Archive for the ‘The Comebacks’ Category

“But I don’t want to be a pirate!”
February 21, 2011

An aargh-umentative comeback to use on someone who tries to stick you with doing something that’s just wrong. So you’re stickin’ it right back to them.

Kramer’s fashion-designer girlfriend asked Jerry to wear a shirt she’d designed on his next TV appearance. Nodding to what she said–not really knowing what she’d said, because she was a “low talker”–Jerry soon found himself in a billowy, puffy, 17th century-looking shirt. Seeing the ambivalence in Jerry’s face, Kramer tried to cheer him up: “You’re gonna be the first pirate!” Jerry’s timbers shivered in this child-like reply.

That’s just wrong can be applied to a boatload of things (e.g., “See what they did with the peas in that dish?”). The point here is things that most people would agree are just not right–like stealing a marble rye from an old lady.

And people who try to get you to do something like that–that’s not right either. You’re driving down the road, for example, someone cuts you off, and the passenger in your car can’t just curse that terror on the highways; they want you to walk that plank too: “Cut him off!” your matey squawks, like some Iago-ish parrot in your ear.

Swatting such people off your shoulder with Jerry’s reply–that’s gold.

From “The Puffy Shirt”
Episode 3, Season 5
Seinfeld Volume 4, Disc 1
Timecode for the scene: 10:20 (sunken treasure: check out “The Scofflaw,” Episode 13, Season 6, Volume 5, Disc 3, Timecode: 11:30 to see an eyepatch-wearing Kramer swipe Jerry’s line)

“Fake, fake, fake, fake.”
January 30, 2011

A let-it-all-hang-out comeback for letting someone know that what they knew about you, in one particular area, was a lie. But it had nothing to do with them. Honestly.

Elaine and Jerry’s past as a couple suddenly flabbergasted Jerry when he discovered that she had, er, led him on in the bedroom. “You faked with me?” an incredulous Jerry asked. “All the time” a smiling Elaine replied. When Jerry named four things she’d done that seemed so real, Elaine reality-checked them in reply–her index finger poking the air mechanically at each fake like her body was an amusement park animatronic.

Listen to how often people use the phrase “To be honest with you…” and you get the picture: there’s a whole lot of fakin’ going on. So while you could use Elaine’s four-pronged “Fake!” to serve up quite a dish about yourself–you can also use it to poke others right out of their pretenses. The next time, for example, that a friend starts telling you why they couldn’t make it over to help you move, give them their moment…let them describe the “quandary” they were in…then Fake! them out.

Be prepared for them to yelp. Pulling back the curtain on someone’s wizardry right when they’re producing the smoke and lights is like pulling back the curtain when they’re in the shower. Lies, like nakedness, show it all to the world: “Well, here I am….”

And this is you telling them in front of the world: “Man, you’ve had some work done.”

From “The Mango”
Episode 1, Season 5
Seinfeld Volume 4, Disc 1
Timecode for the scene: 2:55

“That’s not sweetening the deal.”
December 4, 2010

A tasteful comeback for every distasteful quid pro quo that comes your way.

During a vacation at the beach, Kramer asked Jerry to rub some suntan lotion on his back. “Who are you, Mrs. Robinson?” Jerry replied. Overlooking Jerry’s crack from The Graduate, Kramer graduated his request to a proposal: “C’mon. And I’ll rub some on yours.” Jerry’s snicker right into this line let Kramer know that this idea wasn’t exactly rubbing him the right way.

There’s a time to “break bad” when someone wants something from you, and there’s a time to break it gently. When you do the latter–say, for a friend (or just to be friendly)–you reach for lines like this. It’s Not! wrapped in a snicker–a bit of SNL-type sarcasm softened by Seinfeld-ian irony, the irony here being that this line implies that you might like this deal if they offered you something that gets you past no deal. And they’re trying–you’ll give them that.

But that’s about all you’re giving them.

From “The Hamptons”
Episode 21, Season 5
Seinfeld Volume 4, Disc 4
Timecode for the scene: 2:45

“That’s kooky talk.”
September 22, 2010

A witty comeback (or put-down, depending on your timing) for those times when you need a harmless way to tell someone that they don’t know what they’re talking about—even if they know what they’re talking about.

Kramer’s decision to start managing his time better in the shower sent him to Jerry for feedback on his shower time. When Jerry said he was out in ten minutes–a wash-and-rinse sprint compared to Kramer’s sudsy marathon (he was taking about an hour)–Kramer replied with the conviction of a man who thought Jerry was a kook.

You don’t know what you’re talking about is one of those irresistible lines, as gratifying as a piece of well-placed profanity. And, like profanity, it comes in various euphemistic shapes and sizes (e.g., “You’re crazy!”). What makes Kramer’s line the ideal substitute for this classic accusation is the disarming nature of the word “kooky.” If you’re right in your accusation, then kooky—so reminiscent of cookie (and what’s more harmless than a good cookie?)—will keep the conversation light enough to allow the listener to get out of that hole they just dug for themselves.

If you’re wrong, then you’re the one who just stepped in it…to the splashing sound of laughter all around you.

From “The Apology”
Episode 9, Season 9
Seinfeld Volume 8, Disc 2
Timecode for the scene: 2:40

“How about—it sucked.”
September 3, 2010

A daring comeback for when you’re faced with something that brings up the standard “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”—and so is ugly, you feel the need to remind the beholder.

Elaine’s date suggested they see The English Patient because it was up for all those Oscars, so she went (even though she wanted to see Sack Lunch and find out what was up with all those people in the brown paper bag). Bumping into friends as they departed the theater, the friends gooed—”How could you not love that movie?”–and Elaine booed.

Ugly doesn’t get as much air time in conversation because that’s what the conversation itself might become if you go there. And this is one time when you should—go there when someone goes so ga-ga over the beauty of something, that they can’t see that everything has flaws. Flick these words like a lighter in the darkness of their thinking, and you’ll show them things they might not otherwise see. How do I love thee? they pine of that thing and count the ways. “How do I hate thee!” you interject about that thing, and count away too.

From “The English Patient”
Episode 17, Season 8
Seinfeld Volume 7, Disc 3
Timecode for the scene: 4:04

“Hi-lar-ious.”
September 1, 2010

A smarmy comeback to use when certain people in your life crack a joke at your expense, and you can’t let them think it was funny–even if it was funny.

Newman entered archnemesis Jerry’s apartment with Kramer, who asked to borrow Jerry’s pliers. “What, did Newman get another Army man stuck in his ear?” Jerry remarked. Staring at Jerry, Newman didn’t flinch–except to say this…in a low, comically-menacing voice.

This isn’t a question of you being able to laugh at yourself; of course you’re humble enough to do that. You’re just too proud to do that in front of anyone–sworn enemy or serious friend; it doesn’t matter–who would take you laughing at you as an opportunity to look down on you. With such people, you can’t be perceived as weak; that might shift the balance in the epic battle that is your relationship.

Newman might have actually had an Army man stuck in his ear but he wasn’t about to concede to Jerry in laughing about it.

From “The Reverse Peephole”
Episode 12, Season 9
Seinfeld Volume 8, Disc 2
Timecode for the scene: 2:06

“I would lose that.”
August 23, 2010

A decisive comeback to use on anyone who drops a tired expression into a conversation.

When a trivial conversation sidetracked Jerry and Elaine from talking to George about his piano-playing girlfriend, George cut in with a Can we cut to the chase? Cut to the chase?” Jerry mocked. “Who are you, Joe Hollywood?” George had an answer for why he said it–and Jerry told him what he could do with it.

No, we’re not battening down the hatches–we’re preparing for difficult times. Yes, we’re pretty satisfied with our station in life at the moment, but we wouldn’t describe that location as cloud nine. The list of expressions we can do without is long, but your patience with people who use them doesn’t have to be. Knit your brow at every By Jove…! or Happy, Pappy? and repeat that expression back to them.That should be enough to rid them of their idioms. Most people don’t know–or can’t explain with a straight face–the origins of such phrases well enough to defend them.

If that doesn’t work, Jerry’s four-word declaration should be enough to make them go cold turkey.

From “The Pez Dispenser”
Episode 14, Season 3
Seinfeld Volume 2, Disc 3
Timecode for the scene: 7:23

“We mustn’t disturb the delicate genius!”
August 20, 2010

A cutting comeback to make of those people you must deal with because they have a specialty (medicine, law, etc.), and they go and do something that reminds you they’re not that special.

A pain in George’s arm led him to seek the medical attention of Elaine’s physical therapist friend, Wendy. When he missed an appointment without cancelling within 24 hours, Wendy charged him. Then when George showed up for another appointment and she wasn’t in—the whole thing had become a pain in George’s butt. And this was how he mitigated that pain.

Their degrees hang on their walls like windows out into the rarefied air of some higher-intelligence climate. But you see through them: yes, you’re standing in their ivory tower, but these people have two feet like the rest of us—feet they trip over now and then. Cases in point: you’ve had to move your appointment, pay more money, suffer phone calls to reconcile their errors…. The insufferable list goes on; they remain high and mighty. And now, thanks to George, you’ve a line to bring them down to earth.

Telling them this would fall on deaf ears, of course—dizzy as they are from all the pressure exerted on their heads at that egotistical altitude. So you lob your comment like a roll of toilet paper at the people who serve these professionals—the people of the front offices, on the phone lines, etc. You, for example, move another appointment (“Will that work for the delicate genius?”) and they won’t mind your missive—because they are as down to earth as you are, and so will get where you’re coming from: you’re just tee-peeing the ivory tower (and you’re not sparing a square).

From “The Kiss Hello”
Episode 17, Season 6
Seinfeld Volume 5, Disc 3
Timecodes for the scenes: 3:15, 12:00, 19:15

“You’re Schmoopie!”
August 13, 2010

A chameleon-like comment (observation, put-down, etc., depending on the context) to use on people who’ve really opened their hearts for their loved ones, and–Moses smell the roses–it’s one of those heart-shaped box of chocolates.

Soon after Jerry and Shiela, his latest love interest, took up this sugary manner of addressing one another, they strolled unwittingly down their Candy Land lane until George and Elaine nearly vomited from all the gumdrop comments that kept falling on their heads. When Jerry clued them in that he and Shiela might be on the outs, George couldn’t help upchucking all over the schmoopie-ness: “People who do that should be arrested!”

People who do that (i.e., the die-hard romantics) demand that others tolerate their greeting card life–where words rhyme but have no reason–and schmoopie is their piece de resistance. People who can’t stand that (i.e., the saccharine-intolerant) can learn from George and Elaine’s derision: call out the schmoopie. You witness a couple locking lips like their ship is going down and you interrupt: “Hey–Schmoopies. Would you mind….”

Just be careful not to overextend yourself in calling out the schmoopie–and don’t focus so much on any one person or couple that your calling-out becomes a “death to schmoopie” campaign. You may end up dating or even marrying one of these people someday.

From “The Soup Nazi”
Episode 6, Season 7
Seinfeld Volume 6, Disc 1
Timecodes for the scenes: 00:45, 1:10, 15:15, ad nauseam

“Because I was goood.”
July 30, 2010

A smiling comeback–or observation, if you like–to use on those so dumbfounded by your talented performance, you can’t help but draw even more attention to it.

Jerry thought he knew one particular thing about Elaine from their dating times of yesteryears. At one admission from Elaine, however–in a conversation with Jerry and George about that “thing”–Jerry realized that all he’d known was jack. “How could a guy not know that?” was Jerry’s unwitting introduction to Elaine’s revelation. 

Waiting for the How could _____? from, say, a co-worker is fine, if being pulled onstage at a concert is analogous to how you like your opportunity to brag. If, however, you prefer your own show–the constant touring, the waiting crowds, the “ooo”-“ahh” pyrotechnics–then set the stage by putting up your own rhetorical question: You know why I _____?

The wide-eyed smile on your face when you play the funky muuusic of this line should make your audience fear that you’re about to start dancing too.

From “The Mango”
Episode 1, Season 5
Seinfeld Volume 4, Disc 1
Timecode for the scene: 3:05

“You better think again, mojumbo.”
July 22, 2010

A snappy comeback to use on those who come at you with good reason—You were wrong!—but you still don’t want to admit they are right.

Newman traded his motorcycle helmet to Kramer for his radar detector, which Kramer knew didn’t work (and he didn’t tell Newman). When Newman was later slapped with a speeding ticket…he detected a foul smell rising from this sweet little deal. Voice heaving with A pox on you! ire, Newman went toe-to-toe with Kramer, demanding both helmet and recompense for the speeding ticket. Kramer tap-danced around him with this comment.

Keep the tap dancing in mind here. Admitting that you are wrong is a country line dance: difficult to master but automatic once mastered. Admonishing someone to rethink their position about your wrongness takes fancier footwork, different with every dance. Try too hard—working the dance floor like a full-body dry heave—and you’ll make the person wince. Tippy-toe the whole number—a little too delightful—and you’ll make the person laugh.

Do the Kramer two-step—boldly inciting the person to a second thought while lithely calling him or her a name (preferably something mumbo-jumbo)—and you’ll make them think they are wrong.

From “The Pitch”
Episode 3, Season 4
Seinfeld Volume 3, Disc 1
Timecode for the scene: 9:55

“Tell us more, Mr. Science.”
July 12, 2010

An easygoing comeback to use on those who rear their heads mightily in conversation to show that they know so much more than you do.

While George, Jerry, Kramer, and Elaine were vacationing, Jerry’s date walked into a situation that gave her a little hunch about the real George Costanza, and she couldn’t help saying something about it to George’s date. Trying to dispel their false notions about his true dimensions, George later illustrated his point by discussing what laundering does to a t-shirt. Elaine promptly popped his bubble.

Adjust Elaine’s comment—Mr. Medicine, Mr. Sportscaster, etc.—to fit whatever bulbous head is struggling to find its way through the neckhole of your finely-knit conversation.

From “The Hamptons”
Episode 21, Season 5
Seinfeld Volume 4, Disc 4
Timecode for the scene: 15:35

“Well then I was WAAAY off!”
July 6, 2010

A boisterous comeback to use on those who come to you for advice then it backfires on them–and now they are looking at you, with the flames of that backfire in their eyes.

Kramer did this to Elaine after she questioned her abilities as the newly-crowned head of her clothing-catalog company. Kramer exhorted her and she ate it up, the slack-jawed audience to his motivational speaker. On the winds of Kramer’s inspiration, Elaine soared…with all the aerodynamics of a flying candy apple. “You told me I could run the company!” she turned on Kramer, after her crash and burn. Kramer countered with all the subtlety of a man with a bullhorn.

Use with confidence on anyone who listens to what you had in mind and now they’d like to give you a piece of their mind. To acquaintances and strangers, this is the confidence that says “It wasn’t my advice, it was your failure!” To family and friends, this is the confidence that says “Why did you listen to me in the first place? You know me!”

From “The Foundation”
Episode 1, Season 8
Seinfeld Volume 7, Disc 1
Timecode for the scene: 20:20

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