Larry Thomas is probably the most famous television star you don't know. Many viewers wouldn't even be able to pick him out of a lineup of working actors. But mention two little incongruous words and you'd recognize him in a heartbeat. The words are "Soup Nazi."
Laughs for Lions
Hosted by Larry "Soup Nazi" Thomas and featuring comedians Paul Ogata, Ching and Choy, Abe & Franklin and Star-Bulletin columnist Charles Memminger:
» Onstage: Aug. 18, doors open at 5:30 p.m.
» Place: Mamiya Theatre
» Donation: $40; $75 VIP ticket includes food and drinks. Benefits Kamehameha Lions Club Foundation
» Call: 528-1073 or visit www.laughsforlions.com
Out of hundreds of "Seinfeld" episodes, the most unforgettable character -- featured in just one episode -- was the Soup Nazi, played by Thomas. He was the guy who ran a little soup kitchen in New York visited by Jerry Seinfeld and his buddies.
He ran the kitchen with fascistlike regimentation, and if you didn't place your order correctly, or if you asked for special consideration, like a chunk of bread, the Soup Nazi would throw your money back at you and yell, "No soup for you!"
The Soup Nazi became an instant TV icon, and Thomas achieved two milestones most TV actors would kill for: He was nominated for an Emmy Award, and Mad magazine satirized his character in a comic strip.
I had a long chat with Thomas, who will be coming to Hawaii for the Aug. 18 "Laughs for Lions" night of comedy to benefit the Kamehameha Lions Club Foundation. He told me some amazing things, such as what it's like to play a famous TV character and yet remain a largely unknown actor. (Surprise! It sucks.)
But undaunted at being type-cast as the Stalin of Stew, the Franco of Fricassee, the Mussolini of Mulligatawny, Larry Thomas will soon hit the big screen in a major motion picture playing a contemporary villain who makes the Soup Nazi look like the Tooth Fairy.
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Larry Thomas' claim to fame so far is his role as the Soup Nazi (far right) in a "Seinfeld" episode.
Soup Nazi thickens broth with new role
"I've become a little type-cast since 'Seinfeld,'" actor Larry Thomas tells me over the phone without a hint of bitterness. That surprises me because, if I were him, I'd be bitter. I'd be more than bitter. I'd be psychotic. I'd be on a George Castanza-type rant about the unfairness of the world, the suckiness of Hollywood.
I mean, how can you have played one of the most memorable characters on the biggest sitcom of all time and not have your own show? Rhoda got her show after the "Mary Tyler Moore Show." Fraser got his show after "Cheers." Even Trapper John, M.D., got his own -- albeit crappy -- spinoff from "M*A*S*H."
But when it comes to the Soup Nazi from "Seinfeld," the network big shots say "NO SHOW FOR YOU!"
(That's a joke. If you watched "Seinfeld," then you know that there was this character called the Soup Nazi, played by Thomas, whose famous catch phrase was, "No soup for you!" No show for you! Get it? Never mind.)
The fact is that "Seinfeld" is one of those hugely popular ensemble shows which -- curiously -- didn't result in any spinoffs, although Julia Louis-Dreyfus has gone on to star in a successful show. ("Seinfeld" creator and producer Larry David gave himself his own show after "Seinfeld" -- "Curb Your Enthusiasm" -- but that doesn't count. When you can give yourself your own show, it's not a spinoff, it's an "I-bought-my-own show-off.")
Thomas has been working since "Seinfeld" as a guest star on various series, including "CSI," but he hasn't managed to parlay his Soup Nazi fame into a big part. That could change soon, and in a fairly dramatic way.
I was talking to Thomas about his coming to Hawaii next month to emcee "Laughs for Lions," a night of comedy to raise funds for the Kamehameha Lions Club Foundation. But you can't talk to the Soup Nazi -- who was nominated for an Emmy Award and featured in Mad Magazine -- without bringing up the inevitable tactless question: "So, what are you up to these days?"
To ask an actor that is like plunging a rusty dagger in his heart. But Thomas takes it with what I am learning is his customary laid-backness.
"I didn't work for most of 2006," he says. "I did a bunch of guest spots in 2005. I'm an actor dying for work."
That "dying for work" line gives me chicken skin when he tells me about the part he is playing in a controversial movie to be released this fall.
The actor hopes his new movie "Postal," in which he plays Osama bin Laden, will gain him fame.
The movie is called "Postal." It's a comedy/parody by notorious director Uwe Boll. And in it, Thomas plays one of the most hated men alive. Yes, the Soup Nazi will become Osama bin Laden.
To say "Postal" is "edgy" is like calling the hilarious yet roundly vilified and heavily sued "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" movie "thoughtful."
"'Postal' makes 'Borat' look like something you should show to your great-grandparents," says Thomas matter-of-factly, as if he were simply explaining how gravity works.
I saw "Borat" and still cringe thinking about some parts. If "Postal" is more risqué than "Borat," the world is in for a wild ride. And possibly a dangerous one. Because the movie not only comically savages our side, but also Islamic terrorists. Ask any cartoonist who has ever dared to feature Muhammad in a comic strip what kind of sense of humor radical Islamists have.
"You're going to make fun of Osama bin Laden and Muslim extremists?" I ask. "In a major motion picture? Did you hear about the Muhammad cartoon riots in Denmark?"
"I have no doubt that something could happen," he says. "But it's a great part and it's a great film. All my hopes are hinged on 'Postal.'"
And that's understandable when you think of the some of the bad luck he's had since "Seinfeld." When the DVD of "Seinfeld" Season 7 was to be released, the season of the famous "Soup Nazi" episode, Thomas was to appear on CBS' "The Early Show." They'd even built a mock soup kitchen for him on the streets of New York where he would appear in character. He would do lots of radio and TV. Then the next day he'd do the same in Toronto. It was to be a huge DVD publicity launch.
Then, on the day before the "Early Show" gig, Michael Richards (aka Kramer) had his celebrated "N-word meltdown" at a comedy club.
"I'm in New York in a hotel," says Thomas. "I turn on the TV, and there's Michael Richards all over the place. Everything got canceled. Nobody wanted to touch publicity for the Season 7 DVD. Jesse Jackson called for a boycott on buying it."
Again, I sense no bitterness. Amazing. Then he adds, "But here's a good bit of ironic trivia: That DVD outsold all the other seasons without the fanfare."
I'm beginning to get it. Though fame has so far eluded him, Thomas -- fearlessly willing to play any part from Soup Nazi to Osama bin Laden -- is an actor of destiny, patiently waiting in the wings. He knows it won't always be "No show for you!"
Buy Charles Memminger's hilarious new book, "Hey, Waiter, There's An Umbrella In My Drink!" at island book stores or online
at any book retailer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org