This blog is about thrifty living, and one of my mantras – especially for chronically unemployed free-lancers like myself – is “Say yes to everything.” I figure a day’s work is better than staying home and re-organizing my spice rack.
My agent called one day with an audition for a few lines on a new sit-com. A better-known actress had turned it down, saying the role was too small for her. My attitude is, “There are no small roles, only short people.” I went in and got the job.
When the show aired, my husband, Benni, didn’t get it. “It’s not about anything,” he said. How right he was. The show was Seinfeld. My few lines turned into the recurring character of Doris Klompus in the Florida condo. My husband, Jack Klompus, is always fighting with Jerry’s father so I’m in some of the classic episodes: “The Pen,” “The Cadiallac,” “Raincoats.” My role was so minor that the audience didn’t even notice when I played a second character: the obnoxious lady sitting next to Elaine on an airplane. (Obnoxious characters are my specialty.)
The set always smelled of take-out Chinese food, which gave me a pleasant buzz of New York Nostalgia. Larry David, Jerry, and the rest of the cast couldn’t have been nicer, but I wasn’t anything more than a bit player – until the day I realized that I was sort of famous.
I was at a party, and met one of those Seinfeld fanatics who watches every re-run. Not only did he know who both my insignificant characters were, but he could quote all of my insignificant lines. Another guest was impressed, even though it was clear that she’d never seen the show. “You were on STEINFIELD? Could I get an autograph for my nephew? Then I went to Australia to perform one of my solo shows, and the newspaper headline said, “Seinfeld actress coming to Sydney!”
Benni has a friend who is a Major Hollywood Player. This guy is so uninterested in me that he introduces me as an afterthought: “Oh, and this is Benni’s wife.” We were eating with him in a show biz deli, which means that I chewed my brisket sandwich in silence while Mr. Hollywood spoke exclusively to my husband.
I noticed some guy waving at me and calling my name. I went over, and it was Jerry, who – nice guy that he is - just wanted to say hello. Everyone in the restaurant stared and I could sense them thinking, “Who is that woman? She must be Somebody.” When I returned to our table Mr. Hollywood actually began to include me in the conversation. He now introduces me as “And this is my very dear friend Annie Korzen. You’ve probably seen her on Seinfeld.”
I am often out of work, but because the shows are always on the air, people get the false impression that I have a successful career. A few years ago I was rushed to the ICU for a bleeding ulcer. Enter the big gun: the Gastroenterologist, 12 years old with a long foreign name. As we’re discussing my symptoms, he keeps staring at me in a weird way and finally says, “You look so familiar, I know you from somewhere. Wait a minute, I just saw you last night! You’re Doris Klompus!”
From then on, the nurses on the floor – also with long foreign names - all referred to me as “Mrs Annie Korzen, famous actress.” And who was I to disillusion them? The doctor and nurses gave me spectacular care. I don’t really believe my “celebrity status” got me any special treatment: they were all dedicated professionals. But I can’t help wondering if “Mrs Annie Korzen, out-of-work actress” would have gotten the same attention.
Now comes the bad news. At first, I was pretty comfortable with Jerry and Larry. Then the show became a global phenomenon and I got intimidated by their fame. They hadn’t really changed, but I became shy and awkward in their presence. When most people get shy and awkard, they get tongue-tied. I have the opposite reaction: I get tongue-untied, and can’t stop chattering.
Each time I ran into them, I launched into a crazed, desperate, non-stop, inappropriate monologue. My brain would say, “Shut your stupid mouth, you are making a gigantic ass of yourself,” but I just yammered on even though I saw the glazed look in their eyes. Two men I admire now think I’m a total nutcase – but I’m still glad I took the job.
I sometimes think about the actress who turned down the role because it was too small. I’m still getting residual checks, plus my association with the show – however modest – has opened all kinds of doors for me. As a matter of fact, when I pitched a humorous essay to the venerable NY Times, the editor wrote back immediately that he wanted the piece. The very next thing he said was “So tell me, what was it like to work on Seinfeld?”