Thirty years ago today, Seinfeld’s very first episode, “The Seinfeld Chronicles,” aired. The brainchild of comedians Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, “the show about nothing” became an unlikely hit, changing the blueprint of comedy forever with its physical humor, insufferable characters, and memorable rants about the minutiae of daily life.
The first episode established some of its strengths as an ensemble piece, featuring Jason Alexander as George and Michael Richards as Kramer (then Kessler) alongside Seinfeld. But what it didn’t feature was what would become its pièce de résistance, elevating it above other shows of the time: a strong female presence. The show was ordered to series by NBC on the condition that they added a woman, and thus Julia Louis-Dreyfus was cast as Elaine Benes, Jerry’s ex-lover and current friend.
Seinfeld as we know it now was made by Elaine. Back in 1989, women like her were not on TV. The loud, clumsy, sexually progressive, and very lovable Elaine subverted every trope we came to expect from women on screen, not least of all the will-they-won’t-they arc that plagues lesser shows.
Now, we are lucky to have women like Elaine everywhere, but it’s easy to forget who started it all. So to celebrate 30 years of Seinfeld and the woman who made the show what it is now, we’ve rounded up 30 of Elaine’s best moments from throughout the series.
30. On the male body
“The Apology” (Season 9, Episode 9)
Elaine doesn’t mince her words, and in “The Apology,” when Jerry asks for her honest opinion on what’s wrong with his body, she immediately tells him: “chicken wing shoulder blades.” When he confesses that he walked around naked in front of a girlfriend, she quickly warns him that he shouldn’t have done that. “The female body is a work of art,” Elaine explains. “The male body is utilitarian — it’s for getting around. It’s like a Jeep.” And to emphasize her point, she adds: “It’s hideous!”
29. A difficult patient
“The Package” (Season 8, Episode 5)
It’s no secret that Elaine is difficult — it’s part of her charm. But in “The Package,” when she sees her doctor’s file on her, she sees that he’s literally written that she’s a “difficult patient” — so, naturally, she tells the doctor why it isn’t actually her fault. He offers to erase it, but she points out that it’s written in pen: “You fake erased,” she says, looking at him straight in the eye. Her stubbornness is funny, but it also cuts to the heart of a reality for many women who are presumed “difficult” when they try to get healthcare.
28. Puddy’s fur
“The Reverse Peephole” (Season 9, Episode 12)
Elaine has a lot of boyfriends, but the only one that seems to come back is David Puddy. Her relationship with him, and especially her attraction to him, is notable mainly because it’s so ridiculous. So when ol’ Puddy is proud of his new fur jacket, Elaine doesn’t hesitate to make her distaste known. It’s less about the politics around fur — as she says to George, “Eh, anti-fur. I mean, who has the energy anymore? This is more about hanging off the arm of an idiot.” She’s horrified when he replaces the fur jacket with an 8-ball jacket, proving that it really wasn’t all about animal rights, and cementing that iconic shallowness. Horrified, she asks Puddy: “You’re going to wear this … all the time?”
27. Airplane travel
“The Airport” (Season 4, Episode 12)
The gang attempting air travel never goes well, and in “The Airport”, Jerry and Elaine have to fly home to New York from St. Louis together. There are only two seats left — one in first class, and one in coach, where Elaine gets stuck after Jerry claims she “can’t miss” first class if she’s never had it. “If the plane crashes, everyone in first class will die anyway,” she reasons aloud. Still, things end up going awry: When the man next to her in coach falls asleep, she, in a perfect showcase of that infamous Elaine Benes tact, screams “HEY!” down his ear. She then tries to sneak into first class, and it’s a great example of her impatience, as we see a repeat of her inner ranting from “The Subway.” (See No. 22.)
26. Her dirty tape
“The Tape” (Season 3, Episode 8)
Even though Elaine has slept with Jerry, the men of Seinfeld still by and large seem to find her pretty sexless. Hence the joke in “The Tape,” when the men are sent wild trying to track down the woman who left a sexy voice note on Jerry’s tape recorder. Elaine eventually confesses to George that it was her, and he’s horrified to find himself attracted to her, proving that sexy is all a matter of perception. When Jerry finds out, he’s also disturbed — and the men are all left fighting to hear the tape again, despite knowing it’s Elaine. “Where did you come up with all that stuff?” a dismayed Jerry asks. Elaine casually responds: “It was nothing.”
“The Fusilli Jerry” (Season 6, Episode 21)
Puddy’s first appearance is in “The Fusilli Jerry,” when Elaine hilariously describes him as “dripping with animal sexuality.” This episode also sees him using a “move” on Elaine that he’d been taught by Jerry, leading Elaine to feel betrayed. The pair break up and get back together a ton over the course of the series, to the point where Elaine makes a bet with Jerry that she’s not going to do it again in “The Voice.” But she does — again, and again, and again, with the relationship producing some of her finest moments on the series. “David, I’m going to hell,” she tells Puddy, a religious man, at one point. “The worst place in the world. With devils, and those caves, and the ragged clothing. And the heat — my God, the heat!”
24. Her diaphragm spiel
“The Virgin” (Season 4, Episode 10)
Before the sponge (see: No. 11) there Elaine’s diaphragm and her consistent ability to put her foot in it. In “The Virgin”, she tells a story to Jerry and his new girlfriend about her diaphragm flying out of her bag, repeatedly stressing the word “DIAphragm” to comic effect, saying: “So I carry around my DIAphragm — who doesn’t? You never know when you’re gonna need it!”
23. The Orioles cap
“The Letter” (Season 3, Episode 21)
Elaine is stubborn, something that usually lands her in hot water — especially so here, when she lies to her boss to go to a Yankees’ game with George and sit in the owners box. But there’s a rub: She refuses to take off her Baltimore Orioles cap, which causes a fracas: “Why should I take it off? It’s ridiculous!” she cries: “This is America!” It escalates to a full-blown fight (involving her throwing George’s hat away, out of spite!), and the ordeal even turns into a story in the paper. Later, she wears it to yet another game and gets in a scrap. The lesson? Elaine never gives up, like a true role model.
22. The train
“The Subway” (Season 3, Episode 13)
Ah, the subway. Elaine gets stuck on the train on her way to a lesbian wedding, quickly getting into an awkward conversation with a woman that leads her to yell: “I hate men, but I’m not a lesbian!” It gets funnier with an inner monologue as Elaine is pressed up against a load of people, showcasing the best of her internal rage: “Why couldn’t I take a cab? For six dollars my whole life could’ve changed!”
21. Becoming George
“The Opposite” (Season 5, Episode 22)
Every woman with too many male friends knows the nightmare: that, one day, you will simply become them. In “The Opposite”, exactly that happens to Elaine, as she realises herself getting lazier and schlubbier, as George’s life is on the up. “I’ve become … GEORGE!” she cries in the diner, with a scraped back ponytail, glasses, and an oversize denim jacket. At least she didn’t go bald.
20. Hating her friends
“The Bizarro Jerry” (Season 8, Episode 3)
The greatest thing about Seinfeld is that they just don’t like each other. Elaine especially hates her male cohorts, and she’s not afraid to show it. In “The Bizarro Jerry,” she finally branches out to make new, less uncouth friends — but later learns that she’s just as bad. Elaine hating her friends crops up a lot (“My friends, who I don’t even like”) and it’s familiar ground for any 20- or 30-somethings stuck with the same old friends. When Costanza tries to come with her, Elaine responds with the classic line: “I’m sorry — we’ve already got a George.”
19. Yada yadaing sex
“The Yada Yada” (Season 8, Episode 19)
In one of the show’s most iconic riffs, George gets paranoid that his new girlfriend is yada yada-ing around important topics like, uh, having sex with her ex-boyfriend. Ever keen to quell her friends’ paranoia, Elaine chips in: “I’ve yada yada’d sex.” It leads to this all-timer of an exchange:
ELAINE: I met this lawyer, we had dinner, we had the lobster bisque, we went back to my place, yada yada yada, I never heard from him again.
JERRY: But you yada yada-d over the best part!
ELAINE: No, I mentioned the bisque.
“The Susie” (Season 8, Episode 15)
Nothing is harder for Elaine than biting her tongue for the greater good. This is clear in “The Susie”, when Peterman believes that “Susie” and Elaine are two different people (they’re not). She puts up with it — until he calls her “Suze,” which she finds unacceptable. Later he wants Susie, not Elaine, to head up the fingerless-glove division. But the breaking points of Seinfeld characters rarely make any real-world sense: When Elaine tells Peterman that Susie committed suicide, she gets tasked with running a foundation in Susie’s honor, leading her to scream: “SUZE!!!”
17. A square to spare
“The Stall” (Season 5, Episode 12)
Elaine is notoriously spiteful and stubborn. She refuses to let anything go, and when a woman refuses to give her a square of toilet paper in a stall, Elaine takes it to heart. She soon finds out that that woman is Jerry’s new girlfriend, and gets her own revenge later when they run into one another — by hoarding the toilet paper in the bathroom when she needs to go, and repeating the woman’s words back to her: “I don’t have a square to spare.”
16. A little grace
“The Chaperone” (Season 6, Episode 1)
As should be plain by now, Elaine has absolutely no grace or tact — it’s what makes her special, relatable, and endlessly watchable — but in “The Chaperone,” she’s trying to fill the shoes of Jackie O. by interviewing for a job at Doubleday. “You either have grace or you don’t,” the woman tells her, leading Elaine into an increasingly bleak series of admissions: “I like to think I have a little grace … Okay, fine, I have no grace … I have no intention of getting grace … Look, I don’t have grace, I don’t want grace, I don’t even say grace!”
15. George’s toupée
“The Beard” (Season 6, Episode 16)
When Elaine doesn’t like something, she makes no secret of it. In “The Beard,” George is pretty pleased with his new toupée, but she absolutely hates it. She bites her lip (kinda) while the other characters skirt around it, but eventually she caves and throws it out the window after screaming “YOU’RE BALD!” in his face. “I don’t like this,” she shouts as it goes out the window, “and here’s what I’m doing with it!” Amen.
14. “Maybe the Dingo ate your baby”
“The Stranded” (Season 3, Episode 10)
Elaine loves to make herself laugh. To wit: This pretty early episode when a woman is talking her ear off about her “fiancé.” She keeps asking people where her fiancé is, with annoying emphasis on the word, so Elaine, visibly annoyed, gets right in her face and says in a mock Australian accent: “Maybe the dingo ate your baby.” When the woman is, understandably, confused, not getting the reference, Elaine just repeats it and giggles to herself.
13. Her dancing
“The Little Kicks” (Season 8, Episode 4)
One of Elaine’s best moments also shows off Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s superb talent for physical comedy. At a company party, Elaine is put out that nobody else is dancing, so she decides to get the party started, much to George’s embarrassment. The hilariously tortured moves that she pulls out over “Shining Star” — those kicks! — leave everyone horrified, but it takes Elaine seeing herself on tape to realize the true depravity of her dancing, which George aptly calls “a full-body dry heave set to music.”
12. Stealing the Soup Nazi’s recipes
“The Soup Nazi” (Season 7, Episode 6)
When the gang come up against the Soup Nazi, Elaine is warned not to piss him off, lest they get banned for life from eating his delicious soup. Naturally, she does. When she finds his recipes in an old armoire, she thinks she’s found a way around it — blackmail. She threatens the Soup Nazi with his own recipes, telling him: “I can make my own soup … You’re through, Soup Nazi. Next!” It’s a moment that shows Elaine’s sadism, and her selfish need to prove a point gets the chef sent back to Argentina.
11. The English Patient
“The English Patient” (Season 8, Episode 17)
If Elaine doesn’t like something, she finds it very difficult to hide her true feelings. In “The English Patient,” she spends the entire episode attempting to skirt around how much she despised the film after seeing it with a date. She goes so far as to pretend not to have seen it in order to impress her boss, Peterman, but when they’re at the theater together, she explodes with an impassioned rant: “Quit telling your stupid story, about the stupid desert, and just die already! Die!” It all culminates in her screaming “I HATE IT!” and, ultimately, getting fired.
10. “He’s just so good looking!”
“The Couch” (Season 6, Episode 5)
Elaine is pretty confident of her staunch feminist beliefs — at least until they’re challenged by her love of sex with handsome men. In “The Couch,” she meets a man and believes they’re in love. Jerry jokingly questions her: “What is his stand on abortion?” “Well, I’m sure he’s pro-choice,” Elaine responds, adding “He’s just so good looking,” lipstick smeared all over her face in yet another perfectly timed use of physical comedy. It’s funny, but when she breaks up with him for being pro-life, it’s a great example of her being miles ahead of the times.
9. Fake, fake, fake, fake
“The Mango” (Season 5, Episode 1)
Nothing is more fragile than a man’s ego — or, more specifically, Jerry’s ego. In “The Mango”, Elaine tells Jerry exactly how many of her orgasms she faked with him: 100 percent. “What about the breathing, the panting, the moaning, the screaming?” he asks, horrified, while George tries not to listen in. “Fake, fake, fake, fake!” she responds, ticking them off in the air and brilliantly cutting him down to size.
“The Pen” (Season 3, Episode 3)
After having a terrible time attempting to sleep on Jerry’s parents’ sofa bed (and getting her back hurt in the process), Elaine ends up on muscle relaxants at Jerry’s dad’s recommendation. At an important ceremony honoring Morty, she takes a few too many, acting goofily and screaming “STELLA!!!” Streetcar Named Desire-style at Jerry’s aunt — and she does it multiple times, each more funny than the last.
7. Keeping it casual
“The Deal” (Season 2, Episode 9)
David and Seinfeld were both keen never to reignite Jerry and Elaine’s love story, but they still felt pressure from studio heads to revisit their past liaisons. Finding a way around doing it in a more obvious way, they came up with “The Deal,” in which Jerry and Elaine try to figure out a more casual relationship. “It’s almost stupid if we didn’t!” she shouts at Jerry on the topic of having sex. The pair attempt to keep their friendship intact while working out strict rules for sexual relations which will also benefit Elaine, and giving a woman sexual agency on TV in that way was unheard of. Or as she puts it: “We just want to take this, and add that.”
6. “He took … it … out”
“The Stand-In” (Season 5, Episode 16)
Unexpected flashing more often happens over DMs these days, but in the ’90s, Elaine experienced it right there in a car after a date. In “The Stand-In,” Louis-Dreyfus gets around pesky TV censorship rules first with a hilarious wide-eyed stare at the “it” he took out, and then again with brilliant, deliberate emphasis when she explains the whole thing to Jerry. “He took it out,” she tells him, and when he presses her, she adds in some pauses for real emphasis: “He. Took. [breathes on glasses] It. Out.”
5. “Elaine, you gotta have a baby!”
“The Soul Mate” (Season 8, Episode 2)
Elaine is so good, and so timeless, because she shreds all of the expectations for women and women characters of her time. In “The Soul Mate,” Elaine can’t understand why everyone is cooing over a baby — or refusing to admit that it’s ugly. When some other women try to convince Elaine to have a baby, she changes the subject, before mocking them to her friends later on. “You want to have a baby!” Jerry tells her. “Why?” she scoffs. “Because I can?”
4. The Communist Boyfriend
“The Race” (Season 6, Episode 10)
Elaine has a lot of boyfriends over the series run, but a favorite of ours is the Communist from season six. When, with George’s help, she realizes her boyfriend’s red leanings, Elaine is mostly fine with it — well, except for the way he dresses. As always, it’s appearance over substance, as she tries to get him to sharpen up a little: “Can’t you at least look like a successful Communist?”
3. “GET OUT!”
“The Apartment” (Season 2, Episode 5) and various others
At just five-foot-two, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a tiny, powerful force of physical comedy. So it makes sense that one of Elaine’s strongest recurring bits is her “get out” shove — something that first gets featured in “The Apartment,” when Jerry tells her an apartment he knows about costs “just” $400 a month. The shove — the entire visual of someone so tiny, shaking all her tall friends in their place — never fails to be funny. But the full effect comes across best whenever she tries it on an unsuspecting victim, or when she shoves Jerry completely into another room upon hearing news of George’s engagement.
“The Sponge” (Season 7, Episode 9)
Always ahead of her time, Elaine was talking openly about birth control when it was still a pretty taboo topic on TV. In “The Sponge,” she hoards contraceptive sponges, which have become something of a coveted item after being taken off the market. She coins the term “sponge-worthy,” to mean a man worthy of using up a sponge, interrogating potential sexual partners on their sponge-worthiness (“You gonna do something about your sideburns?”) and once again entering a phrase into our lexicon.
1. Queen of the Castle
“The Contest” (Season 4, Episode 10)
In 2019 women talking about masturbation on TV is par for the course, but in 1992, it was so taboo that they could barely allude to it. Ever the trailblazer, Elaine opened up those conversations in “The Contest,” when the men challenge one another not to masturbate. They talk around it so as to avoid getting in trouble with the TV censors, and Elaine forces her way into the contest, much to the confusion of the men, who assume she’s going to win. “Because you’re a woman!” Jerry cries, incredulous that she would ever do that. She puts up $150 to their $100, and, spoiler, doesn’t win — all thanks to John F. Kennedy “June-yah” in her gym class. Or as she says in a dreamy, breathy voice: “Elaine. Benes. Kennedy. Junior.”