Larry Thomas only made a little money as “The Soup Nazi” on Seinfeld.
He’s made a whole lotta money since.
I joke that the residual checks I receive for appearing in the Seinfeld finale often cost more in postage than they’re worth.
I once received a check worth 11 cents.
Here’s my most recent residual check, which surprised me. Almost $20!
One would assume Larry Thomas made a lot more than I did. After all, he was “The Soup Nazi,” in an episode named, um, “The Soup Nazi.” He reprised the role in the finale.
Fun fact: the character didn’t even have a name until the finale, when Larry David named him Yev Kassem. “Yev Kassem” was put on the trailer where Larry Thomas was supposed to stay between scenes, but no one told Thomas his character had a name. He wandered around the Warner Brothers lot, searching for his trailer, completely lost, until castmate Grace Zabriskie asked someone to help him.
How Thomas landed the role is an “only in Hollywood” story. He’d been taking acting classes for a long time, wrote plays, and appeared on stage, but he wasn’t making any money. His last paying television gig was in the early ‘80s as a singing telegram on a short-lived sitcom.
He worked during the day as a bail bondsman.
The singing telegram job allowed him to join SAG, back when dues were about $300. Thomas tells me he had to borrow the money. “I go down there [to SAG headquarters] and this is 1982,” he recalls. “A couple of ‘working girls’ approach me in hot pants and they said, ‘Hey, wanna date?’ And I’m thinking, ‘I have $300!’” After a pause, he reluctantly told them, “No, I have to go in there.”
Fast forward to 1995, and his acting teacher threatens to kick him out of class unless he lands a paid role. At the urging of fellow classmates, Thomas asked one of the other actors there, Jeffrey Tambor, to get him a meeting with the casting director of “The Larry Sanders Show,” where Tambor played Hank Kingsley.
Tambor got him the meeting. Hey Now!
What followed is a very funny series of fortuitous events which led to someone with almost zero TV experience becoming one of the most iconic characters in comedy history, delivering a performance so incredible he was nominated for an Emmy.
Larry Thomas tells me he created the Soup Nazi’s accent by quickly watching Omar Sharif in “Lawrence of Arabia” the night before the audition. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that he got the gig even though Jerry Seinfeld wanted him to be nicer. “I don’t understand why you made the character so mean,” Seinfeld told him.
It’s one of my favorite stories ever. If you have 30 minutes, here it is:
But let’s get to the bottom line, because — as always — it’s all about the money.
Thomas was hired as the title character of the episode. He had six scenes in the #1 comedy on television. He stole the show.
“That was ‘top of show,’” he says. “That was the most they would pay any guest star, and that includes Bette Midler.”
For the finale he was paid $3,500, a sum he received two more times for the episode’s two primetime reruns, for a total of $10,500.
So about $13,000 for both the original episode and the finale.
Thomas didn’t care. “It was paradise,” he says. “Four days of absolute paradise.”
Highlights include the scene where the Soup Nazi shouts at Elaine, “No soup for you! Come back one year!” Thomas says Julia Louis-Dreyfus fell on the floor and started laughing. “She comes back up and she takes my hand — I think this was my favorite moment — she takes my hand and says, ‘You are so funny.’ And that, I mean, that’s worth a million bucks, you know?”
As for actual bucks, Thomas figures in the early years he received $20,000 annually in residuals. This included his role as a blackjack dealer in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” in 1997.
“I was making more money than my day job, although I still needed to keep my day job,” he says.
Residuals then dwindled markedly.
“I have gotten the lowest residual check possible,” Thomas says. “It just said ‘void, non-negotiable,’ because it was worth less than a penny.”
But then Larry Thomas discovered how to make real money.
First, though, he had to embrace the character he’d been trying to put behind him.
“I would not, for three years, say ‘No soup for you!’ to anybody,” he says. Every time he was interviewed, especially when he was nominated for an Emmy, reporters asked him to say his famous line. He refused, “because it [wouldn’t] come out the same, it’ll just sound like a bad water-cooler impression of myself.”
Then came the Seinfeld finale, when he *had* to say the line. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh God, I don’t have it anymore, and they’re going to fire me.’”
However, when the director called for it, he shouted, “NO SOUP FOR YOU!“
It made everyone laugh. Again.
“Larry David rushes across the street to walk next to me, and he goes, ‘You know what, man? You say it the exact same way you said it three years ago.’”
For Thomas, it was a breakthrough moment. “Since then, I’ve said it a million times.”
He’s made good money doing so. “Since 2003, I have made a pretty decent living doing nothing but autograph shows, personal appearances, and then finally Cameo in 2020.”
Cameo is a popular site where you pay celebrities to send personalized messages. Thomas struck gold there during the pandemic, charging $80 a pop. “While all my friends were hurting bad, I made more money than I ever made in my life.”
He decided to email Jerry Seinfeld about a month ago to tell him about his Cameo success, and to thank Jerry once more for casting him in the role of a lifetime.
Larry Thomas says Jerry emailed him back and said, “I’m so glad that perfect performance you did all those years ago is still serving you… any work is good work in this crazy business of ours.”
Thomas was touched. “Wasn’t that sweet?”
Let me know your favorite Seinfeld moments in the comments.
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Just another example of why you are the very best, Jane!