A Very Succinct Oral History of ‘Yada Yada Yada’ from ‘Seinfeld’
By coining terms like “shrinkage” and expressions like “double-dipping,” Seinfeld writer Peter Mehlman has had a tremendous influence on both the language of that legendary show about nothing and the American lexicon.
Maybe most famously, he was also responsible for “yada yada yada.” Admittedly, “yada yada yada” didn’t originate with Seinfeld, but there’s no disputing that the show boosted its popularity. Rolling Stone credits the series with expanding its usage, renowned entomologist Barry Popik confirms that Seinfeld renewed the phrase’s popularity, and if you look at Google’s data on “yada yada yada,” it clearly skyrocketed right around the time of the 1997 episode entitled, but of course, “The Yada Yada.”
As for how we got here, that’s for Mehlman, his co-writer Jillian Franklyn and guest star Suzanne Cryer, aka George’s “yada yada yada”-ing girlfriend, to explain. Each has fond memories of the experience, and they’ve promised not to “yada yada yada” over any of the good parts.
Peter Mehlman, co-writer of “The Yada Yada”: There are two geneses of “The Yada Yada.” I went golfing with my best friend Bill Masters one day, and as we were driving, he made a Jewish joke. Now, Bill was Jewish, but he had converted. So I thought to myself, “I wonder how long it took him to feel comfortable making Jewish jokes?” Then I thought it’d be funny if it was like the day after. In my scripts, I always avoided doing anything religion-oriented, but this seemed too funny for words — someone converting to Judaism just so they could make Jewish jokes.
The second genesis was that I had a random thought about a lunch I once had with an editor who used the phrase “yada yada.” It later occurred to me that “yada yada” could be used to blanket over all sorts of sins. Whatever the bad parts of a story were, the other person didn’t have to hear it.
Then there were the smaller stories: One about Elaine being a reference for a couple that was adopting a baby, and another about two guys asking out two women and not realizing who was with whom — that was the Kramer story with Mickey, which was a great sight gag.
When I began writing the episode, I reached out to Jillian Franklyn. She was a friend, and she’d written some really nice screenplays, so I was thinking that this one would be fun to write with her.
Jillian Franklyn, author of Madly She Waited and co-writer of “The Yada Yada”: I’d written a spec Seinfeld script when Larry David was there. He’d read it during his last few days on the show, and he said, “She can pitch.” That was huge because I was an unknown writer who’d only written greeting cards. I spent about a year pitching ideas to Peter, and I called him up one day and said, “What if George meets this girl and she’s the one, except she has a little quirk. Then, George meets the girl’s mom, and the mom has the quirk too, but much bigger.” Peter got back to me and said, “We’re doing your story. Do you want to write it with me?”
By the time I got on board, the mother angle had been dropped, but the quirk was still there. The next step was to come up with what that quirk was. Peter had pages and pages of stuff he always wanted to do, and I had a list of quirks. I had “blah blah blah,” and he had “yada yada yada.” Guess who won? There’s something to be said for seniority.
Mehlman: We’d talk on the phone, and I’d tell Jillian if I was stuck. She had really good ideas to get me unstuck. One of them was having Dr. Whatley tell a Catholic joke in addition to the Jewish jokes, which helped move the story through the second act.
When I came up with the line “anti-dentite,” I thought it would take off. That was the first time I ever thought something like that. I never thought of that with “double-dip” or anything else, but I thought anti-dentite was going to be a big deal. “Yada yada yada” was kind of a pop-songy thing, but I thought anti-dentite had some real teeth to it. Yet, nothing.
That is, until years later, my dentist was shocked to find out I was the person who wrote anti-dentite. I was nervous. I mean, the guy has needles and drills and such. Luckily, he was a guy who could take a joke.
Suzanne Cryer, Marcy in “The Yada Yada”: The anti-dentite stuff was fucking brilliant. I think if you didn’t have that, and if the comedy of the episode wasn’t as sharp as it was, “yada yada” never would have taken off. It’s because yada yada is in a great episode that it stuck.
Mehlman: When I started coming up with that story about someone converting to Judaism just for the jokes, the goal became to get Jerry in a confessional booth. That’s why Dr. Whatley converted from Catholicism, that’s why the priest was a patient of Dr. Whatley. That confession booth brought together so many shreds of story that I just knew there was no way that Jerry in a confessional booth wasn’t going to be absolute gold.
When it came to casting, I wrote in the script that Mickey’s parents would be played by Robert Wagner and Jill St. John, and, of course, we got them. That was the power of Seinfeld. Robert Wagner was hysterical, too. When he says, “Hey Kramer,” there’s such a dismissiveness to it that you know the characters have a history. And a couple of months later at the wrap party, Robert Wagner kept walking around saying “yada yada yada” over and over again.
For the role of Marcy, Suzanne Cryer was the last woman to audition. I didn’t know exactly what we were looking for, but we had someone who did really well at the beginning. Then Suzanne came in and did that line about stealing from Bloomingdales. She did it with such lust and joy.
Cryer: When I came out to L.A. I told my agents, “I want to get Seinfeld,” and the next day I had an audition. I wasn’t nervous, but I was excited because I was a big fan. The table read went well, and during the taping, I spent most of my time with Jason (Alexander) because he came from a theater background and we knew like 50 people in common.
Mehlman: One thing I remember about the taping was Bryan Cranston coming in. He has a crew cut in that episode because he was filming From the Earth to the Moon, where he was playing an astronaut. He was working on that all week and flew in on the day we were filming. He did two rehearsals and then nailed the part.
Franklyn: After the table read, Michael Richards came up to me and asked, “Was I okay?” All I could think was, “Are you talking to me?” At the taping, my whole family came, and my mom was so embarrassing. She came with gifts for the cast. She brought this toy for Michael Richards, and I had to tell her, “No, you’re not going anywhere near him.” She said, “Okay, but there’s one thing I have to give Jerry.” It was a golfing T-shirt that she said she got from Jerry’s brother. In her office, she was talking about her daughter writing a Seinfeld episode, and this guy told her he was Jerry’s brother and asked her to give this shirt to him. She wanted to give this shirt to Jerry so badly that I finally said, “Fine.”
After the shoot, I introduced my whole family to Jerry, and my mom said to him in a sing-song voice, “I have something for you.” “You do?” Jerry sang back to her. Then she sang, “It’s from your brother,” and pulled out the shirt.
“I don’t have a brother,” Jerry sang back. I died. It was mortifying. I’m still embarrassed by that.
Cryer: I remember Mehlman telling me, “This is going to be one of the biggest episodes ever.” I thought, “Yeah, sure it is,” thinking he was just a writer wanting to believe that. Of course, he was right.
Franklyn: After the show was shot, Peter said to me, “Get your tuxedo out,” and he was right. It got nominated for an Emmy. If Ellen hadn’t come out that year…
Cryer: Twenty-something years later, I’ve gotten asked to do more interviews about Seinfeld than anything else in my career. When I was the lead of a Neil Simon play in New York, I was relatively unknown and every night I heard people in the audience whispering “yada yada yada” to each other. They were all trying to figure out how the fuck they knew me. My dad got really into it too. He bought me a mug that said “yada yada yada” on it. It’s in my cupboard right now.
Franklyn: My dad became obsessed with Seinfeld because I’d written for it. I would get Seinfeld stuff in the mail from him every day after that. The greatest thing I got from him was a numbered etching by Al Hirschfeld. After my father died, my stepmother insisted on keeping it. We don’t speak.
Mehlman: “The Yada Yada” was the last episode I wrote as a staff member on Seinfeld. One of the reasons I’d decided I was going to leave was because “The Yada Yada” was about small ideas, which is what I liked — small, slice-of-life stories like we’d do back in Season Four. It was like a throwback episode in a way, and that’s why I decided, for me, it was a good one to end it on.