The gag on “Seinfeld” was that all four of the main characters (and most everyone else, too) were selfish, neurotic, essentially horrible people. Michael Richards signaled that he might have been channeling his inner creep into “Kramer” when he had a spontaneous racist meltdown during a stand-up gig, effectively destroying his career. Now we have learned what a mean-spirited, gratuitously cruel jerk Jason Alexander is. And I always thought it was just the fact that he was playing mean-spirited, gratuitously cruel jerk Larry David as “George Costanza.”
The “Seinfeld” episode in which George’s rich, odd fiancee Susan Ross died by licking too many cheap wedding invitation envelopes has always been controversial, as many critics and fans felt that it caused the show’s characters to cross over the line from endearingly strange and self-involved to outright despicable—especially George, who received the news of her death with thinly veiled relief.
In an interview with a genuinely despicable individual, Howard Stern, Jason Alexander, previously “George Costanza,” was asked by Stern how Susan’s sudden death became an episode.
“This poor girl,” Alexander said, chuckling. “The actress is this wonderful girl, Ms. [Heidi] Swedberg… I love her. She’s a terrific girl. I love her. I couldn’t figure out how to play off of her.”
Stern: “You’re being kind.”
“No,” said Alexander, meaning “Yes.” “Her instincts for doing a scene — where the comedy was — and mine were always misfiring.”
Alexander went on to say that his castmates told him he was being unfair until they had to play scenes with Swedberg. “Finally, they do an episode where Elaine and Jerry have a lot of material with her,” Alexander said. According to Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Seinfeld concurred afterward that it was ” fucking impossible” to play off of her.
Alexander then fingered the actor who sealed “Susan’s” doom. “Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Elaine”) actually said, ‘I know — don’t you just wanna kill her?’” “Seinfeld” co-creator and writer Larry David then agreed to execution by envelope.
“Every time I tell this story I cringe,” Alexander said, “because Heidi is the sweetest.”
In a career turn that sounds like a punchline, Swedberg now lives by teaching the ukulele and leading her own ukulele band.
Alexander, not to be excessively harsh, is scum. There is nothing wrong with firing an actress whom the creative staff and actors feel can’t cut it, and I defer to Alexander, Seinfeld, Louis-Dreyfus and David on that score. They are savvy professionals, and if they had felt “Susan”/Swedberg was a net asset to the show, they would have kept her on even if she had BO and was an Al Qaeda operative. That’s show biz: all that matters is the product. They didn’t, though, and had every right and reason to write her out of the show, and her job.
Alexander, however, is a rich, successful actor with a still-thriving career. There is no need for him to tell the world that another actor whose career is on life support and works as a ukelele instructor couldn’t cut it, and was so unskilled in comedy (that’s what “Her instincts for doing a scene — where the comedy was — and mine were always misfiring” means) that the “Seinfeld” cast plotted to axe her. How gratuitously unkind, and so unnecessary, except that Alexander need a good story to tell, so why not embarrass a fellow entertainer who is struggling? A gentleman, an understanding actor, a compassionate man, a responsible professional, a decent human being who could tell the Golden Rule from “The Cat in the Hat” and anyone with a single functioning ethics alarm would know instinctively that the proper answer to Stern’s invitation to dish was “I have nothing to say about that.”
Not only did Alexander kick another performer while she is down, he blamed Julia Louis-Dreyfus for it, making her look like the villain. Would she have revealed this back-stage confidence like Jason Alexander? I hope not: Louis-Dreyfus was one flop from a ukelele band herself after she was dumped from the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” No member of that production ever gave an interview saying that her inability to gel with the ensemble made her impossible to work with. Might that have been said, if a cast member was as much of a jerk as Alexander? Louis-Dreyfus may well wonder: she sure wasn’t funny on SNL, though she was hardly alone.
As a special addition to his uber-jerk display, Alexander gave Heidi Swedberg the shiv while showering her with insincere compliments. Sure, “George,” you love her, and she’s terrific, and the sweetest girl, and you just pronounced her a hopeless failure that you and the rest of the cast couldn’t stand working with.
How do you treat the people you don’t love?
Facts: Washington Post