The NBC comedy Cheers was full of memorable characters. John Ratzenberger played Cliff Clavin, the postal worker who shares factoids with his fellow patrons and the Cheers employees. Ratzenberger had a very lofty opinion of Cliff. In fact, he once compared Cliff to John Wayne.
The cast of Cheers spoke with the Los Angeles Times in 1993 before the series finale aired. This was Ratzenberger’s opportunity to reveal what a badass hero his Cheers character really was.
The John Wayne/Cliff Clavin connection
Ratzenberger wasn’t comparing his performance to Wayne’s, nor his own performance to actual postal workers. In fact, it was the nature of playing a postal worker on Cheers that made Ratzenberger feel like Wayne.
Cliff is the John Wayne of the postal workers because I am out there in the trenches,” Ratzenberger told the L.A. Times. “Like John Wayne, who never actually went to war but was a war hero, Cliff never delivered a letter. But he is a hero to all the letter carriers in America.”
Cheers was a sitcom with the main set being the bar. They left the bar occasionally. Cliff even got to appear on Jeopardy!. But, they never followed him on his postal route. Wayne at least got to go on location for westerns and war movies, but they were both just acting.
John Ratzenberg invented the character of Cliff Clavin on ‘Cheers’
The story goes, Ratzenberger was auditioning for Norm. He didn’t get that part but he suggested they had a know-it-all to Cheers. Then Ratzenberger improvised the character who became Cliff. Director James Burrows validates this story too. By the end of 11 seasons, Ratzenberger reflected on Cliff.
“Cliff was totally unpredictable,” Ratzenberger said. “He was just a silly goose. You didn’t know what he was going to say at any given moment. You were always waiting for some outlandish bits of information to roll out of his mouth.”
The positive sides of Cliff Clavin
Cliff annoyed the people of Cheers but they never kicked him out. Ratzenberger highlighted two positive aspects of Cliff. For one, his job gave him experiences to bring back to Cheers.
He had more freedom than the other characters because his job took him out into the world,” Ratzenberger said.
More importantly, Cliff stood by his friends at Cheers. That might be another quality he shared with John Wayne. Wayne liked to work with the same directors like John Ford, and he made patriotic movies, be they westerns or war movies.
“He was also a loyal character, even though the other characters didn’t like being around him,” Ratzenberger said. “Cliff was a loyal individual in that if you were in a hospital, he would visit you. If you had a flat tire, he would help you fix it. I admire that quality in anybody.”
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