San Francisco’s first-ever Colossal Clusterfest this June will include interactive exhibits for fans of hit sitcoms South Park, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Seinfeld.
The Seinfeld set-up at Clusterfest features a full-scale re-creation of Jerry’s apartment in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a Festivus pole, and food from Monk’s Cafe and the Soup Nazi. If you get in line for the soup, you’ll have to follow the directions to succeed in getting served by the Soup Nazi himself — Larry Thomas, who earned an Emmy nomination for playing the role back in Season 7, Episode 6. That aired in 1995.
Twenty-two years later, Thomas hasn’t gotten fed up yet reprising his role.
He spoke to me on the phone today from his home in Los Angeles, where he recalled it didn’t take too long for Thomas to embrace a lifelong association with a guest-starring sitcom role. “The Emmy nomination,” Thomas told me. “That’s all I needed. For that I will play The Soup Nazi for the rest of my life.”
After all, Thomas had endured a long gap in gigs before booking his memorable Seinfeld episode. “I’d been doing 18 years of beg, borrow and steal theater since doing my first movie. Even though my first job was a singing telegram messenger on a sitcom (Ladies’ Man on CBS in 1981), but then about 15 years went by before the Seinfeld audition. Actually there was a Power Rangers audition the day before that, too.”
How did that go?
“I got it! I had one line. I played a cop with one line and they dubbed my voice with someone else’s.”
Seinfeld, Larry David, Sony Pictures TV and NBC didn’t dub his voice for The Soup Nazi, and before you could start saying “No soup for you!” around your classroom or office, Thomas knew he’d scored the gig of his career. The very next day, someone in line with Thomas noted his resemblance to “the soup guy” from the show. That attention also extended to casting agents, who started calling him for auditions for parts in other sitcoms and movies. But nothing has stuck as much as Seinfeld in our collective pop-culture consciousness.
So Thomas has played up the character in TV commercials (including a Super Bowl ad with Seinfeld himself), or tried not to play the character (as in a role on Scrubs where he played himself).
He’s appeared in character at a New York Mets game and a Brooklyn Cyclones game, toured the United States with a Seinfeld food truck, maintains the website Real Soup Nazi and written a book, “Confessions of a Soup Nazi,” with a forward written by “George Costanza” Jason Alexander.
Thomas has met the Original Soupman, too. Al Yeganeh, who had inspired the character, still was working back behind the counter in Hell’s Kitchen about seven or eight years after the episode when Thomas stopped by after a job through Central Park. Thomas didn’t have his mustache because of the play he was acting in then, but recalled Yeganeh being “really nice to me.” “A lot of people don’t know this about Al, but as cantankerous as Al was or was supposed to be, he also had a policy of handing out free soup to the homeless. Like most of us, he had two sides of him. He had done Oprah and seen my role. As much as he hated the (Nazi) title, he thought it was funny.”
Thomas says all of his Soup Nazi gigs are fun, and looks forward to serving soup at Clusterfest. Even if it’s for three days.
“I think everybody that hires me knows you can only play the character for so long,” he said. “People will want to talk to you. They’ll come up and say, ‘I loved you on Scrubs,’ or ‘I loved you on Arrested Development,’ or in Austin Powers. You can’t just say shut up. I’m an actor, too. So every once in a while, I’ll wink or break out. I think the most fun I ever had, we did the Seinfeld food truck for Sony,” which he called “a roach coach” filled with various items made famous in episodes from the show.
Coming up for Clusterfest will bring Thomas only a few blocks from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where he studied acting for the summer of 1979.
“I just thought it was the absolute coolest city in the world,” he said.
The only thing that’s made it less cool in his heart and mind since then? The loss of Salmagundi’s restaurant next door to ACT. “I don’t know when they closed, but I went there in 2005, and it was a Starbucks.” What made Salmagundi’s so special for a starving actor? A free refill on soup!
“I will never forget. That’s how we ate. We got two for one!”
Don’t expect free soup refills from The Soup Nazi at Clusterfest, although his menu will include mulligatawny, crab bisque, turkey chili, and jambalaya.
Buy tickets to Colossal Clusterfest in San Francisco Civic Center Plaza, June 2-4, 2017, featuring comedy from Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart, Sarah Silverman, Bill Burr, Hannibal Buress, Broad City, 2 Dope Queens and much more.