Peterman is the eccentric but fun owner of the J. Peterman Catalog sales company and is also Elaine Benes' boss during her employment there. She meets him in "The Understudy", the last episode of season six.
Despite being the owner of a well-known catalog, J. Peterman seems to have a very awkward social life and an eccentric personality, such as the time he moved to Burma to settle his problems. He's spent much of his life traveling the world and experiencing various cultures and escapades. He uses these stories to advertise the products in his catalog. He also uses his travels to witness various fashion customs to replicate in his own catalog.
In "The Secret Code," Elaine schedules a dinner for Jerry Seinfeld, George Costanza, Peterman, and herself, but has to back out because she decides to go on a date. Jerry quickly comes up with an excuse to miss the dinner. George uses a similar ruse which Peterman sees through, leaving George with Peterman for the rest of the evening. Peterman gets a phone call where he learns that his mother is very sick, and brings George to visit her at her home. Peterman's mother dies the next morning. When they come across a man stuck inside a burning building Peterman forces George to give up his ATM code to help free the man. George's code is "Bosco", the last words Peterman's mother spoke because he confided them to her before she died. Peterman is convinced George killed his mother as his password was the last word she spoke. It is this incident that leads Peterman to create the Rogue's wallet; with the item's accompanying story heavily based on George. It is in this episode that the viewer finds out the J in J. Peterman isn't short for John, Jack or James but Jacapo.
In "The Caddy," Peterman sees a woman in the hallway wearing a bra as a top like Sue Ellen Mischke was doing, and decides he wants to market it as a new direction in women's fashion. He tasks Elaine with putting together the marketing copy by the end of the week.
In "The Shower Head," Peterman learns that Elaine has failed a urine test where she tested positive for opium. Later, Peterman overhears Kramer asking Elaine if he can shower at her place (due to the low flow shower heads recently installed at his apartment complex). Peterman mistakes this conversation thinking Kramer is a drug addict looking to score some opium from Elaine. Peterman admits that he himself once fell under the spell of Opium (or Yam Yam in Burmese) for a short while hence his concern over Elaine's "use" of the drug. He fires Elaine. Peterman later reinstates her when he learns that she has passed the drug test.
In "The Friar's Club," Peterman hires a partially deaf man named Bob Grossberg. When he observes what he believes to be Elaine confessing her love for Bob, he gives her two tickets to The Flying Sandos Brothers.
In "The Bottle Deposit," Peterman is going out of town and asks Elaine to bid on a set of golf clubs owned by John F. Kennedy. He authorizes Elaine to spend up to $10,000 on the clubs. Elaine ends up spending $20,000 on the clubs when she gets in a bidding war with Sue Ellen Mischke. Jerry's car gets stolen by his auto mechanic with John F. Kennedy's clubs in the back. Peterman finally gets the bent clubs from Elaine which he thinks were bent by John F. Kennedy himself while taking out his rage at missed shots.
In "The Foundation," Peterman has a nervous breakdown and runs off to Burma, leaving Elaine in charge of the catalog. She draws inspiration from Kramer, who dominates his karate class and convinces Elaine that she can run the company. Unfortunately, she puts her idea for an “urban sombrero” on the cover. When Peterman sees the cover he exclaims: "the horror, the horror" (a reference to Apocalypse Now!).
In "The Chicken Roaster," Elaine charges lavish expenses to her work account now that she is running the J Peterman Catalog. To avoid being fired, Elaine heads to the Burmese jungle to find Peterman and get his approval for her purchase of a Sable hat. Elaine locates Peterman, as he was the only white poet warlord in the neighborhood, but he refuses to approve her purchases without seeing the hat. This episode draws heavily on quotes and scenes from Apocalypse Now, with Peterman in the place of Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz.
In "The Money," Elaine agrees to get Jerry's father Morty Seinfeld a job at the J Peterman Catalog. J. Peterman returns from the jungles of Burma/Miyanmar. Peterman fires Morty when he complains that they are working to late into the night... as it was only 5:30 PM.
In "The Van Buren Boys," Peterman meets Cosmo Kramer and buys his life stories from him for $50.00. Elaine is tasked with collecting the crazy stories from Kramer which often make no sense. When Elaine embellishes the stories to make them more interesting, Peterman decides to sell his stories back to Kramer. Despite re-negging on the deal, Elaine includes Kramer's life stories in the book anyway.
In "The Susie," Elaine's co-worker Peggy calls her Susie by mistake. Elaine never corrects her and she begins to disparage Elaine, mistaking her for Susie. When Peterman learns of the dispute, he demands that all parties get together to resolve the issue. Finally, Elaine is forced to tell Peterman that Susie committed suicide. Peterman speaks at her funeral, claiming he slept with Susie. When Elaine later comes clean and admits she was Susie all along, Peterman admits he feels the same way.
In "The English Patient," Peterman is surprised to learn that Elaine has never seen "The English Patient", and drops everything to take her to see the film. Elaine finally comes clean, telling him that she hates the film. Peterman fires Elaine due to her hatred of the movie, but rehires her in return for taking a trip to the desert of Tunisia where the film was made.
In "The Muffin Tops," Peterman held a book-signing event that was attended by Elaine and Mr. Lippman. Kramer remembered Peterman and tried to join him as "the Real Peterman" since the book he released was also written by Kramer, which resulted in Kramer being removed from the book store by two security guards. Kramer then starts conducting “The J. Peterman Reality Bus Tour” to give people the real experience of knowing him. The tour includes a bite size three musketeers chocolate candy bar for $37.50. This episode is obviously based on Kenny Kramer's "Kramer Reality Tour." Once the show became a success, Larry David's real life neighbor (and inspiration for Kramer's character) began to offer tours of his favorite mundane haunts.
In "The Merv Griffin Show," Elaine gives Tic Tacs to the sidler who she works with so he can no longer sidle. Unfortunately, the sound of the Tic Tacs annoys Peterman, saying it reminds him of Haitian rattle torture.
In "The Cartoon," Elaine writes a comic that appears in The New Yorker, where J. Peterman realizes it is a Ziggy. He confirms it after he takes Elaine to his archives. Elaine later realizes she subconsciously stole the idea from her boyfriend Puddy's Ziggy sheets.
In "The Frogger," Elaine develops a sugar addiction and raids Peterman's refrigerator for a piece of cake. Peterman later reveals that the slice is his latest acquisition, from the wedding of King Edward VIII to Wallis Simpson, circa 1937, price–$29,000. Elaine tries to fool him by replacing it with an Entenmann's. During the credits, Peterman shows Elaine surveillance videotape of her eating and "dancing" with the slice of cake. He is convinced that the effect of such a "vintage" cake on her digestive system will be punishment enough. Peterman then dismisses her.
In "The Finale, Part 2," J. Peterman attends the trial of Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer in Latham County. In a deleted scene, he meets David Puddy before the trial, saying "You must be the boyfriend, the man behind the emerald curtain." "Yeah, that's right." When Marla Penny mentioned the "contest" the four had to see who can go a day without masturbating, J. Peterman exclaimed "For the love of god" during everyone's reaction to this. While the jury was out deciding on the verdict, J. Peterman is among those seen at the pool house, where he wins at a game against Mickey Abbott, Keith Hernandez, and Kenny Bania.
A blog dedicated to the legality of the issues that arise in Seinfeld episodes, Seinfeld Law, has analyzed many of the classic Peterman moments as they might have played out in a court of law.
- "The Secret Code"
- "The Caddy"
- "The Shower Head"
- "The Friar's Club"
- "The Bottle Deposit" (Parts 1 and 2)
- "The Foundation"
- "The Chicken Roaster"
- "The Money"
- "The Comeback"
- "The Van Buren Boys"
- "The Susie"
- "The English Patient"
- "The Muffin Tops"
- "The Summer of George"
- "The Merv Griffin Show"
- "The Apology"
- "The Cartoon"
- "The Bookstore"
- "The Frogger"
- "The Finale" (Part 2 only)
Notes About Nothing
- John Peterman and his catalog, called J. Peterman, are real. Although the company is based in Lexington, Kentucky, not New York City, the character in the show resembles the way John Peterman talks and the actual catalog is spiced with tangential prose in the descriptions of the products—hard-to-find clothing and accessories (just as portrayed on the show).
The gallery page for Jacopo Peterman can be found here.