A Very, Very Good Oral History of “Seinfeld” Character Babu Bhatt
Writers Tom Leopold and Peter Mehlman tell the inside story of one of the sitcom's most iconic roles
It all came down to Babu.
In the final episode of Seinfeld, when the gang was on trial for failing to help a victim in a carjacking, a parade of the show’s greatest guest stars took the witness stand to condemn the foursome. The Soup Nazi testified that Elaine gave away all of his recipes. Bookman, the library cop, denounced Jerry for an overdue library book. A woman named Lola called out Kramer for giving her a faulty wheelchair. And the Bubble Boy told the story of how George deflated him during a heated game of Trivial Pursuit. But none of them compared to the testimony of Babu Bhatt.
Babu Bhatt’s first appearance on Seinfeld was the Season Three episode “The Café,” where Jerry advises the struggling Pakistani restaurateur to change his menu to entirely Pakistani food. The Dream Café quickly closes and Babu blames Jerry for destroying his business. He next appears in the Season Four episode “The Visa,” where Babu, now working at Monk’s and living in Jerry’s building, gets deported back to Pakistan because his Visa renewal application ends up in Jerry’s mailbox. That episode ends with a scene in Pakistan, where Babu vows vengeance upon Jerry.
Babu’s threat was a joke that was never intended to be paid off, but, according to the special features on the Seinfeld DVD collection, Babu getting his long-delayed revenge was one of the few fan speculations about the Seinfeld finale that turned out to be accurate. And, while the Seinfeld finale is generally maligned, Babu’s testimony is often cited as a highlight of the episode. Wagging his index finger while scolding the gang, Babu tells the courtroom how Jerry ruined his business and got him deported. He finishes by telling the judge, “Send them away, send them all away! Lock them up forever! They are not human! Very bad. Very, very, very bad!”
While filming the final episode for Seinfeld, Jerry told Babu portrayer Brian George that he was “the man” when it came to the finale, meaning that he was the one who confirmed the guilty verdict for Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer, making him, perhaps the single most significant Seinfeld side character. So, in honor of Babu’s tragic downfall and eventual victory, this is the behind-the-scenes story of Babu Bhatt as told by the writers of “The Café” and “The Visa,” a couple of Seinfeld super-fans and some archival interviews with Babu himself, Mr. Brian George (who declined to be interviewed for this piece).
Tom Leopold, writer of “The Café”: The story behind “The Café” came from when I had a little apartment in the village on West 11th street. On the corner, this little restaurant opened called The Dream Café. It was run by a Vietnamese guy named Vong Sim and he had like, four tables, two were outside and he had a menu so extensive you couldn’t believe it. He had Chinese food, American food, and a whole bunch of other stuff. He had four tables!
Every day he wore the same outfit, it was this short sleeve madras shirt that he wore during the day and at night, he’d put candles on the two tables outside and button the top button of his shirt — that was like, his after 6:00 pm wear. It was really sad too because nobody ever went in there. I remember telling my wife about it and I was just obsessed by it. I suppose that’s why we Seinfeld writers got along, because we all got obsessed with stupid shit. I was so fixated on it that my wife asked me, “Why don’t you go in?” and I said, “Well, if I go in, I’m going to pass this place every time I go home and I’m going to have to go in every time!” So I never went in.
Then he started putting notes outside like, “Free Coffee with Dessert” — nobody went in. “Free Dessert” — nothing. Then I started imagining him putting up more and more desperate notes like “Six of my family died in a boat coming over here. What’s the matter with you people?” That never happened, but the idea stayed in the back of my mind and when I was working on Seinfeld, I told Larry [David] about it and he liked the idea. That’s how stories were on Seinfeld, we would take these little incidents from our lives and blow them up into stories.
I was part of the casting for that episode and, even though Vong Sim had been Vietnamese, we opened it up to all different ethnicities. Brian George [who is British and of Labeanses, Indian and Israeli descent] did a great Pakistani accent and he was fantastic. Some characters are funny at one thing, they don’t really have legs, but Babu had this hilarious range of emotions. Brian George was also just a great clown, almost kind of like Kramer, so colorful and so funny. He was gold. He took what I did and brought it to another level, which is what you dream about, as a writer.
Eric Dobin, co-host of The Place to Be: A Seinfeld Podcast: Brian George’s performance as Babu is just incredible. I love how he can just turn on a dime from this sweet guy to this angry man telling Jerry “You bad man! You very, very bad man!” Even before he explodes, when Jerry walks into the restaurant after he’s changed it over, just the look on his face is so funny. That stare! It’s little wonder why he became a classic Seinfeld character.
Leopold: We writers were on set for the taping of the episodes, in case funny lines or ideas would pop up last minute. During “The Café” taping, when Elaine leaves the café really angry because Babu spilled something all over the IQ test she’s taking for George, I added in the line last minute for Babu to say “Tell your friends!”
I remember Jerry doing a lot of funny things during that shoot. Like, when Jerry goes “Oh, Babu,” after he’s changed it over to a Pakistani restaurant. There’s a great scene from the outtakes where Brian George is cracking up over “Oh Babu.” It took a while for the actors to get through that.
Brian George, excerpt from “Inside Look: The Café” from the Seinfeld DVD collection: I lost it. I just lost it.
Adam Pacecca, co-host of The Place to Be: A Seinfeld Podcast: there’s also a great scene in the café where Kramer gets the hot towel and freaks out. Brian George and Julia Louis Dreffus both got scared during that scene and their reactions are genuine.
Brian George, excerpt from “Inside Look: The Café” from the Seinfeld DVD collection: There’s the sequence with the hot towel, where I’m giving them out to wash their hands, and I give it to Michael [Richard]’s character, Kramer and he just literally falls on the floor, flops around like a fish… It totally took me by surprise. I’m going, ‘What do I do here?’… So I decided to play the confusion, which was absolutely real.
Leopold: In the original draft, I wanted Babu to be a dilettante so you wouldn’t feel so sorry for him at the end. I had it so that his rich, WASP-y wife was going to come in and take him back to Connecticut, like he was just doing it as a lark. Cutting that was Larry’s idea, and it’s much better that way. It’s more tragic. That’s what comedy is, a dark story with funny lines.
Plus, had he been a dilettante, I don’t think they could have gotten those other great appearances out of him.
Brian George, excerpt from “Inside Look: The Visa” from the Seinfeld DVD collection: It was such a thrill to be brought back on this show [for “The Visa”]. First of all, it was a great compliment — they loved the character, so that was great.
I got the script for “The Visa” and I was reading it at home, my wife is watching TV, I’m reading the script and going “Oh my God, I’m working in the café! I think I might be a recurring character!” I’m reading on, “Oh my God! I’m living in his building! This is incredible!”… Flip the page [and] I get to the end of the episode, I’m deported [and] I go “Oh shit! What the hell is this!?”… But it was a great episode.
Peter Mehlman, writer of “The Visa”: Brian George was a terrific actor and he played the part of Babu great in “The Café,” but we had a lot of terrific actors and we didn’t want to bring people back just for the sake of bringing them back. We only ever did things out of what was best for the show and the story. I remember we got a call once from Paul MCartney’s manager saying he loved the show and would love to be on, but I had to say to his manager, “Look, Paul’s a god to me, but we don’t do stunt casting for the sake of stunt casting, it has to fit into the story.” Julia Louis-Drefus almost killed me for that.
Anyway, so I wasn’t looking for a story to bring back Babu, but I had this idea that he just ended up being perfect for. When I was working on Seinfeld, there was a time where I was getting a lot of mail that belonged to my next door neighbor. And, as was customary for Seinfeld writers, we’d take things from our lives, so I was thinking about what the worst possible repercussions of something like that could be and Babu was a convenient character because he could get deported.
I remember struggling a bit with the other story in that episode, where George is dating a girl who thinks he’s funny, so he doesn’t want Jerry to be funny in front of her, but the Babu story was a little more straightforward. I do remember that Brian George was a really good guy and really, really funny. We loved that little finger wave he did at the end. He was just a riot.
Brian George, excerpt from “Inside Look: The Café” from the Seinfeld DVD collection: Where the finger came from, I don’t know. That just sort of came up out of the blue, deep in the recesses of where an actor pulls stuff out of. That came out and I’m giving the finger fairly constantly now.
Mehlman: While I know I had him promise to get back at Jerry at the end, I never thought he’d actually come back. I never thought along those lines. We only thought about stories and if a story happened to work out where we could bring a guy back, great.
Dobin: How perfect is it that the end of “The Visa,” which was all the way back in Season Four, foreshadows “The Finale”? I’m sure that wasn’t intended, but it’s one of many examples where the comedy gods helped this show.
Mehlman: While I was around for the finale of Seinfeld, Larry was the one writing the script on that. I think he just went through a lot of the big episodes and big characters and decided which ones to bring back. All of the characters in the finale were aggrieved by the four regulars on Seinfeld and I think Babu was probably as aggrieved as anyone. I mean, he literally got deported because of them. We destroyed a lot of lives in that show.
Brian George, excerpt from “The Last Lap” from the Seinfeld DVD collection: Jerry passed me by at one point on the set and he goes, “You’re the man.” I had no idea what he meant, but, of course, I was the one who put the nail in the coffin with that speech in the courtroom.
Leopold: Babu was great in the finale! I loved it and was so happy to see that he came back!
Dobin: Even though Babu Bhatt was only in three episodes of Seinfeld, he was definitely a very significant character and he left a major impact on the series. Everyone knows the finger point and the classic line “You bad man! You very, very bad man!” He’s surely beloved in the Seinfeld universe, and he’ll always be considered one of the best characters to ever appear on the show.
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