SALT LAKE CITY — In season eight of “Seinfeld,” J. Peterman, eccentric owner of the J. Peterman Catalog, has a nervous breakdown and spontaneously travels to Southeast Asia, leaving his business in the hands of a perplexed Elaine Benes.
One of the first moves Elaine makes in her new position of leadership is to put the urban sombrero, a comically oversized brown hat that “combines the spirit of old Mexico with a little big city panache” on the catalog’s cover.
Peterman is so mortified when he learns the urban sombrero has come to fruition that he returns from his journey, ready once more to offer his signature clothing descriptions laced with Ernest Hemingway-inspired prose.
That “Seinfeld” episode aired in 1996, and more than 20 years later, actor John O’Hurley, the man behind the beloved Peterman character, remains adamant he would’ve nixed the hat had he been in charge. But as O’Hurley — who is just as descriptive as his “Seinfeld” character — recently told the Deseret News, these are decisions he continues to make today as he is part-owner of the real-life J. Peterman Company.
“In 1999, the year after (“Seinfeld”) ended, I bought the company,” O’Hurley said. “So I own with John Peterman the real J. Peterman Company. We’re very close friends. Ever since the show started we’ve been close friends.”
O’Hurley, who describes his Peterman character as “the world's eternal optimist” who viewed “even a trip to the latrine as an adventure,” is bringing his show of memoirs, titled “A Man With Standards,” to a sold-out crowd to DeJoria Center in Kamas Saturday, Feb. 10.
While O’Hurley is best known for playing Peterman in “Seinfeld,” his career covers a vast number of roles, including “Family Feud” host from 2006-2010, “Dancing With the Stars” season one contestant and a slew of guest appearances in TV shows shows ranging from “Murder, She Wrote” to “The X-Files.”
O’Hurley is also a classically trained vocalist and self-taught pianist, and he plans on sharing many of the stories and songs of his eclectic career and life with his Utah audience on Saturday.
“I’m a storyteller, I’ve always been a storyteller — even Peterman was a storyteller. That’s kind of where I’m branded and I like that,” O’Hurley said. “These are the stories of my life underscored by the music of my life. And in most respects, it’s been the music of the ‘50s and the ‘60s, songs from the Great American Songbook, the Mancinis, the Sinatras and other artists that truly affected my life as I grew up.”
O’Hurley has performed “A Man With Standards” for about two years now, and the show walks his audience through the significant phases of his life — from being a confident 3-year-old who was certain he belonged on his family's black-and-white TV screen to learning how to effortlessly recite clothing catalog descriptions on “Seinfeld” to meeting his wife and becoming a father. In fact, during the show he performs a song he wrote about meeting his wife, an event he recounted in a very Peterman-esque manner.
“Our meeting was so happenstance … in the fact that synchronicity plays so much into the highs and the lows of our lives," he said, "that if you had turned your head a different way you never would have caught that person’s glance and your life would have been different."
The show’s name, “A Man With Standards,” is a play on words as it references the classic music of O’Hurley’s life while also channeling what the actor views to be a bygone era.
“I was lucky enough to grow up in the shadow of men who had standards,” he said. “Saturday night, you took your wife or your girlfriend out for dinner and dancing, always dinner and dancing — it was one word. It was never one or the other. … It was a different world back then, and all of the songs were hummable and the words were memorable. We’ve kind of lost that.”
As O'Hurley prepares to bring a number of his stories to Utah, including his experiences on "Seinfeld," fans of the show might be shocked to learn of the other character O'Hurley would have liked to play — George Constanza.
“I always liked George’s character. I don’t think I would’ve been appropriate for it, but I always liked his character," O'Hurley said. "I thought it was one of the most interesting characters because he was internally mediocre. He always swung from the middle rung on the ladder of life. No matter what it was, he was going to be mediocre.”
If you go …
What: John O'Hurley's "A Man With Standards"
When: Saturday, Feb. 10, 8 p.m.
Where: DeJoria Center, 970 N. State Rd. 32, Kamas
How much: Sold-out