Depending on how you look at it, Seinfeld supporting player Patrick Warburton has had either some of the best or some of the crummiest luck in Hollywood. Warburton, who first turned up almost three years ago as Elaine’s bedroom-“swirl”-maneuver-cribbing, New Jersey Devils worshiping, man-fur-wearing boyfriend David Puddy, was elevated to semi-regular status this season. But no sooner had Puddy begun to rival Newman and the elder Costanzas for screen time than the announcement came down that this season would be Seinfeld‘s swan song. “I figured it would be the last year even before the announcement,” says the 33-year-old actor. “I just got a sense of it from Jerry. So it wasn’t devastating.”
Warburton, it seems, knows a thing or two about how to read Seinfeld — not to mention how to read with him. His return to the show came after giving Seinfeld a hand with his latest American Express commercial, which pairs the comedian with a cartoon Superman. “I hadn’t seen Jerry in a few years, so I said to my agents, ‘Why are you calling me?’ And they said, ‘Well, he liked working with you. You’re not going to be in it, and they’re not going to use your voice, but he thinks you’d be fun to [bounce his lines] off of.” Before the two had finished shooting the ad, Seinfeld had invited Warburton to bring his nuts-and-dolt grease-monkey act back on the show. And in the end, AmEx did use his voice, to the lasting amusement of his two young kids: “They love seeing the commercial. I go, ‘Who’s that?’ ‘Daddy.’ ‘That’s right, Daddy is Superman. And if Superman says to go to bed, you go to bed!”‘
The married Warburton will tell you that his offscreen superheroics consist mainly of pulling in enough money from acting to cover his mortgage. Growing up in Huntington Beach, Calif., he decided to go the thespian route after realizing that his junior-college studies in marine science would only land him a job with some big oil conglomerate. A string of failed pilots later, he finally started to draw some attention in guest shots on shows like Ellen (as her show-tune-singing masseur) and in a recurring role on Dave’s World as bumbling handyman Eric. Now, with Seinfeld winding down, NBC has already signed him to a deal for next season, hoping to place him in a new, still-to be-fleshed-out sitcom.
“Patrick’s name comes up all the time around NBC as one of the better characters that’s come out of this show,” says Seinfeld coexecutive producer Gregg Kavet. “That’s why we got around to doing [an episode] like ‘The Dealership,’ which is one of the biggest roles we’ve had for a guest character.”
So what will the Seinfeld finale bring for Puddy? “I haven’t got a clue,” Warburton says. “Maybe he and Elaine break up, maybe they get married, maybe they kill each other. Or maybe [we’ll find out] he’s a psychiatrist. He’s been going to school at night, and he’s now writing a book that very insightfully and articulately analyzes them all. He becomes a guru of sorts.” Warburton laughs. “That’s not asking too much.”