Jerry Seinfeld Got Canned From ‘Benson’ After Three Episodes

Seinfeld found out when his character was no longer in the scripts
Jerry Seinfeld Got Canned From ‘Benson’ After Three Episodes

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Benson was a 1980s sitcom that chronicled Robert Guillaume’s rise from running the staff at the Governor’s Mansion to becoming lieutenant governor himself. The Soap spin-off ran for nine seasons and more than 150 episodes. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld appeared in exactly three of them. 

Pre-Tonight Show Seinfeld starred as Frankie, a fast-talking wise guy who doubled as a delivery boy and wannabe joke writer for the governor. The joke: Frankie’s jokes aren’t funny. Think Seinfeld was an awkward actor on Seinfeld? That work is absolutely Emmy-worthy compared to his stilted delivery on Benson. Terrible punchlines are punctuated by nervous laughter and flop sweat, which was admittedly in character but still feels like the performance of a young actor who had no idea what he was doing. It appears Benson producers were trying to introduce an Urkel character, geeky comic relief in a form the other characters could hate, but viewers weren’t supposed to hate him, too. 

Producers knew they had a flop on their hands and decided to cut their losses, eighty-sixing the Frankie character after only three episodes. That’s humiliating, but it gets worse. No one told Seinfeld that he’d gotten the ax, a message he received only after arriving for a script read-through and discovering that his part was missing in action. “I was angry,” Seinfeld admitted in 2006. “That doesn’t happen in stand-up. Once you get to a certain level, they don’t make you go back to the beginning.”

“I thought that would be the only break I was ever going to get,” he said in a Reddit AMA. “It was just a youthful lack of perspective. But at the time, I thought that was it. But it really ended up making me really get into being a much better stand-up comedian so that I wouldn’t be dependent on other people. It ended up being a good thing. The best things in my life have been the bad things that taught me stuff.” 

The story has a happy ending, of course. Seinfeld returned to stand-up after his embarrassing Benson adventure, where he was seen by a Tonight Show talent scout, who booked him on the show, which led to Seinfeld’s own sitcom yada yada yada. In fact, the Benson debacle led Seinfeld to turn down other TV comedy opportunities in the 1980s, vowing to not take another sitcom gig unless he had more control. 

One project in which Seinfeld was large and in charge? That’s Bee Movie, the 2007 animated hit that he wrote, produced and starred in as Barry B. Benson. An inside joke? If so, it’s a terrible one worthy of Frankie himself.  


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