The phrase, "What's the deal with..." is so synonymous with a specific brand of '90s observational comedy, I bet you just read those words in Jerry Seinfeld's voice. Ask someone to do a impersonation of the comedian (don't actually do this), and they'll assuredly whine, "What's the deal with..." before either trailing off or mentioning some quotidian subject of scorn. It's funny because he always said it! Or did he?
After searching through the scripts for every episode of Seinfeld, the phrase, "What's the deal with..." was never used sincerely (i.e. said in the context of genuine observational humor) during the show's entire run, including all the pre-intro stand-up sets.
The closest the series comes is during the season two episode "The Deal," and Jerry doesn't even say it. At Monk's, George asks Jerry, "What's the deal with Aquaman? Could he go on land, or was he just restricted to water?" before they change subjects and venture into a conversation about Jerry sleeping with Elaine.
The phrase wouldn't be said again in the series for another five years, and from that point forward, all instances of "What's the deal with..." are self-referential and used to make fun of the hokey phrase. In all, and not including "The Deal," it's only said in five of Seinfeld's 180 episodes:
1. "The Invitations," Season 7, Episode 24
Jerry decides his fiancé Jeannie (played by Janeane Garofalo) is too similar to himself after she uses the hackneyed joke structure twice:
Jerry: Well it's been quite a night. I could sure use a cup of coffee.
Jeannie: Hey! What's the deal with decaf? How do they get the caffeine out of there, and then where does it go?
Jerry: I dunno.
Jerry: (to the waitress): I' ll just have a cup of coffee.
Jeannie: Bowl of corn flakes.
Jerry: More cereal? That's your third bowl today, you had it for breakfast and lunch.
Jeannie: Hey! So what's the deal with brunch? I mean, if it's a combination of breakfast and lunch, how comes there's no lupper or no linner?
Turned off by this, Jerry cancels the engagement.
2. "The Abstinence," Season 8, Episode 9
Jerry bombs at his former junior high school with, "Hey kids. What's the deal with homework? You're not working on your home!"
3. "The Summer of George," Season 8, Episode 22
George pitches a joke to Jerry for use at the Tony Awards—"What's the deal with those guys down in the pit?"—which Jerry rejects: "They're musicians. That's not a joke." Later, when deciding between playing frisbee golf and going to see Jerry, George imagines Seinfeld delivering the stale gag, "What's the deal with airplane peanuts?"
4. "The Butter Shave" Season 9, Episode 1
Jerry sabotages his own act to prevent hack comedian Kenny Bania from riding his coattails:
Jerry: What's the deal with lampshades? I mean, if it's a lamp, why do you want shade? And what's with people getting sick?
Jerry: I mean, what's the deal with cancer?
Audience Member: I have cancer!
Kramer: Oh, tough crowd.
5. "The Finale," Season 9, Episode 24
The series ends with Jerry doing a failed set at the prison where he and the gang are serving time:
"So, what's the deal with the yard? I mean, when I was a kid my mother wanted me to play in the yard. But of course she didn't have to worry about my next door neighbor Tommy sticking a shiv in my thigh. And what's with the lockdown? Why do we have to be locked in our cells? Are we that bad that we have to be sent to prison, in prison? You would think the weightlifting and the sodomy is enough. So, anyone from Cellblock D?"
Seinfeld routinely made fun of tired sitcom tropes, so it's no surprise that they went after his would-be catchphrase. Still, it would seem that somewhere between 1991's "The Deal" and 1996's "The Invitations," What's the deal with... became prevalent enough to co-opt. According to Google, the phrase's appearance in magazines and books rose exponentially starting around the show's premier before it leveled out in the mid-2000s (the show ended in 1998):
What's the deal with data journalism?
Beyond searching through old episodes of Seinfeld, I couldn't find evidence of him using the phrase in televised stand-up appearances, either. One place I was able to find it was in his 1993 book of quips and jokes, SeinLanguage. In it, there is only one instance of "What the deal with...":
Can someone please tell me what is the deal with B.O.? Why do we need B.O.? Everything in nature has a function, a purpose, except B.O. Doesn't make any sense. Do something good—hard work, exercise—smell very bad. This is the way the human being is designed. You move, you stink.
So, beyond that example, before he started making fun of it on his own show, Jerry Seinfeld's oeuvre is pretty much completely devoid of the phrase "What's the Deal With...". This raises the question: Who started saying it?
The answer is...Jerry Seinfeld (gasps fill the auditorium).
The culprit appears to be a 1992 Saturday Night Live episode hosted by Seinfeld himself. In a sketch called "Stand-Up and Win," he plays the host of a game show where lame comedians answer questions like, "What's the Deal with Airplane Food?," "What's the Deal With the Black Box?," "What's the Deal With Count Chocula?," and so on and so on.
Naturally, he was in on the joke from the very beginning. Despite this, "What's the deal with..." is stillbeingused by hack headline writers to this very day, including yours truly.
Newman is a recurring character and occasional antagonist on the television show Seinfeld, portrayed by Wayne Knight from 1991 until the show's finale in 1998.
TV Guide included him in their 2013 list of The 60 Nastiest Villains of All Time. In 2016, Rolling Stone ranked him #16 of their "40 Greatest TV Villains of All Time".
"Newman" is evidently the character's surname although no given name or first initial is ever revealed. One episode provides a glimpse of his business card, but on it, the name reads simply NEWMAN.
Newman makes his first physical appearance in "The Suicide", but he is first established as a character in the earlier episode "The Revenge", in which only his voice is heard.
Newman lives in apartment 5F, which is directly down the hall from Jerry's apartment, 5A. However, there are continuity inconsistencies regarding his residence. In the Season 7 episode "The Engagement", Newman's apartment is 5E. In the Season 9 episode "The Strong Box", however, another man, Phil, is seen entering 5E. At other times Newman references living in a different part of the building from Jerry; in "The Big Salad" Newman greets Jerry with "what brings you down to the East wing?", while in "The Calzone" Newman says George "hangs out with Jerry in the West Wing of the building".
Newman was created as a counterpoint to the Jerry character, though the reason for their animosity is never revealed. Seinfeld once described Newman as the Lex Luthor to his Superman. Knight has described him as "pure evil," as did Jerry (in the episode "The Big Salad"):
- Elaine: "Perhaps there's more to Newman than meets the eye."
- Jerry: "No, there's less."
- Elaine: "It's possible."
- Jerry: "No, it isn't. I've looked into his eyes. He's pure evil."
- Elaine: "Maybe he's an enigma. A mystery wrapped in a riddle."
- Jerry: "Yeah. He's a mystery wrapped in a Twinkie."
Newman's role is primarily as Jerry's nemesis and a frequent collaborator in Kramer's elaborate and bizarre schemes. Often described as Jerry's "sworn enemy" ("The Andrea Doria"), Newman is cunning and often schemes against Jerry. He speaks often in a humorously sinister tone (mainly to Jerry). Jerry refers to Newman as "pure evil" on more than one occasion. Jerry's trademark greeting for Newman is to say "Hello, Newman" in a snide and condescending tone, while Newman responds "Hello, Jerry" more joyfully. Helen Seinfeld also greets Newman in the same way.
The origin of the Seinfeld/Newman feud is insinuated in season 3 episode 15, where Newman gets Jerry into trouble. Newman's dislike of Jerry appears to stem from resentment at Jerry's status as a relatively famous comedian. Newman considers Jerry to be undeserving of his fame, referring to Jerry's audience as a "half soused nightclub rabble that lap up your inane 'observations.'" Newman's own talents as a poet and wordsmith are not inconsiderable, yet similar recognition to Jerry has so far eluded him.
When asked about why the character Jerry hates Newman, Jerry Seinfeld explained it in the Season 3 DVD inside look of the show, "He was the first person on the show, 'my own show', who was coming on to sabotage me in some way. And so why would I not hate him forever for that?". Seinfeld also stated in an interview with BuzzFeed Brews that "The real answer for why I hated Newman was because it just seemed funny to hate Newman...everybody has one very eccentric friend that is kind of out there. You've got your friends that are like you, then you have that one friend that's really not like you at all and that's what you like about them, they're kind of an outer orbit. And their friend is someone you cannot deal with at all...[but] there was no real reason for me to hate Newman, he never did anything bad to me, it was just fun. Fun to hate him".
Newman is a frequent source of annoyance and problems for Jerry, such in "The Doodle" when Newman's secret use of Jerry's apartment results in a flea infestation, and in "The Raincoats" when Newman gets Jerry into trouble with his parents after he tells them Jerry was making out with his girlfriend during the film Schindler's List. Jerry's trademark response upon discovering Newman is to blame is to angrily shake his fist and mutter "Newman!"
However, the depth of Jerry and Newman's enmity seems to vary between episodes — or even within the same episode ("The Soul Mate") — and Jerry sometimes seems to consider him merely an annoying neighbor, rather than an outright enemy. Occasionally events lead one of them ("The Blood"), or both ("The Soup Nazi"), to briefly forget their differences and at times they even work together on some scheme such as in "The Shower Head" when join together (with Kramer) to buy new shower heads off the black market. In "The Old Man", Jerry casually mentions "a couple of friends," referring to Kramer and Newman. Jerry and Newman also attend Super Bowl XXIX together, but only because of a ticket mix-up. In "The Label Maker", Jerry reluctantly agrees with George that Newman is "merry", which appeared to be a compliment of sorts.
Newman is a good friend of Kramer's, and the pair are forever participating in various get-rich-quick schemes. In "The Bookstore", Newman and Kramer decide to use a rickshaw to transport people from place to place. In "The Old Man", they try to find valuable records to sell for cash and in "The Bottle Deposit" they design a scheme to take New York bottles to Michigan to get more money. Even Kramer gets frustrated Newman's obsession to win in any situation such as in "The Label Maker", when he and Kramer play a multi-hours game of Risk but Newman sneaks in to rearrange the pieces during their breaks, and in "The Ticket" when Newman tries (unsuccessfully) to get Kramer to lie for him in court.
Despite his girth, Newman shows surprising athletic ability. Jerry claims he is a "fantastic" tennis player and he is seen running athletically in several episodes. He can climb trees very well ("like a ring-tailed lemur", as Kramer puts it), a skill he claims to have learned in the Pacific Northwest.
Newman takes his job as a mailman with pride but, paradoxically, is portrayed as a lazy worker with such habits as not working when it is raining or hiding bags of mail in Jerry's basement storage locker rather than delivering them. Despite such clear lack of respect for mail, he nevertheless impulsively protests the idea of any mail being considered "junk". He is sometimes known to use his job for corrupt purposes, such as purposely withholding mail (often utility bills or the like) for blackmail revenge, or using the Union to get himself out of jail.
There are a couple of episodes where Newman serves in roles other than Jerry's enemy and Kramer's friend. He collaborated with George in "The Calzone" in an attempt to find another way to get a calzone to George Steinbrenner. In "The Engagement", Jerry and Elaine make use of Newman's talents to abduct and relocate a dog which has been keeping Elaine awake; Newman behaves like an assassin and reveals a deep hatred for dogs.
He has a few friends from the post office and girlfriends in a couple of episodes. In "The Bottle Deposit", after he is dumped from his mail truck, he seeks refuge in a farmer's house, but is kicked out for having sex with the farmer's daughter, who calls him "Norman" (this was an error on the actress' part, rather than a revelation of Newman's actual first name). Newman is also seen with a supermodel after his birthday wish comes true in "The Betrayal".
Newman has unrequited romantic feelings for Elaine over the course of the series, but ultimately in "The Reverse Peephole", he rejects her advances when she tries to seduce him to get back a fur coat she had thrown away.
Newman's angry rants directed against Jerry and, at times, the United States Postal Service in various episodes tend to be bombastic and verbose, displaying an impressive command of language. Newman's final monologue against Jerry occurs in "The Finale" after Jerry refuses to take him to Paris:
All right! But hear me and hear me well! The day will come, oh yes, mark my words, Seinfeld! Your day of reckoning is coming, when an evil wind will blow through your little playworld and wipe that smug smile off your face! And I'll be there in all my glory, watching, watching as it all comes crumbling down!
United States Postal Service
Newman is an employee of the United States Postal Service, which is portrayed in the series as a powerful and nefarious, yet bureaucratic and inept organization. When they are arrested in "The Engagement", Newman assures Kramer and Elaine that they will not be prosecuted: "Don't worry about a thing. In 20 minutes, that place'll be swarming with mailmen. We'll be back on the street by lunch." Newman's occupation is first revealed in "The Old Man", where George, upon learning it, asks "Aren't [postal workers] the guys that always go crazy and come back with a gun and shoot everybody?" Newman's ominous reply is "Sometimes..." Jerry then responds with, "Why is that?" to which Newman answers with a short outburst of anger, showing his disdain for the unending nature of the mail, and for Publisher's Clearing House.
In "The Junk Mail", Kramer realizes the Postal Service has become obsolete and starts an anti-mail campaign; he's soon abducted by Post Office security men. Newman attempted earlier to dissuade Kramer, pleading, "You don't know the half of what goes on here!" At the end of the episode, for his efforts to save Kramer, Newman is seen being escorted by Postal Service employees with a bucket on his head, pleading for Kramer to "tell the world my story."
In "The Package", Newman's business card is shown; it reads "NEWMAN". In "The Junk Mail", he's referred to only as "Postal Employee Newman".
Newman claimed that he once worked the same postal route as American serial killerDavid Berkowitz, otherwise known as the "Son of Sam", who was working for the Postal Service at the time of his 1977 capture; Newman claims "we once double-dated". When asked what Berkowitz's postal route was like, Newman commented the route had "a lot of dogs," but joked that they only told him "to lay off the snacks" (a reference to Berkowitz's claim that talking dogs possessed him to go on a killing spree). Newman retains Berkowitz's mailbag as a valuable collector's item. When the police come to arrest him in "The Engagement," his first words to them are, "What took you so long?", the same words Berkowitz used when arrested. In real life, however, Berkowitz did not have a mail route while employed at the Postal Service. At the time of his capture he worked as a letter-sorter.
Newman makes several bizarre claims about the Postal Service, including:
- ZIP codes are meaningless. ("The Betrayal")
- No mail carrier has successfully delivered more than 50% of their mail (comparing such a feat to a three-minute mile) ("The Andrea Doria").
- Photos in the mail with a "Do Not Bend" stamp can be creased, crumpled and crammed. ("The Andrea Doria").
- "When you control the mail, you control information." ("The Lip Reader"). (This line is an homage to a line by Ben Kingsley in Sneakers.) 
- Post office workers go on killing sprees because "The mail never stops! It just keeps coming and coming and coming, there's never a let-up! It's relentless! Every day it piles up more and more and more! And you gotta get it out! But the more you get it out the more it keeps coming in! And then the bar code reader breaks, and it's Publisher's Clearing House day...!"
- Nobody really needs mail (said to Kramer when he tries to cancel his mail in "The Junk Mail").
- There really is no junk mail ("The Soul Mate")
- Any packages that arrive at the Post Office with damaged, unreadable, or missing address labels are considered "freebies"; postal workers are thus free to help themselves to the packages' contents. ("The Label Maker")
Series co-creator Larry David conceived the character when writing the script for season two's "The Revenge". Newman was envisioned as Kramer's African-American suicidal friend. He was set to appear in one scene, in which he explained that he jumped from the apartment building, but an awning had broken his fall. Tim Russ, who would go on to star in Star Trek: Voyager, auditioned for the role, as did William Thomas, Jr., known for his appearance on The Cosby Show, who was cast in the part. However, between the first and the second draft, the plot was significantly reduced; the scene in which the character appeared was cut, and Newman's role in the episode was cut down to a brief dialogue with Kramer, with Newman off-screen. David recorded the lines himself, though he was not credited.
While conceiving a plotline for the third-season episode "The Suicide", the writing staff decided to create a friend for Kramer. Though they never had the intention of having the Newman character return on the show, they felt it was easy to use him again, as he had already been introduced. Newman was initially envisioned as the son of the landlord who owned Jerry and Kramer's building, making him able to snitch about the building's inhabitants without being punished for it. However, in between drafts the writing staff decided to make Newman an inhabitant of the building and more of a nemesis to Jerry.
Among the actors who auditioned for the part were Armin Shimerman, Dan Schneider and Wayne Knight. Knight remarked that he was very excited to audition, as he was already a fan of the show. David immediately thought Knight was "terrific" for the part, and was also amused by his hefty appearance as opposed to Kramer's slim figure. Though Seinfeld felt introducing a friend of Kramer might ruin the character's mystique, Knight's performance convinced him otherwise. The part was initially a one-time guest-appearance, but Seinfeld and David were impressed with Knight and felt Newman was a character they could further exploit; as Michael Richards later explained "our show was driven by characters and there was no way they were going to let Wayne Knight go." Newman would remain a recurring character until the series' finale in 1998. To establish better continuity, Knight re-recorded Newman's lines in "The Revenge" for the syndicated version of the episode. Both versions of the dialogue were included on the Seinfeld: Volume 1DVD boxset.
When it was announced in 1998 that the show would end, Knight proclaimed "I'm gonna burn all of Newman's clothes and those funky black shoes I've been wearing all these years. He dresses like Jack Ruby. Nobody's done more with a muted plaid than I have." Prior to the finale, The New York Daily News asked Knight if he would be interested in a spin-off focusing on Newman, to which he replied, "I think he could show up on Law & Order as a snitch, but as for a weekly dose of Newman, well, I think if occasionally you're hit in the head with a ball-peen hammer, you might get slightly dazed. But if you were getting hit week after week, you might get pissed off."
Reception and popularity
In a Sacramento Bee interview, Knight explained that he was once pulled over by a police officer who merely stopped him to say "Hello, Newman". Newman was ranked #1 on TV.com's list of the ten most annoying neighbors.
Mike Joy of Fox Sports often responds, "Hello, Newman" when Ryan Newman wins a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. This has happened in the 2008 Daytona 500 and 2017 Camping World 500.
The Revenge (originally voiced by Larry David, dubbed over by Wayne Knight in syndication)
The Boyfriend (Parts 1 and 2)
The Parking Space
The Old Man
The Pilot (Cameo)
The Sniffing Accountant
The Lip Reader
The Non-Fat Yogurt
The Marine Biologist
The Raincoats (Part 2)
The Big Salad
The Label Maker
The Diplomat's Club
The Soup Nazi
The Pool Guy
The Shower Head
The Bottle Deposit (Parts 1 and 2)
The Soul Mate
The Chicken Roaster
The Andrea Doria
The Muffin Tops
The Butter Shave
The Junk Mail
The Merv Griffin Show
The Reverse Peephole
The Finale (Parts 1 and 2)
- ^Bretts, Bruce; Roush, Matt; (March 25, 2013). "Baddies to the Bone: The 60 nastiest villains of all time". TV Guide. pp. 14 - 15.
- ^Collins, Sean T. (February 9, 2016). "40 Greatest TV Villains of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 29, 2016.
- ^The Package around 19:50
- ^ abcdSeinfeld Season 3: Notes about Nothing – "The Suicide" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. November 3, 2004.
- ^citation needed
- ^ abcLouis-Dreyfus, Julia; Richards, Michael; Alexander, Jason (November 3, 2004). Seinfeld Seasons 1 & 2: Audio Commentary – "The Revenge" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
- ^ abcdeSeinfeld Seasons 1 & 2: Notes about Nothing – "The Revenge" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. November 3, 2004.
- ^Group, Gale; Kondek, Joshua; Milne, Ira Mark; Jones, Angela Yvonne (1999). Contemporary theatre, film, and television. 23. Gale Research Company. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-7876-3159-8.
- ^Charles, Larry (November 3, 2004). Seinfeld Seasons 1 & 2: Audio Commentary for "The Heart Attack" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
- ^ abEsterly, Glenn (November 2, 1995). "That Lout on 'Seinfeld' Has a Pilot Underway, and He's Likable in it". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. F10.
- ^Keller, Joel (August 16, 2006). "Seinfeld: The Suicide". TV Squad. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
- ^Werts, Diane (November 23, 2004). "Master of its Domain Sure to be at The Top of Every Fan's Festivus Gift List, The Seinfeld DVD Sets The Standard for TV Compilations". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. p. 1E.
- ^Eler, Lynn (May 11, 1998). "Second Bananas say farewell to the rest of the Seinfeld gang". The Record. p. B8.
- ^Williams, Scott (March 31, 1998). "Closing Knight Plans For 'Seinfeld' Actor Addresses Newman's Own Role In Last Show". New York Daily News.
- ^Wisehart, Bob (July 26, 1993). "Busy Days for Actor Knight". Sacramento Bee. p. B6.
- ^"TV.com's Top 10: The Most Annoying TV Neighbors". TV.com. Retrieved June 26, 2010.