The modern classic sitcom Seinfeld has remained a cultural touchstone since its final episode aired 25 years ago. The series, created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, is idiosyncratic and specific in its view of the world, so much so that it seems infeasible that it could have been just completely made up. No matter how outrageous and deplorable the characters and their antics became, the “show about nothing” counted on mundane relatability to connect with audiences, and the show’s creators mined real life to craft many of its stories and characters. Even Seinfeld‘s least relatable component, the eccentric next-door neighbor Cosmo Kramer, is based directly on a real person, fantastical as that may sound. Somewhere, the real Kramer walks among us.
Kenny Kramer and the Real Life Inspirations of ‘Seinfeld’
Kramer, the fan favorite played by Michael Richards who lives across the hall from Jerry, was based on a very real person named Kenny Kramer, who lived next to Larry David at Manhattan Plaza in New York. David identified his neighbor as quite the character — to the point that he would eventually be written as one of the four main characters of the show. Seinfeld’s character was, of course, based on the mid-level comic at the time. George Costanza (Jason Alexander) was loosely based on David, and Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) was inspired by Monica Yates, a former romantic partner-turned-friend of David’s who was the daughter of author Richard Yates. The milieu of personal experiences and friendships in the lives of Seinfeld and David elevated the show’s humor and indelible nature, and the origins of Cosmo Kramer are the richest of all.
Cosmo’s most memorable traits resembled the likeness of Kenny, even the physical appearance. The real Kramer did not have a definable occupation — something he is proud of. Dropping out of high school at 17, Kramer began his musical-chairs career selling magazines door to door, playing drums, performing stand-up comedy, and then inventing electronic disco jewelry, which he was able to sell to some clubs. He would then transition to being a karate manager, promoted a coloring book on substance abuse, and did voice-overs for adult comic strips on CD-ROM. In 1997 and 2001, Kramer ran for mayor of New York City, running as a Democrat at first, but then switching to the Libertarian party in his second bid.
This quirky resume sounds like a list of things Cosmo Kramer would do to keep himself busy in a season of Seinfeld. In actuality, as explained in a behind-the-scenes featurette, Kramer’s most associative traits were pulled from the life of Kenny, including his passion for fruit, golf, hot tubs, and his promiscuous love life. Kenny would always have eccentric ideas floating around in his head. Using Jerry’s refrigerator, a series staple, mirrored real life as Kenny constantly “borrowed” items from David’s refrigerator. Hilarious storylines throughout the series were inspired by Kenny’s actions and behavior. In the Season 4 episode of Seinfeld, “The Pilot,” when Jerry and George are writing their TV show, Kramer demanded the only way the two would be permitted to use his likeness as a character is if he got to play himself. During the real-life development of Seinfeld, Kenny Kramer similarly demanded that Castle Rock, the show’s production company, allow him to play himself on screen. If one listens carefully, in the pilot episode of the series, Jerry refers to Kramer, in his first appearance, as “Kessler.” The character’s name was initially altered by David to avoid complications involving rights and financial dues, but Seinfeld convinced his partner to stick with “Kramer,” as he was enamored with the name.
Kramer Cashes in on The Success of ‘Seinfeld’
The realization of Kenny Kramer’s 15 Minutes of Fame came to fruition with the launch of Kramer’s Reality Tour in 1996. This was a bus trip led by Kramer that mapped out locations in New York City made famous by Seinfeld, such as the real exterior of Monk’s Restaurant and the inspiration of the “Soup Nazi.” Kramer’s attempt to cash in on the success of the show was a hit. The tour was parodied in the episode, “The Muffin Tops,” when the on-screen Kramer coordinates a bus tour as the “Real J. Peterman” after lending the catalog sales company owner his own stories for his autobiography. Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, the real-life tour was still running consistently under Kramer’s supervision. Its return remains indefinite, according to his website.
If this sounds like a shameless cash grab, at least Kramer cops to it himself, referring to the tour as a “shameless attempt to capitalize on my illustrious name and branded identity” to The New York Times. The Times article reveals his thoughts on his fictionalized portrayal in the sitcom, as Kramer says, “There’s the yin and the yang. On the one hand, the show does paint me out to be a pretty messed-up doofus. But thank God they gave me some kavorka,” referring to the trait coined by Cosmo Kramer that makes him romantically irresistible to women. In general, Kenny Kramer is in good spirits about the depiction of his likeness that has been watched by millions during its original airing, syndication, and streaming on Netflix.
How Michael Richards Expanded Upon Kenny Kramer
As detailed extensively in the featurette, David and the entire cast and crew credit Richards for developing the Kramer character with his own ideas, such as wardrobes, and branching Kramer out as a dynamic slapstick performer. He never met with the real Kramer, instead relying on the material given to him by the writing staff. Alexander cited both Richards and Kramer as “mad,” but in “different ways.” Louis-Dreyfus described sharing the screen with Richards during a physical gag as unnerving due to his unpredictability. Kenny Kramer, while an outgoing figure, did not possess the manic frenzy embodied by Richard’s performance. The actor’s live-wire style of performing made him a perfect fit for the character, and he thrived to the point that audiences were told to refrain from uproarious applause whenever he entered the scene.
David proved that sometimes the best comedy comes from what already exists, and he managed to exploit his neighbor’s eccentricities to round out the indelible universe of the show. Seinfeld is a precise balance between inspirations from real people and events and pure imagination and creativity. David was selective in choosing what aspects of his next-door neighbor’s oddball personality to integrate into the series. Richards, a committed actor with a mountain of creative ideas, used the recipes he received to craft something original. The sitcom archetype of the next-door neighbor is familiar to audiences. It has become a cliché for sitcoms. David put his unique spin on the vanilla character type and constructed an overwhelming force and presence that TV screens had never seen before. And all he had to do was watch his neighbor Kenny enter his apartment and swipe a mango from his kitchen.