Cliff Clavin

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Cliff Clavin
Cheers character
Cliff Clavin in Cheers.jpg
Cliff Clavin
Portrayed byJohn Ratzenberger
OccupationPostal Carrier[1]
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Cliff Clavin
Cheers character
Cliff Clavin in Cheers.jpg
Cliff Clavin
Portrayed byJohn Ratzenberger
OccupationPostal Carrier[1]

Clifford C. Clavin, Jr. (born 1950), also known as Cliff Clavin, is a character on the American television show Cheers, co-created and portrayed by John Ratzenberger.[2] He is a postal worker, a bar's know-it-all, and a game show contestant of Jeopardy! Originally, he was not scripted in the pilot episode, "Give Me a Ring Sometime", but portrayer Ratzenberger requested an addition of a know-it-all character, which resulted in Cliff Clavin. Ratzenberger made guest appearances as Cliff Clavin on Wings and Frasier.


Writing development

John Ratzenberger


In the original script of the 1982 pilot, "Give Me a Ring Sometime", there were no Norm Peterson (contrary to beliefs that Norm is an original character) and Cliff Clavin. George Wendt and John Ratzenberger originally auditioned for the minor character named George, and Wendt was hired for that role.[3][4] George was Diane Chambers's first customer, had only one line consisting of only one word, "Beer!", and would have lasted for only one episode.[3]

Since Wendt was cast as George (later evolved into Norm Peterson),[4] Ratzenberger suggested to the producers that a know-it-all character must be added, and that suggestion led to the addition of the character Cliff Clavin.[4] Ratzenberger based his role on a cop from his hometown Bridgeport, Connecticut. Originally, Cliff was the security guard, but, two days before the shooting of the Cheers pilot, he was changed to the postman for producers' perception as knowing more than the guard. Also, Ratzenberger signed up for seven episodes of the first season, but his role got expanded.[5]

Cliff is the kind of guy who wishes he'd been a combat Marine, but maybe he was nearsighted or had flat feet and became a mailman. He loves the respect he gets. [...] As for women, Cliff is like the construction workers who whistle at women but turn to a quivering mass when they're face-to-face with a woman. The greatest fear of men is that they won't live up to their expectations.[5]
—John Ratzenberger, The Associated Press, June 1985

Other appearances

Ratzenberger also appeared as Cliff in a series of New Zealand Post advertisements in the 1990s, each featuring a different service of the postal administration.[citation needed] He also appeared in a Pitney-Bowes commercial for automated postal scales for small businesses.[citation needed]

On the Cheers 200th Episode Special, host John McLaughlin asked Ratzenberger about Cliff Clavin. Ratzenberger said that Cliff would describe himself as the "wingnut that holds western civilization together." However, Ratzenberger said that he would describe Cliff simply as "A winged nut." When McLaughlin asked Ratzenberger if there was anything of him in Cliff, Ratzenberger said that he was also interested in fascinating facts and that the only part of Cliff in him was that he wears white socks.

Cliff appeared in 273 episodes of Cheers between 1982–1993 and originally appeared as a guest star. He appeared as an animated character (voiced by Ratzenberger) in The Simpsons episode "Fear of Flying".[6] He also made guest appearances in the Wings episode "The Story of Joe" and the Frasier episode "Cheerful Goodbyes" (his final appearance).


Cliff is a postal worker and Norm Peterson's (George Wendt) best friend. Cliff always lives with his mother, Esther Clavin (Frances Sternhagen), both in a two-story house, where he spent his childhood and it was bulldozed after Esther sold her property, and a small apartment with a sofabed. In "The Barstoolie" (1985), Cliff meets his father, Cliff Clavin, Sr. (Dick O'Neill), who left his son, Cliff, and wife years ago. Later, Cliff realizes that his father is a fugitive for fraud and that his father is going to run off again, as he did last time, without going to see Estelle again. Although Cliff Jr. does not want to turn him in, Cliff Sr. disappears, leaving Cliff Jr. disappointed.

Cliff does not have an on-screen relationship with any woman. He attempts every woman but becomes rejected. In "Cliffie's Big Score" (1986), he and Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) are dancing partners for the contest in one night. Carla, who is supposed to be his dancing partner, finds out that Diane was Cliff's first choice and then tells him that Diane has hots for him. Then Cliff attempts to seduce Diane in the car, but then Diane orders him to "get out" of the car, drives the car, and finally leaves him stranded in the woods.

Nevertheless, Cliff has relationships, including short-lived ones, with a few women, including Sally (Karen Akers) from "My Fair Clavin" (1987), who turns from homely to more attractive with a help of cosmetic magazines given by Cliff, who is advised by Rebecca. Cliff has relationships with a fellow postal worker Margaret O'Keefe (Annie Golden) since the seventh season (1988-89). When Margaret becomes pregnant in "Do Not Forsake Me O' My Postman" (1993) with another man's baby, Cliff stays with her side and decides to be the stepfather of her baby until Margaret runs back to the baby's father.

More often, he has been ridiculed and scorned by his friends and enemies, including Carla (Rhea Perlman) and Norm, for his know-it-all antics. He appears in the game show Jeopardy! in the Season Eight episode, "What Is... Cliff Clavin?" (1990). He scores $22,000 but wagers, then loses all with an incorrect response in the Final Jeopardy! round, and goes into an angry tirade that scares off the host, Alex Trebek.

In the 1993 series finale, Cliff is promoted into a higher position of a postal service. In "The Show Where Sam Shows Up" (1995), an episode of the Cheers spinoff Frasier, Sam Malone (Ted Danson) tells Frasier that, after reading an article about flesh-eating bacteria, Cliff has not left home. Then Sam finds out that Cliff is one of two men whom Sam's fiance, Sheila (Téa Leoni), had sex with. In another Frasier episode, "Cheerful Goodbyes", Cliff is having his retirement party at the airport bar and plans to retire and then to live in Florida, but then he decides to stay in Boston, much to Carla's dismay.


Steve Craig from the University of North Texas called Cliff Clavin a 'buffoon' "to be ridiculed and pitied for [failing] the standards of hegemonic masculinity".[7] Wendall Wittler from NBC News website called Cliff a "classic" character but found his friendship with Norm Peterson "superficial" and nothing compared to Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and Ed Norton (Art Carney) from the television sitcom The Honeymooners.[8]

According to the April 1–4, 1993, telephone survey of 1,011 people by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press (now Pew Research Center),[N 1] Sam Malone was voted a favorite of 26%; Cliff Clavin was voted a favorite of 2%.[9][10] For a question of having a spin-off of a character, 15% voted Sam, 12% voted Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), 10% voted Norm Peterson, and 29% voted no spin-offs.[10] Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), whose own spin-off Frasier debuted in September 1993, was voted 2% to have his own show.[11]

Cliff's appearance in Jeopardy! in "What Is... Cliff Clavin?" was reviewed by real-world sources. Andrew Razeghi from his book, Hope, described Cliff as a poster child of Joy Paul Guilford for a response to the "Final Jeopardy!" clue that Razeghi considered neither right nor wrong.[12] Jeffrey Robinson from DVD Talk found category topics, such as post office and beer, related to Cliff and Cliff's appearance in Jeopardy! a "riot".[13] In the Jeopardy! fan community, his losing $22,000, which he scored in two rounds, in Final Jeopardy! round inspired the name, "Clavin's rule", and the future contestants to avoid doing the same thing Cliff did in Jeopardy!.[14] Hot Springs Village Voice considered his know-it-all nature a cause of his own mishap at the game show.[15]


In 1993, plaintiffs John Ratzenberger and George Wendt filed lawsuit on defendant Host International, Inc., on account of infringing copyrights and trademarks and of violating actors' personality rights. In this court case, the company produced two robotic toys (one a "heavyset" and other a postal worker) that the actors claimed may resemble Cliff Clavin and Norm Peterson. The case was twice rejected by "a federal judge in California". In one hearing, before the case, the judge ruled that the defendant did not violate copyrights because Paramount Pictures already granted it license to produce Cheers-based themes and decors for mostly airport bars. In another, the judge ruled that these toys do not resemble these characters.[16]

In 1997, however, "the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals twice reinstated" the case, titled Wendt v. Host International, Inc.[17] In one hearing, it ruled that the "federal copyright law" does not triumph the California Celebrities Rights Act. In another, the 9th Circuit ordered a jury trial on the basis of publicity rights.[16] The case resulted an undisclosed settlement in 2001 given by the company.[18]


  1. ^ The margin of error in the survey was ±3, according to the polls.[9]
Inline citations
  1. ^ Reinhold, Robert (April 2, 1993). "One Last Round as 'Cheers' Finale Is Taped". The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2010.
  2. ^ Steinberg, Jacques (May 21, 1993). "Hoisting a Few to Say Goodbye to Themselves; At Tavern in Larchmont, the Appeal of 'Cheers' Can Be Seen in the Barroom Mirror". The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Wendt, p. 112.
  4. ^ a b c Wendt, pp. 113–114. John Ratzenberger auditioned for the role George, as well.
  5. ^ a b Buck, Jerry (June 28, 1985). "Actor created character from hometown friends". The Day (New London, Connecticut): p. 49. Retrieved November 1, 2012, at Google News Archive.
  6. ^ Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Fear of Flying". BBC. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
  7. ^ Craig 1993, p. 17.
  8. ^ Wittler, Wendall (May 5, 2004). "TV friendship before Friends". MSNBC. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
  9. ^ a b Mills, Kim I. "TV viewers glad Sam stayed single." The Sunday Gazette [Schenectady, NY] May 2, 1993: A3. Google News. Web. Jan 21, 2012. [1]. In this web source, scroll down to see its headline.
  10. ^ a b Leefler, Pete. "Show Piles Up Viewer Cheers." The Morning Call [Allentown, NY] May 2, 1993: A01. Web. Jan 17, 2012. [2]. (subscription required)
  11. ^ "Mixed Reaction to Post-Seinfeld Era." Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Pew Research Center May 10, 1998. Web. Feb 10, 2012 [3]
  12. ^ Razeghi 2006, p. 34.
  13. ^ Robinson, Jeffrey. "Cheers – The Complete Eighth Season." DVD Talk June 18, 2006. Web. May 11, 2012.
  14. ^ "J! Archive Help: Clavin's Rule." J! Archive, 2012. Web. May 11, 2012.
  15. ^ "Cheers star John Ratzenberger to be marshal at St. Patrick's Day parade." Hot Springs Village Voice December 3, 2008. Web. May 11, 2012.
  16. ^ a b "Justices Reject Cheers Appeal". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Associated Press (Milwaukee, Wisconsin): p. 6B. October 3, 2000. Retrieved July 23, 2012, at Google News Archive.
  17. ^ Wendt v. Host International, Inc. (9th Cir. 1997). Text No. 96-55243.
  18. ^ "Cheers Lawsuit Happily Settled". Sunday Star-News. The Associated Press: p. 4D. June 24, 2001. Retrieved July 23, 2012, at Google News Archive.