The Yenta is Coming! The Yenta is Coming!
Annie Korzen's comedy act is as sassy as your Jewish mother.


Doris Klompus isn’t one of the most memorable Seinfeld guest characters, not like Newman or Uncle Leo, or Elaine’s boyfriend Puddy or the Soup Nazi. And certainly not an audience favorite like Frank and Estelle Costanza.

Still, Annie Korzen, who played Klompus, was brilliant in the six episodes in which she was the caustic half of her insufferable husband Jack Klompus. True Seinfeld lovers will remember Jack Klompus as the rather crotchety old man who ran for President of Del Boca Vista condos and spearheaded the move to impeach Jerry Seinfeld’s father, Morty, from the condo presidency.

As Doris, Korzen was to Jack Klompus what Alice Kramden was to Ralph Kramden: a wife that wasn’t going to be a push-over-domestic engineer and one who possessed the timely ability and sarcasm to put her husband’s irrational behavior in check and provide common sense to a potentially disastrous situation.

Korzen’s guest role on Seinfeld opened doors for the red-headed Jewish comedienne. Because of the show’s immense popularity and global syndication, Korzen continues to receive royalty checks.

But since her role as Klompus, Korzen, who also occasionally reads humorous essays on the PBS radio show “Morning Edition,” hasn’t been waiting for agents to call her with acting assignments; she has made a living from her solo productions, including her latest work, “Yenta Unglupped.”

With a Joan-of-Arc zealotry, Korzen attempts to shatter negative stereotypes of Jewish mothers in “Yenta Unplugged,” a touring comedy which will stop, courtesy of Hadassah, at Beth Am Synagogue May 23.

In “Yenta”, Korzen portrays several different characters and performs a handful of original songs. Her production is one main storyline comprised of several vignettes, ultimately focusing on the reunion between her real life husband, Benni Korzen—The Danish born, Oscar Award winning producer of Babette’s Feast—and the Copenhagen family that saved him from the Nazis at age five.

“In telling the story about my husband,” says Korzen, from her home in Los Angeles, “I provide a positive spin on Jewish women. I tell some of the old jokes about Jewish women and then I give them another point of view.”

What Gloria Steinham did for women’s lib, Korzen is doing for the positive image of Jewish women, so much so that a few years ago she heckled a standup comic (a Jewish one) who delivered a politically-incorrect monologue on Anne Frank.

“I object to how Jewish women are often portrayed as pushy and overbearing,” says Korzen. “The stereotypical image of the J.A.P. angers me; Jewish women should be more respected.”

What’s wrong with being a good wife and mother, Korzen asks? “Jewish women are community activists and doting parents,” she says.

According to Korzen, it isn’t anti-Semites who perpetuate negative images of Jewish women. Rather, the stereotypes are created by Jewish men, or as she puts it, “people in the [movie] industry.” “These Jewish men want to get the country club trophy wife and disassociate from their past lives,” says Korzen.

It’s a good thing Korzen hasn’t waited for agents to ring her up with promises of roles after her Seinfeld career.

“I get turned down for lots of jobs for being too Jewish,” she says incredulously. “I even once got turned down for a role as a rabbi; my agent told me the director, who is Jewish, told me he wanted a more likable character.”

 

 



Korzen once was featured on Oprah, where she talked about ethnic men who reject their own women. She also had cameo roles in other hit television shows like “Coach” and “Mad About You” and “E.R.”

Korzen seems to be typecast as an abrasive, provincial and kvetchy Jewish woman.

“That’s not who I think I am,” says Korzen. “I’m a sophisticated, knowledgeable, well-traveled and educated woman,” she counters. “I speak Danish and French as well as a little German, Italian and Swedish.”

Korzen has fond memories of her role as the archetype Jewish bossy wife, Doris Klompus.

“The character I played was not that memorable,” Korzen concedes. “Doris was merely a Florida retiree down at the condo who bossed her husband around but to no avail.”

Another actor was originally offered the role as Klompus but turned it down. When Klompus gladly accepted the role almost 15 years ago, she looked too young to play the part of a retiree. The solution: makeup.

“I was horrified at how I looked,” says Korzen. “It looked like I was wearing a Halloween mask,” she says, adding that she doesn’t like providing to the press any photos of her as Klompus because of her aged look.

Korzen says she loved working with Jerry Seinfeld.

“He was extremely kind and generous to all the actors. He let us improvise. A lot of big stars won’t let you do that.”

Of all the characters on Seinfeld, Korzen was most impressed by Jerry Stiller, who played George Costanza’s father, Frank.

“Jerry Stiller was so serious with his performances,” says Korzen. “He acted each scene like it was a life or death scenario.”

Korzen never thought much of the actual show when she filmed her scenes. She certainly had no idea it would enjoy the immense popularity it has achieved. (Korzen was even recognized as Doris Klompus in Australia.)

“When I was on the show, nobody was watching it,” says Korzen. “My husband asked me one day, ‘What is this? … It’s a show about nothing’.”

Ultimately, of course, a good chunk of Western civilization recognized Seinfeld’s writing as brilliant and original.

“The characters were very colorful,” says Korzen. “Every good sitcom has a family that you want to be a part of. The characters on Seinfeld might have given each other headaches, but at the end of the day they were all there for each other.”

That’s something anybody, Jewish or not, can appreciate.

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