You’ve seen it on Seinfeld hundreds of times: A wiry, frizzy-haired fellow in a ridiculous shirt bursts into Jerry’s apartment. Then he ransacks the fridge while yammering about his latest harebrained scheme. Kramer, the man in question, seems like a character that could exist only in fiction, too absurd for real life. But he’s not. Seinfeld co-creator Larry David based the character on his own across-the-hall neighbor, a golf-loving, hot-tubbing fellow comedian named Kenny Kramer.
“Larry David does me like a book,” Kramer says. “We’ve been friends since 1977. For about five or six years, he lived across the hall from me, so he really knows me.”
Kenny Kramer has been running his Seinfeld Reality Tour in New York since 1996. He meets tourists in a theater to regale them with tales of his life and relationship with Larry David and then whisks them to a bus on which they travel to the various sites that inspired Seinfeld plots. He does it only once a week, and it sells out through word of mouth. It even inspired a plot on Seinfeld where Cosmo Kramer tries his own, less successful “Reality Tour.”
Essentially, Kenny Kramer has spent the past 20 years capitalizing on the part even though he wasn’t even considered for it.
“He wrote the character and asked permission to base a character on me — which I said of course, as long as I get to play the character — and he said, ‘But you can’t be Kramer.’ And I said, ‘But I am Kramer!’”
Still, he’s anything but bitter about the snub. Though Kenny Kramer is not a TV star, his link to the show let him find success in his own way. And as a comedian wise to the whims of the entertainment industry, he knows that the character played by Michael Richards, who refused to even consult with the real Kramer, has a much wider appeal.
“He’s a cartoon version of me,” Kenny says. “If I were to play Kramer, the show could’ve gone right down the tubes. In my career, I was a comedian. I say funny things, I have funny ideas, but I don’t slide through doors and do all that eccentric physical comedy that Michael does, and it was that ingredient to the character that really made the show accessible to anybody.”
Thursday, July 20, Kenny Kramer will perform an extended version of his NYC theater show at the Black Box in Boca Raton. He’s mum on the details — "I don’t wanna put that in print because that’s what I’m talking about at the show" — but he does share one story from Larry David’s torturous 1984 stint at Saturday Night Live, a tale that’s sewed into comedy lore. Throughout the season, none of the sketches David wrote were making it on-air, and one night, after learning yet another had been cut from the show, he cracked. He marched up to executive producer Dick Ebersol, cursed him out, and quit. When he returned home after midnight and realized what he’d done, he burst into Kramer’s apartment in a panic.
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“Larry comes through my door at 12:30, ashen white,” he remembers. “He says, ‘I just gave up ten shows; I gave up two or three years of income! I don’t know what the hell I’m gonna do now!’ I said, ‘Larry, you just gotta calm down! What you’re gonna do is, you go back on Monday and pretend like nothing happened. Sit at your desk, start writing.’ That’s what he did, and he finished the season.”
Sage advice from the real Kramer: Sometimes a little gaslighting goes a long way.