Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander takes to the stage – with hair!

Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander takes to the stage – with hair!

Actor Jason Alexander, best remembered as the shlepper George on the TV show Seinfeld, talks to Peter Kohn about his new stand-up tour [divider]

Fifteen years after the smash hit TV comedy Seinfeld ended its long run on American TV – of course, the reruns will be with us indefinitely – it’s still a surprise to realise the huge gulf between actor Jason Alexander and the character he admits he will be associated with for life, George Louis Costanza.

When I chatted with Alexander by phone at his Los Angeles home, he was preparing to fly to Australia with his latest show, An Evening With Jason Alexander and his Hair, as part of an international tour.

The American-Jewish actor, who was born in 1959 in New Jersey, has been nurturing a passion for stand-up in recent years.

21st Annual 'A Night at Sardi's' - Los Angeles
Jason Alexander is touring his stand-up comedy show

Laid-back and Californian, Alexander opens laconically, apologising for his neighbours’ screaming kids that he fears might be heard in the background.

“They have little children and a pool, so it’ll make perfect sense. I swear I’m not murdering anybody in the basement.”

It’s a far cry from the scheming, insecure Costanza. “We’re living in a society!” George might have yelled to his noisy neighbours, the words he bellowed with grandiose indignation in The Chinese Restaurant episode of Seinfeld to someone hogging a pay phone.

Alexander, a father-of-two who has been married to actress Daena Title for 31 years, has always been philosophical about the George connection.

After all, the character was inspired by the neuroses – amplified for comedy – of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, and Alexander merely brought his comedic acting talents to the role of TV’s most celebrated shlepper.

Asked about his ties to George, the Tony Award-winner and seven-time Emmy-nominee quips: “My relationship with him is that I collect his cheques. There are two parts of my brain. One goes that he’s just a character I played, it’s one of many. In many ways, he’s no more special than any of the other parts I’ve done. The other part of my brain goes that on the day of my death, the papers will say ‘George Costanza died today’.

“I’m well aware that as I move throughout my country and I move throughout the world, that the image most people have of me and the connection most people make to me is through that character. I long ago not only embraced it, but have actually grown to appreciate it.

“George in some ways is a detriment to me getting some kinds of work and some kinds of opportunities in the rest of my career, because he’s so iconic and it still seems to be so pervasive on the air.

“But by the same token, most of the opportunities and most of the great gifts that I have in my life would not be had, had it not been for George.

“And since it’s something that I’m very proud of to begin with, and for reasons I don’t quite understand, it still makes so many people so happy, I can’t help but be grateful for that. I’m more than happy to have him as a travelling companion in my life.”

Asked if middle-aged Jewish male fans of Seinfeld ever suggest to him his portrayal of Costanza hit so many nerves he must have had a camera recording inside their house, Alexander chuckles: “People do say that to me and I usually tell them that is not a compliment.

“If people say to you ‘You remind me of George Costanza’, that’s not a good thing. You either need therapy or you need new friends. George is many things, but a role model should not be one of them.”

In their more sober moments, aficionados of Seinfeld know the accomplished screen and stage actor has much more on his resume than George. But they might be surprised to hear that for Alexander, even though George was a gig he carried off with brilliance, he has not revelled in its minutiae.

“I’m probably the least well-versed person about Seinfeld trivia. The reason is – and I think that’s true for most of the cast – we only watched them once. I don’t sit down and put in the DVDs,” he explains.

“But if you ask me trivia about the original Star Trek series, I know much more than Bill Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.”

Nominating what Alexander thinks was perhaps the most significant episode of the series, he chooses The Contest, in which the characters place bets on how long they can go without auto-erotic activity.

“If people say to you ‘You remind me of George Costanza’, that’s not a good thing. You either need therapy or you need new friends. George is many things, but a role model should not be one of them.”

“It was ground-breaking for the series … for television … we went from being a show that was doing okay to a show that was a monster hit … It was funny but it was handled with a lot of class”.

In the years since the 1990s “show about nothing”, the on-and-off screen boundaries have been blurred with superb mischief by Alexander’s frequent guest cameos on Larry David’s HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm, where many cast members, including other Seinfeld alumni  Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards, have played exaggerated versions of ­themselves.

Alexander says: “Curb Jason I think is Larry’s idea of George [who is based on Larry himself]. He concocts situations where I don’t play me, but I basically confront him with himself.”

Alexander is also amused that a recent cosmetic self-improvement – adding a tasteful toupe to enhance his eligibility for a range of acting roles – carries unavoidable echoes of the Seinfeld episode in which George decides to wear a hairpiece.

He jokes: “I thought at least Julia would come and rip it off my head again,” recalling the scene in which she famously tosses the wig from a ­window.

But for now at least, his new hairpiece remains firmly on his head – and it even gets co-billing on his touring show.

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