It wasn’t the best week for the two hockey allegiances of actor Patrick Warburton. First came his hometown Los Angeles Kings, swept from these Stanley Cup playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights last Tuesday. He has rooted for them since the Marcel Dionne days, sporadically attending games with a friend whose father bought tickets, regularly waging street hockey wars around the neighborhood cul-de-sac. Perhaps the Kings should’ve called upon Warburton’s skills in their first-round series; given that they only managed three goals over four games, it couldn’t have hurt.
Less than 24 hours after Los Angeles was eliminated, Warburton jetted cross-country to cheer for his other beloved team in person. Well, technically it wasn’t Warburton so much as David Puddy, the high-fiving, face-and-chest-painting Devils diehard from Seinfeld, who tore off his red Martin Brodeur jersey prior to Game 4 of New Jersey-Tampa Bay and unleashed his signature lines to rev up the Prudential Center crowd: “We’re the Devils! The Devils!”
But Warburton has been along for the ride ever since the episode aired 23 years ago, a month and a half before the franchise won its first Stanley Cup in real life. The bond is still strong. Clips from the episode always play at home games, invariably showing Warburton shrieking at a priest. A group of players recently wore T-shirts emblazoned with his demonically charged face.
Filming for Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events precluded Warburton from paying close attention to recent happenings around the league. “It is crazy when you take a peek inside and you haven’t been there for the season and you’re like, 'Wow, two of the most dangerous teams are from Las Vegas and Florida,'” he says. “What’s become of the NHL?” His surprise guest appearance in Newark was also followed by a 3-1 loss to the Lightning, who later clinched the series Saturday on home ice, but Warburton wasn’t feeling down when he spoke with SI.com.
He was still, as Puddy might put it, supporting the team.
“You know, that’s the NHL playoffs,” he says. “The Kings had that amazing run that one year when they went in with the eighth seed and won the Cup. Tampa Bay, they’re really hot. The Devils are a young team, a lot of character. They’re young. They’ll get even stronger and better."
SI: Do you remember when you read the script for that episode? There’s no way you thought it would last 20-plus years.
PW: No, but you did know at the time just because it was Seinfeld. It was the sixth season and I had just done one episode before “The Face Painter.” They had brought me back a few weeks later. I loved the idea of it all. The insane face-painting hockey fan David Puddy seemed like the perfect character to navigate that journey. It was fun. I laughed when I read the script.
SI: Are you anywhere close to that level of fandom?
PW: I’m not a huge fan. I follow more when they go to the postseason. The last two years I’ve spent primarily in Vancouver working on this Netflix series. I have a large family, four kids, four dogs. There’s so much going on. I’m not sitting down, watching games all the time. I’m not pretending that I’m an avid fan, but they’re a part of my life. I was there when they won the Stanley Cup the first time, which was amazing. We were at all the home games during that series.
SI: So how’d the call come in to do Game 4 in New Jersey?
PW: It’s interesting. I think a lot of actors tend to shy away from this stuff, because it’s a lot of their past. I just thought it’d be fun. They didn’t pay me a dime. I said I won’t take money, but you can donate some awesome auction items for my St. Jude event. And so they were all about that. I’m going to stay in touch with these guys. I got to meet all the players, the players’ wives. It’s a really cool organization. It was really cool to actually be there, meet a lot of the new faces.
It’s fun to be a part of it, to go out there and root them on. Really wanted to see them get through this round, but Tampa Bay’s really, really tough this year. I think the Devils will do even better next year, because they are young.
SI: How long did the face paint take?
PW: Not long. She was really good. She’s a professional face painter. I think it looked as good as it ever did.
SI: It looked pretty similar to the show.
PW: Yeah, she nailed it.
SI: Did she do your chest too?
SI: What’d you think of the team wearing shirts with your face on it?
PW: I loved it. Then there’s the goalie who had my face painted on his mask. Scott Wedgewood. Now he’s actually with the Los Angeles Kings.
SI: So he’s on your team now.
PW: They’re both my team!
SI: I guess you can claim the Devils because you were born there, right?
PW: Yeah, I was born in Paterson, New Jersey. I left when I was three.
SI: What were the reactions like to seeing you in the crowd?
PW: It was funny how everybody bit on that when I Instagrammed me sitting there going, in face paint at the Devils game, still yet to be noticed. Even my wife was like, no one noticed you? They’ve been showing me on that trinitron every game for years. I just snapped that picture looking anonymous. They waited until everyone was in their seats to sneak down there. I go, “Honey, I’ve never been more obvious than when I have face paint on at a Devils game.”
It’s impossible to hide. It’s like that guy who escaped from prison with tattoos on his face. Hey, you’re not going to be out for long, fella.
SI: Didn’t the Devils win the Cup the year the episode aired?
PW: That year, they started showing it on the trinitron during the games and it was the first year they ever won the Stanley Cup. Unbeknownst to me, I’d become a little part of it, a little good-luck charm. They invited me to come out to opening day for the Stanley Cup-champion New Jersey Devils. It was a great honor. They said, “What would you like to do? Sing the national anthem, raise the Stanley Cup banner, drop the puck?” I said, “I’m really confident I’ll kill the national anthem, how about I drop the puck.”
This is a great story. My brother-in-law, who had just become a professor at the University of Georgia, they were having a party in his honor to welcome him to the college and he blew it off to go to New York with me for the puck drop on opening day. There’s your diehard sports fan.
So he comes up. Of course we have a really, really late night. The next day, I wasn’t big on putting that D on my chest. I just said, “How about we paint my face? I’m not taking the jersey off, right?” They go, “Oh, we’d love to put the D on your chest.” I’m beat up. I got no sleep the night before. So after about a half an hour of the build-up, screaming and emotional hockey fans, it’s my turn to come out. On the speaker comes, “From the cast of Seinfeld…” I like the way that sounds. I’d only done two episodes. Everybody’s roaring. I came out. I walk down the red carpet. I shook both the captains’ hands; I looked in Scott Stevens’s face and started screaming.
I’m a hungover mess. I’m not taking the jersey off. It just doesn’t seem right. I’m walking back on the red carpet and I almost fall and the whole crowd goes, “Ooo.” Just there I’m thinking to myself, I’m so glad I got that D on my chest. So I slowly stand up and stare down the entire arena. I think everyone’s wondering what the f--- is happening. Then I just rip off the jersey. The whole place goes crazy.
It’s weird how from one episode of TV, there’s this whole thing going on in New Jersey that’s gotten bigger than life over the years. It’s so strange how it’s from one episode of a half-hour show. That’s sports.
SI: Any fun interactions this time around?
PW: It was fun hanging out in Hoboken. We went to a really cool bar in Newark, right across from the arena that the Devils fans go to afterwards. Of course they would’ve been in better spirits if they won. Great trip. Great experience. Good bonding with all the folks who love the show there. They were all very accommodating.
SI: Reconnect to your hockey roots a little bit.
PW: Maybe I’ll do it again. Maybe I won’t wait 20 years.