‘Seinfeld’: How Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes Paved the Way for Awkward Female Leads from Leslie Knope to Hannah Horvath
Julia Louis-Dreyfus isn’t the first female comedian to make her mark on television, but she did participate in some groundbreaking work for woman actors everywhere.
Originally, Elaine on Seinfeld wasn’t supposed to be a character at all. And when Louis Dreyfus noticed she wasn’t getting the same funny material her male co-stars were, she didn’t just let it go. The Seinfeld alum fought for what she deserved.
Many female comedic actors have Elaine to thank for paving the way for awkward leading women in sitcoms.
Network execs insisted on adding a woman to the ‘Seinfeld’ cast
Not many fans realize it, but the original pilot for the hit series, called The Seinfeld Chronicles, totally bombed with the test audience. And NBC execs thought they knew the obvious solution, Chicago Tribune reported.
“We said, ‘You have to add a girl,’ ” former NBC employee Warren Litchfield recalled. “We’re not going to tell you a lot, but add a woman.”
And when they did, they didn’t go for the typical demure and quiet sidekick. Elaine was boisterous, raunchy, and just as depraved as her three male co-stars. Audiences were shocked and delighted to see it.
“Someone with her intelligence level, matched with an incredibly juvenile infantilism, when those two things come together well, that’s comedy magic,” Jerry Seinfeld said of the role.
Elaine Benes on ‘Seinfeld’ wasn’t like other female comedy roles
It’s true that Elaine’s storylines dealt with her dating life, but she was also unapologetically single and had other interests beyond just landing a man. Her storylines on the show included plenty of other interests, like her career and hobbies, not just finding love.
Elaine is one of Jerry’s exes, but with the exception of one episode (“The Mango”), they never let their former status make things weird. Instead, Elaine is just as much part of the cast as the guys, and isn’t any sweeter or kinder than they are. She relies a lot on physical comedy and delights everyone with her dance moves.
Contemporary comedians call Louis-Dreyfus an inspiration for them
Amy Schumer considers Elaine from Seinfeld a true role model for what a woman in comedy could be, and she’s not the only one.
“She didn’t do the things that we’re all taught, as women, to do: be selfless, control your impulses,” the Trainwreck alum told Time. “She had no interest in filling that role we’d all been sold about how women were supposed to be.”
“That probably contributed to my development as a person as well as a comedian,” she continued.
Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler also had high praise for Louis-Dreyfus in 2014 speech (via Vulture), calling her “everyone’s favorite” and saying, “she is like us, except smarter and prettier.”
Elaine is still a massively popular influence in female comedy
While they may not always realize it, even TV writers today use the groundbreaking work Louis-Dreyfus did to inform their shaping of funny female characters. Instead of making them softer or more likable than men, writers feel empowered to let women be their authentic selves. Even when it’s messy or unattractive.
From Girls to Parks and Recreation, today’s female comedians can do and say whatever they want, all thanks to Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes. Just as it should be.