re a little more aware of the show and the patterns of the show. Along with that, the reality of the show continued to expand. It had been expanding under Larry, but under Jerry, it definitely got less “real.” Some say “broader,” but I prefer to think it got weirder.
“The Bizarro Jerry” is definitely an example of us expanding the show, but the whole Bizarro idea came fairly late in the process. The other stories in the episode were figured out first, like Kramer working at Brandt-Leland and George going to the forbidden city of beautiful women. Jerry’s story was Man-Hands, which was loosely based on my now wife. She has entirely normal-sized hands, but she grew up on a farm and she always said her hands were “farmy” so that story grew out of that.
For Elaine, the story started out with this idea about that clichéd saying, “Let’s just be friends” when someone breaks up. What if someone actually wants to take them up on that offer? The concept was also a bit of a comment on the show Friends, which was on TV at the time and doing their versions of some of our plotlines. I mean, the very idea that there was a show called “Friends” at all — seriously, who the fuck wants a friend? I know for me, I know a lot of people, but the people I consider “friends” are people I’ve known for a long time. I don’t need any fucking friends. I’m good. And the Seinfeld characters, they’re good. They don’t need it or want it.
So anyway, that was the story for Elaine, that she gets this new friend who is super friendly and bends over backwards for people — all those things that you see in bad TV, but that never really happen in real life. And, because he was so thoughtful, him being Jerry’s opposite evolved out of that and, after some conversations, he became “Bizarro Jerry.”
Tim DeKay, actor, Kevin AKA “Bizarro Jerry”: Before the “Bizarro Jerry'' episode, I’d done the episode prior. I was one of Elaine’s many boyfriends and we both agreed there were too many babies in the world and I ended up getting a vasectomy. Halfway through filming that episode, Jerry came up to me and said, “Tim, we’d like you to do another episode next week. Here’s the script, let me know what you think.”
During my lunch break, I read the script and instantly knew it was going to be a great episode of Seinfeld. Unfortunately, I’d just gotten cast in a guest spot in another TV show and I had to tell Jerry that, even though I really wanted to do it, that I had a conflict. To that, Jerry looks at me and says, “Who do I call?” They ended up working out a schedule so I could do both.
Originally, my character wasn’t going to be Bizarro Jerry at all. In the previous episode, he’d originally had a different name, I think it was “Matt.” But once it was clear that I was going to be Bizarro Jerry, it was changed to Kevin so that it had two syllables, like Jerry. The other Bizarros are like that too, “Gene” for George and “Feldman” for Kramer.
Aside from my character’s name, the script for the previous episode didn’t change to make me more “Bizarro,” but I did shift my performance a little. I made a point to be nicer and to make unselfish choices in my performance. That’s how I was setting up myself as Bizarro Jerry in the next episode, because there’s something more serene about the Bizarros that wasn’t in the regulars.
Kyle T. Heffner, actor, Gene AKA “Bizarro George”: When I played Gene, I played him quiet and more cerebral. He also had the appearance of being more of an intellectual and he was certainly less anxiety-ridden than George. To me, that was the anti-George.
Pat Kilbane, actor, Feldman AKA “Bizarro Kramer”: When figuring out Feldman, I did wonder if there was some Kramer DNA in there. Is it a Yin and Yang kind of thing, where there is some of one in the other? Or, are they completely the opposite? Ultimately, I played it very earnest, humble and polite — all these things Kramer was not.
Mandel: All three of those guys were wonderful. None of them were trying to be the opposite, they just were. It was the perfect mix of casting and writing. Marc Hirschfeld was our casting guy and he was always great, but casting this one in particular was such an eye-of-the-needle kind of thing and he nailed it with those three.
Kilbane: I was still a young actor when I got the part of Feldman and it was extremely intimidating. Marc Hirschfeld had previously cast me in a Wayne Knight pilot called Middle Man, but that never went anywhere. He also would cast me in MADtv after Seinfeld. I was really green though when I got the part of Feldman and I give a lot of credit to Marc Hirschfeld for taking a chance on me.
Fortunately, Kyle and Tim were also Bizarros and they had far more experience than I did. We had each other, which made it easier. In fact, months after the show aired, around Emmy season, Tim DeKay got this notice that he was under consideration to be a nominee for Best Guest Star. He then called up Kyle and I and the three of us drafted a letter to the Television Academy as the Bizarros saying we’ll only be considered as one entity. It was meant to be funny, but it was also really generous of Tim, as most other people wouldn’t want to screw up their chances. But, he thought it’d be funny. Anyway, the Television Academy couldn’t do that, but they wrote this funny thing back and invited us to become members of the Television Academy.
Mandel: Aside from the casting, figuring out what the opposite of everything was was a lot of fun. Some of it was as simple as Feldman knocking on Kevin’s door, which, of course, Kramer would never do at Jerry’s. There was also the question of “Where do they eat?” Of course it had to be Reggie’s, the coffee shop that our gang hates.
Building Kevin’s apartment was also really fun — I love doing that stuff. I treasured those conversations with Thomas Azzari, figuring out the opposite of everything. Building the apartment backwards was easy enough, then came what would be in the apartment. What would he have instead of a bicycle? How about a unicycle? Of course there was the Bizarro Superman statue, which didn’t actually exist at the time, so our prop guy, Stan Ascough, painted a Superman statue to look like Bizarro. I also remember obsessing about what would be in place of the cereal in Kevin’s apartment. We ended up going with these rectangular jars of fresh, colorful pasta. Is pasta the opposite of cereal? Not exactly, but it was kind of like a more mature version of cereal.
Kilbane: I remember during the first blocking on set, they were discussing what would go in place of the cereal. While I was a little intimidated, I said, ”You know how those fancy kitchens have the symmetrical fancy jars?” Then Julia said “Yeah, full of gourmet pasta” — and that’s what they ended up doing.
Mandel: After we got rolling with all the opposite stuff, some of it just seemed to write itself. Like, they were given their own theme music, which was just the Seinfeld music in reverse.
Adam Pacecca, co-host of The Place to Be: A Seinfeld Podcast: “The Bizarro Jerry” is such a classic episode with so many great moments, but the best scene has got to be the showdown on the New York street. It’s a perfect scene.
Mandel: The credit for that scene goes to Andy Ackerman. It’s easy to write that, but the way he created it, with this framing around Elaine, it came out perfectly.
Heffner: We called that the “showdown scene.” I remember it feeling really weird. You could feel the oddness of that scene and Julia played it beautifully. She was the lynchpin for that whole episode, we just had to be sure not to get in her way.
Kilbane: That scene was huge, it was like a standoff with the biggest stars on television.
DeKay: That scene was the last thing we filmed. Afterwards, I went up to Jerry and thanked him for the opportunity. I remember him saying to me, “This is going to be one of my favorites because we’re making fun of us.”
Eric Dobin, co-host of The Place to Be: A Seinfeld Podcast: “The Bizarro Jerry” was just the third episode of Seinfeld after Larry left and I think it set the tone right away for the final two seasons. From there, we saw these characters go places they’d never gone before with more out-there stories. They still worked as Seinfeld episodes, but they stretched the definition of what the show could be. It makes you wonder if Larry would have approved the Bizarro Jerry idea had he still been on the show.
What’s also interesting about the episode, and I don’t know if it was intentional, is that the three main guys are all acting out of character too. George is hanging out with supermodels, Kramer has a job and Jerry is upset because Kramer isn’t coming home on time. They’re all a bit “Bizarro” in that one. The word “Bizarro” too. That episode really inserted that word into the American lexicon like a lot of other Seinfeld words. I don’t think anyone was saying that word before that episode. Bizarro was a pretty obscure Superman villain.
And, of course, the episode is filled with inside jokes that are rewarding to die-hard Seinfeld fans, like Feldman buying groceries for Kevin and Kevin locking the door to his apartment. Then there’s Vargas, the Bizarro Newman that Kevin loves.
Pacecca: My favorite Bizarro joke might be when they’re at Reggie’s, the Bizarro coffee shop, and the check comes. All three of those guys go reaching for the check. Our guys would never do that. There are tons of classic moments in that episode and it really was meant for the fans of the show. It’s no wonder that it has a legacy as one of the most beloved Seinfeld episodes.
I don’t know what the episode’s legacy is, but, I’ll tell you, I’ve built a very nice collection of Bizarro Superman-related merchandise in the years since. I have basically every Bizarro Superman toy, Funko Pop, action figure, amusement park giveaway — anything and everything Bizarro. I also have a sketch book filled with original artwork from different comic book artists, all drawing their take on Bizarro Superman. So this episode has really helped my collecting game a lot. That is its true legacy.
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