‘Seinfeld’: Jerry Stiller Said the Costanzas Were a ‘Jewish Family in the Witness Protection Program’

Comedian and longstanding Seinfeld actor Jerry Stiller admitted he never quite understood the true heritage of his character, Frank Costanza on the series.

Estelle Harris as Estelle Costanza, Jason Alexander as George Costanza, Jerry Stiller as Frank Costanza
Estelle Harris as Estelle Costanza, Jason Alexander as George Costanza, Jerry Stiller as Frank Costanza |Margaret Norton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Stiller revealed years after the series ended he still never came to a solid conclusion if the Costanza family were Italian or Jewish because he was thrown off by the name, but also the traditions.

“It was never really clear if the Costanzas were Jewish or Italian or what they were. Jason [Alexander, who played George], Estelle [Harris, who played Estelle Costanza] and I were given the name Costanza, which sounds Italian, but there were episodes where I cooked Jewish food and ate knishes and kasha varnishkes in bed,” he said during an appearance in 2018, Page Six reports.

Stiller ended the series with unanswered questions

Since Stiller never reconciled the entire family backstory he came up with his own reasoning. “When people asked me about this, I would simply say it was because we were a Jewish family in the witness protection program,” he joked at the 2018 event appearance. Adding, “What about the Costanzas’ living room? What are we, chopped liver? Oy, serenity now!”

His character also had a number of signature moments that (again) would lead the viewer down a myriad of heritage roads. For instance, Elaine Benes asked him about being born in Italy. “Yeah, that’s why I could never become president,” Costanza replied. “That’s also why, from an early age, I never had any interest in politics. I refuse to vote. THEY DON’T WANT ME, I DON’T WANT THEM.”

Also, Costanza famously “founded” the anti-holiday Festivus. He told his son, George Costanza, “George, festivus is your heritage!”

‘Festivus for the rest of us’

Costanza’s bombastic personality was behind the holiday “Festivus,” born out of his outrage of the commercialization of Christmas. The holiday was brought to light during “The Strike” episode, Time recounts. “Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son,” Costanza explains to Cosmo Kramer. “I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.” 

The other way resulted in Festivus “for the rest of us.” Celebrated on December 23, the idea was to “to get a leg up on Christmas.” Annoyed with the mass consumerism of the tree and gifts, Costanza replaced the Christmas tree with a simple metal pole.

In lieu of spending money on gifts, families would instead air their grievances and then later (instead of a nice family meal) would need to display feats of strength, likely wrestling.

The holiday, which was the brainchild of Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe, ended up actually being celebrated by fans and continues to be honored, years after the series ended. O’Keefe joke to The New York Times about accidentally inventing a cult.

Stiller died at age 92

Stiller died at age 92, according to son and actor Ben Stiller. “I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes. He was a great dad and grandfather, and the most dedicated husband to Anne for about 62 years. He will be greatly missed. Love you Dad,” Stiller tweeted on May 11.

Condolences poured in from a number of celebrities and fans. Many remembered his work, but most recalled his kindness.