Seinfeld is undoubtedly one of the greatest – if not the greatest – television series of all time. Its influence on comedians, TV writers, and actors is paralleled perhaps only by the likes of Garry Shandling and Dick Van Dyke. And throughout its nine-season run, this “show about nothing” starring Jerry Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself (the man we have to thank for attempts by everyone else to play a fictionalized version of themselves since then, from Matt LeBlanc to Andrew Dice Clay) featured cameo appearances from rising stars who would later rival Seinfeld himself in terms of celebrity. As is always the case with a show that stands the test of time, the jokes and the stories and the relatability don’t age, but the recognizability of the guest stars sure does. You notice Jerry’s dentist more when you recognize him as Heisenberg. So, from Ultron to Walter White to Monica Geller, here are the fifteen biggest stars to get their start in a minor role on Seinfeld.
15. Sarah Silverman
The often offensive comedienne, Sarah Silverman, appeared in a 1997 episode of Seinfeld hot on the heels of her three-year stint on Mr. Show, where she played various roles alongside Bob Odenkirk (another Seinfeld guest star) and David Cross. On Seinfeld she played Kramer’s girlfriend Emily in the episode “The Money.” It was her character who immortalized yet another classic Seinfeld phrase. She had “the Jimmy legs” (i.e. restless leg syndrome) and it was driving Kramer nuts at night. The episode also has some interesting behind the scenes trivia: Jack Klompus was almost not in it, because the actor who played him went into a coma just days before shooting, but then came out of the coma again just in time. It’s an insane story. Silverman has since become a huge star in comedy, with her brilliant new Netflix special A Speck of Dust premiering last month.
14. Jeremy Piven
Season 4 of Seinfeld got very meta indeed as NBC approached Jerry after a standup performance and asked him if he had any ideas for a TV show. As the season progressed, Jerry and George (the character based on series co-creator Larry David) conceived a show in which Jerry would play a fictionalized version of himself featuring supporting characters based on George, Kramer, and Elaine. Now, when it came to casting actors to play actors auditioning for roles in the show within a show, the joke with Jeremy Piven’s appearance was that his Michael Barth character was supposed to be even more of a loser than the character he was playing, George. Anyone who’s seen Entourage surely disagrees with this, since his character Ari Gold is about as slick and cool and rock ‘n’ roll as they come. But he’s unrecognizable in the part, with his monotonous voice, thin-rimmed glasses, and receding hairline. He went backwards!
13. Daniel Dae Kim
You’ll know Daniel Dae Kim from the ground-breaking series Lost, but before that, he appeared on Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David’s own ground-breaking series. He played Student #1 in the Seinfeld episode “The Burning.” This was the episode where Kramer, his dwarf friend Mickey, and other amateur actors were hired by a medical school to pretend to have symptoms of diseases that the medical students would then diagnose. Kramer desperately wanted to get gonorhea (a joke that was seriously played out) because it presented a great acting challenge, and Kim was the student who guessed that he had it. He then went on to play Jin in Lost, who was a total jerk until he got his redemption towards the end of the series’ run.
12. Catherine Keener
Beloved for her appearances in indie and arthouse films like Being John Malkovich and Synecdoche, New York, as well as more mainstream movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The Croods – not to mention her role in Get Out where she played a psychotic mother who uses teacup hypnosis to send black people to “the sunken place” – the adorable and delightfully talented Catherine Keener appeared in the season 3 Seinfeld episode “The Letter.” The oil painting her character does of Kramer and the words used by the art connoisseurs to describe it – “He is a loathsome, offensive brute, yet I can’t look away” – have both become some of the most iconic parts of Seinfeld lore amongst the diehard fan base.
11. Brad Garrett
Best known as Robert Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond, Brad Garrett also played a protective mechanic on Seinfeld. In the two-part episode “The Bottle Deposit,” Garrett was servicing Jerry’s car when he felt he was not treating it right and decided to take off with it. In the back seat were JFK’s golf clubs, which Elaine had just spent $20,000 of her boss’s money on, and Garrett ended up throwing them out the back to get a pursuing Kramer off his tail. Elaine then gives the battered clubs to her boss, who mistakes their condition for being a side effect of Kennedy being an angry golfer. It was a great episode for Garrett to take part in, with such a beautifully absurd storyline.
10. Peter Krause
Before his powerhouse lead performance alongside Dexter’s Michael C. Hall as co-funeral directors in the grim yet phenomenal Six Feet Under, (often included alongside Seinfeld on lists of the greatest television series ever made), Peter Krause appeared as Tim, a white supremacist, on an early episode of Seinfeld called “The Limo”. In this episode George and Jerry pretend to be Colin O’Brien and Dylan Murphy to get someone else’s free limo ride to Madison Square Garden for what they think will be a sports event, but turns out to be a Nazi rally in O’Brien’s honor. It’s easily one of the best episodes of the whole series, and having Nate Fisher in the limo with them is the icing on the cake.
9. James Spader
James Spader, perhaps by coincidence, has played a lot of pervy characters in cinema. He starred in the indie drama Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and he basically played the original Christian Grey in the movie Secretary. He also brought an iconic Marvel villain to the screen as the eponymous character in Avengers: Age of Ultron, bringing an element of humor to Joss Whedon’s grave screenplay, and won three Emmys playing the same character, attorney Alan Shore, across two different TV shows. Oh, and he plays Red Reddington on The Blacklist. But before all that (well, actually, after some of it), he played Stanky Hanky in the Seinfeld episode “The Apology.” His appearance came late in the series’ run, in its ninth and final season. You may remember this as the episode where Kramer decided to live in his shower. The ideas were clearly running thin by the end.
8. Michael Chiklis
Before he became known as dirty cop Vic Mackey in FX’s The Shield, Michael Chiklis had a sillier turn in an early episode of Seinfeld. The awkwardly titled episode, “The Stranded,” follows Jerry and Elaine waiting for Kramer to pick them up from a party after George has left them without a ride. Jerry’s empty gesture to the impatient hosts with whom they’ve outstayed their welcome, leads to Chiklis’ character Steve unexpectedly showing up at Jerry’s apartment where he hangs out with Kramer and a bunch of hookers. The episode is perhaps best remembered for Elaine’s line, “Maybe the dingo ate your baby,” and it was advertised by NBC as a “lost episode,” since it was produced for season 2 but didn’t air until season 3. With The Shield, Chiklis would later go on to usher in, along with James Gandolfini of the Sopranos, a new era of television drama focused on deeply flawed, three-dimensional antiheroes. These series paved the way for Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Mad Men’s Don Draper, and Sons of Anarchy’s Jax Teller. But before all that, he was Steve. And after it, he was The Thing, but that’s a different story.
7. Kathy Griffin
Kathy Griffin, the redheaded comedienne who made headlines recently by appearing in a photo shoot holding up President Donald Trump’s severed head, played a woman on Seinfeld who similarly caught the media’s attention with a scathing performance art piece against a famous man, except in this case that man was Jerry Seinfeld. She ruined Jerry’s appearance on Charles Grodin’s show by not bringing him a bottle of barbecue sauce he requested which happened to feature a man’s face that looked a lot like Grodin’s. From there the rivalry escalated, she ended up doing a fierce one-woman show criticizing Jerry, called “Jerry Seinfeld the Devil.” Of course Newman is a fan, and eventually, so is the rest of New York. It’s kind of like life imitating art. Also, as a funny coincidence, Trump once called Jerry Seinfeld “overrated.” How preposterous!
6. Jennifer Coolidge
It’s hard to think of Jennifer Coolidge in any role other than that of Stifler’s mom in the American Pie franchise. But her first TV appearance was actually on Seinfeld as one of Jerry’s girlfriends who works as a masseuse yet never wants to give Jerry a massage. This causes frustration for Jerry, because to him, it’s a masseuse who’s always in his apartment but never gives him a massage. But to her, it’s her job and she doesn’t want to have to work in her spare time. These are the kind of dilemmas that crop up a lot on Seinfeld. Also, in this episode, Elaine’s boyfriend Joel Rifkin has the same name as a real-life murderer and she wants him to change it so he won’t be associated with a murderer. At one point, she suggests he change it to OJ. It’s eerie.
5. Janeane Garofalo
Janeane Garofalo is celebrated among the comedy community, and yet she remains relatively unknown in mainstream Hollywood. This is because of her outspoken feminism, progressivism, positive body image, and liberal politics. She would’ve been the star of her own show alongside Marc Maron if she hadn’t spoken out against George W. Bush and predicted exactly what would follow his invasion of Iraq. But anyway, she’s not just a great comic, she’s a great person, and she’s had a handful of high-profile roles that she’s nailed. She was on The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show, and Saturday Night Live. She was also in Wet Hot American Summer, 24, The West Wing, and Reality Bites. On Seinfeld, she played Jeannie Steinman, Jerry’s equal in every way (Jewish, big fan of cereal etc.). She was even Jerry’s on screen fiancée for a short spell. She first appeared in the episode “The Invitations,” perhaps the most infamous episode of the show, since it ended with Susan’s death, which none of the characters seemed to care about.
4. Denise Richards
Way back when, Denise Richards popped up in the controversial Seinfeld episode “The Shoes,” in which she played the 15-year-old daughter of the NBC executive played by Bob Balaban. In the episode, George leers at her cleavage, which is an extremely inappropriate storyline, but Richards was 22 at the time of filming. Still, it’s inappropriate. She would go on to have a long career as a sex object, appearing in the college rape conspiracy thriller Wild Things with Matt Dillon, as well as guest-starring on Friends as the cousin that Ross had an inappropriate crush on. She also married Charlie Sheen, whom she also divorced. And, she’s not the only entry on this list who went on to play a Bond girl, portraying Christmas Jones in The World is Not Enough.
3. Teri Hatcher
“They’re real and they’re spectacular!” Right before Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman aired that same year, Teri Hatcher had already made TV history by delivering one of the most memorable lines in any Seinfeld episode; so memorable that it made it into the finale. She played Sidra in the episode “The Implant,” a woman Jerry was interested in, but this interest wavered after Elaine convinced him her breasts were fake. The investigation continues until finally Sidra walks out on Jerry and says, “And by the way, they’re real and they’re spectacular.” It’s one of the greatest punchlines to any Seinfeld episode, and that’s all thanks to Hatcher. Only “they’re real” was scripted – Hatcher improvised “and they’re spectacular,” and it made the whole line. Hatcher’s role as Lois Lane led her to being a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies, and then of course, Susan on Desperate Housewives.
2. Courteney Cox
Courteney Cox, who would later go on to become the star of Friends, the Scream franchise, and Cougar Town (which she also produced), had a guest-starring role in a fifth season episode of Seinfeld entitled “The Wife”. Perhaps the most infamous moment of the episode is its final one, where Kramer meets his black girlfriend’s family so tanned that he looks like he’s wearing a blackface. This wasn’t too bad at the time, but with the gift of hindsight and the knowledge of the word actor Michael Richards (Kramer) used a few years later during one of his standup shows, it becomes more inappropriate. Anyway, Cox’s story had nothing to do with that. She played one of Jerry’s girlfriends who scammed his dry cleaners out of a 25% discount by pretending to be his wife. The episode aired on NBC just 189 days before Friends first aired on the same network and shot her to superstardom, immortalizing her as Monica Geller. Looks like they caught that one just in time!
1. Bryan Cranston
Bryan Cranston is an actor who needs no introduction at all. He began as Jerry’s dentist Tim Whatley, the subject of anti-dentitism and a creepy Casanova who does things to his patients with his dental assistants once they’re under the gas and then writes to Penthouse Forum about it. But just look where Cranston is now. He played Hal in Malcolm in the Middle, another beloved sitcom, and appeared in acclaimed movies like Saving Private Ryan and Little Miss Sunshine. And then along came the role of a lifetime: Walter White. For his turn as chemistry teacher turned meth lord Heisenberg, Cranston received six Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and won four. He was also nominated for an Oscar for Trumbo and won a Tony Award for playing Lyndon B. Johnson on Broadway. His career is far from over. Bryan Cranston began his career as Jerry Seinfeld’s dentist, and he’s going to end it as a god among men.