Seinfeld Characters as Comedy Modes of Expression

Seinfeld is one of my favorite shows. Period.

But I just noticed, having watched a couple episodes in a binge session, how well the four lead characters perfectly exemplify the Dramatica ‘modes of expression’ for comedy.

Situation Comedy—(Comedy/Situation)—Jerry

humor drawn from the difficulties created by placing characters in some predicament (for example TV Sitcoms).

Of the four leads, Jerry is the one that gets himself into situations more than any other. His storylines tend to focus on the absurd situations he’s got himself into (being caught picking his nose in traffic, for example).

Examples: The Library Cop; The Polygraph; The Puffy Shirt.

Physical Comedy—(Comedy/Activity)—Kramer

pratfalls, slapstick, and other forms of humor drawn from physical activities gone awry (for example The Three Stooges and much of Charlie Chaplin’s work)

Kramer so perfectly exemplifies the physical comedy of the show, right down to the ‘slides’ into Jerry’s apartment. He’s the most active member of the cast with the most outlandishly physical storylines (e.g. taking over his friend’s horse-drawn carriage; rebuilding the Merv Griffin set in his apartment and interviewing friends).

The Good Stuff; Jerry’s Apartment; Playing Pool in a Tiny Room.

Comedy of Manners—(Comedy/Fixed Attitude)—Elaine

humor derived from divergent attitudes, biases, or fixations - often noted as drawing room comedies (for example Jack Benny or Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest).

Elaine is neurotic, impulsive, arrogant and often gets caught up in the faults and problematic quirks of her friends and lovers. She is brutally honest and her storylines often deal with her issues regarding men or differing opinions with people around her.

Examples: He took it out; The English Patient; Vegetable Lasagne.

Comedy of Errors—(Comedy/Manipulation)—George

humor derived from misinterpretation or, in psychological terms, attribution error (for example Abbott and Costello’s Who’s on First and several Shakespeare comedies including Twelfth Night).

George exemplifies the comedic misattributions with his constant lies and schemes that get wildly out of control. His storylines often feature him creating a mess of misunderstandings or getting the wrong idea and causing chaos in the process.

Examples: It’s Not a Lie…; Returning to Work after Quitting; The Fire.

This is interesting to me because I don’t think any of the episodes are Grand Argument stories (“no hugging, no learning” suggests nobody ever really changes or even grows). But it’s clear that one of the greatest sitcoms ever made lines up at least partially with Dramatica.


Brilliant and perceptive analysis. I think you’ve got it!


Wow. Thanks for this post, it’s totally on the money!

In fact, I think what you are talking about is explained by Melanie in Using Dramatica for Short Stories, when she talks about limiting depth:

One of my favorite episodes is The Marine Biologist, which has that killer ending with George showing the golf ball he got out of the whale’s blowhole, and Kramer saying: “hole in one”. After reading your post I examined the plot summary wondering if might have a complete story. But instead it’s really obvious that it explores things down to the Type level with each character, just as Melanie suggests. And each of them fits perfectly in the domains you mentioned.

  • Jerry as Situation / Progress: Jerry’s favorite shirt, Golden Boy, is deteriorating (“dying”).
  • Elaine as Fixed Attitude / Impulsive Responses: Elaine’s electronic organizer’s constant beeping annoys Russian writer Testikov so much that he throws it out the window, hurting someone.
  • Kramer as Activity / Doing: Kramer is all about hitting the titleist golf balls into the ocean, but struggles because he is so bad at it. He only hit one “really good shot”.
  • George as Manipulation / Playing a Role: George pretends to be a marine biologist to impress a woman, causing him trouble when there is a beached whale and he is expected to save it.

Note that all 4 Types are in the upper-right, which is probably why the episode feels so complete.

Although it’s not a complete story, I felt like George had a moment of Change at the end, when he went from a Be-er to a Do-er by saving the whale, then confessed that he was not a Marine Biologist. Of course that ended badly for him:

Jerry: Wow! What’d she say?
George: She told me to “Go to hell!” and I took the bus home.

In fact if you look at the last bit of the script you can see how it humorously shows that it ends badly for everyone, since Jerry’s Golden Boy “didn’t make it” and Kramer’s sand is still everywhere. I’m not sure if this counts as a Story Judgment of Bad in a non-GAS short story, but the alignment definitely ties things up nicely!


Thanks, guys!

Mike, you’re totally right! I completely forgot about the Short Story ‘scaling’! That’s a fantastic discovery (and I love that episode too! By the way, did you know the original title for “War and Peace” was “War - What Is It Good For?”)!

It’s a really interesting show to analyze, since it sort of eschews almost all of the ‘traditional’ sitcom cliches and still holds up despite having an incomplete storyform. I mean, even these character ‘types’ change now and then when the story demands it (e.g. Elaine slips into a Physical Comedy mode for an episode, or Jerry takes part in George’s Comedy of Manners storyline). But in general, you can see all of these over the whole show so you have the consistency.

Maybe that’s why it’s so funny? Who knows. Would be interesting to do these kinds of brief analyses for other TV shows and see how they line up with the Modes of Expression.