Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character on Seinfeld is an eternal balm; even 20 years later, Elaine remains a consistently funny, relatable loudmouth who proved women can be just as unhinged as men and look better in blazers. One of her most charming habits was shouting “Shut UP” incredulously at the men in her life and then dramatically shoving them. It turns out that inspired bit originally came from Louis-Dreyfus’s own sensibility and tendency to get in men’s faces and tell to get outta here.
In a new profile by Ariel Levy in the New Yorker, one of Louis-Dreyfus’s colleagues from the Northwestern’s comedy scene says that’s just the way she was:
If there was one move that expressed the essence of Elaine—uninhibited, emphatic, irrepressible—it was the shove. When she was outraged or shocked or dazzled, she put her hands on the chest of the man who was eliciting that reaction, shouted, “Shut up! ” or “Get out!,” and then shoved him so hard that he toppled backward. It was a kind of kid-sister move, at once obnoxious and irresistible—a way of propelling another, bigger person into her reality.
It was a move that Louis-Dreyfus brought to Elaine, but it predated the character by at least a decade. “The way that she would shove guys—that’s the way she had to treat us,” Paul Barrosse, who cast Louis-Dreyfus in a comedy show when they were students at Northwestern University, said. “That kind of physicality was on display very early.”
When she was fed up with the guys, Louis-Dreyfus would just respond the way Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan tells his clients to act around rowdy dogs—calmly and assertively. They respected that. Brad Hall, her now-husband who met Louis-Dreyfus through Barrosse, remembers that:
Like Barrosse, Hall was impressed by Louis-Dreyfus’s toughness. “There was a day when Julia brought everything to a halt in rehearsals,” he recalled. “We were teasing her in some way, and she just said, ‘That’s over. We’re not doing that anymore.’ We all just went, ‘Whoa, holy shit.’ ”
It warms my heart to know that Louis-Dreyfus takes as little shit from other people in real life as Elaine does on the show. Let’s enjoy this YouTube compilation of Elaine shoving Kramer and Jerry et al over and over: