Seinfeld, which spent several years as the most popular series on television, went off the air just over 20 years ago, in May of 1998. While NBC executives were said to have described the show in its early days as “too New York”- too Jewish, in other words – they stuck with the series and never regretted it, per TV Guide.
One curiosity about Seinfeld over the years has been the exact religious background of the character of George Costanza (Jason Alexander). While Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) was pretty clearly established as Jewish, George was kept more ambiguous, and thanks to his last time it was implied that he was Italian-American, at least on his father’s side. But George and both of his parents (Jerry Stiller and Estelle Harris) were played by Jewish actors. And Frank Costanza, it was established on the show, had spent his career selling religious objects.
Now, the actor who played Frank Costanza, Jerry Stiller, has addressed the issue.
Appearing via video message at an event at the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot at New York’s Mandarin Oriental this week, the 91-year-old Stiller talked about the question of George’s ethnicity.
“It was never really clear if the Costanzas were Jewish or Italian or what they were,” Stiller said, as reported by Page Six. “Jason, Estelle and I were given the name Costanza, which sounds Italian, but there were episodes where I cooked Jewish food and ate knishes and kasha varnishkes in bed.”
— Page Six (@PageSix) December 19, 2018
Stiller then made a joke that he’s made many times before over the years.
“When people asked me about this, I would simply say it was because we were a Jewish family in the witness protection program.”
The Frank Costanza character is perhaps most famous for his creation of the holiday Festivus, which is celebrated by many Seinfeld fans each year on December 23. Festivus was actually created in the 1960s by author Daniel O’Keefe, whose son Dan was a Seinfeld writer and adapted the concept for the show in an episode that aired during the final season in December of 1997.
The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot is a museum in Tel Aviv, Israel. As part of a new exhibit on Jewish humor, a replica of Jerry’s apartment from the series has been set up. A similar pop-up apartment replica was erected in New York in the summer of 2015 when Seinfeld made its streaming debut on Hulu, per the Hollywood Reporter.