The New York Daily News, New York Weekend Section, January 27, 1996


Real 'Seinfeld' Kramer's
real job - playing himself

By Anne E. Kornblut

When it comes to the real Kramer, fiction is stranger than truth.

But that doesn't mean that Kenny Kramer, the 52-year-old who inspired the manic "Seinfeld" character, is a regular guy.

He leaves his apartment door unlocked at all times. He spies on New York One's headquarters with binoculars. He spends his days in the hot tub at Manhattan Plaza.

And while that sounds a lot like the "Seinfeld" character, there's also a pragmatic side to Kenny Kramer. Which is why now, for the first time in his life, he has landed a steady job - playing himself.

Today, the former comedian debuts in the John Houseman Theater's "Kramer's Reality Tour," a three-hour bus ride through Manhattan featuring classic "Seinfeld" sites - including Tom's Diner, the New York Health & Racquet Club and "Jerry's apartment" on West 81st Street.

No one better could lead the way.

"See? This is my Kramer jacket," boasted the frizzy-haired, 6-foot-1 Kramer, as he welcomed guests into his fourth-floor apartment in Manhattan Plaza last week. Around the living room there were other signs of Kramerlike disshevelment: cardboard taped to the floor warning of a gap, a Sumo wrestling poster on the wall and, of course, two pairs of binoculars on the window ledge.

As one might expect in Kramer's world, two neighbors stopped by bearing fruits and vegetables. "I'm a reformed vegetarian," he said, explaining that he still gets the urge for deep fried pork now and then.

It was across the hall from this slightly bizarre apartment that, for 10 years, comedy writer Larry David lived.

As David spent his days writing scripts for "Saturday Night Live" and the "Larry Sanders Show," Kramer dashed in and out of his unlocked apartment, describing wild business schemes and his latest female conquests. The two sustained a close neighborly friendship for more than 10 years, sharing one car, one television and a pair of black slacks for special occasions.

"The word to describe our relationship was 'amazing,'" said Kramer, who supported himself over the years by manufacturing disco jewelry, managing a rock reggae band and recording music in his apartment, among other sporadic projects. "I was amazed at Larry's work ethic, and he was amazed at my lack of one."

Kramer doesn't come by his lazy attitude towards work honestly. His mothers, an isotope research scientist, raised him by herself in the Bronx and then Riverdale. His father died when Kramer was very young, fighting during World War II.

After studying drums at Performing Arts High School, Kramer graduated to what he calls the "school of the street," performing in comedy clubs around the country and pursuing one entrepreneurial venture after another, with long stretches in the hot tub and on the golf course in between.

Then, in 1988, David, who had teamed up with Jerry Seinfeld to create a new sitcom, approached Kramer with a life-altering question.

"He said, 'Kram, we're thinking of basing a character on you. Do you have a problem with that?'" Kramer recalled. "And I said, 'Of course not. Anything to aid and abet your career. Can I play him?'"

The answer, as "Seinfeld" fans know, was no. Michael Richards, a then-unknown actor, landed the part instead, and added his own frantic hand gestures and dramatic entrances to the script to create the show's singular cult hero.

And during "Seinfeld's" first seven years, Kenny Kramer was content to watch his fictional persona's popularity explode. He gave David occasional advice, and taped every episode. He and Richards did not even meet until more than 35 episodes had been shot.

Last spring, however, Kramer began to recognize the potential of his name.

"I wrote a proposal for a Kramer CD-ROM last year," recalled Kramer, on one of his many passionate tangents about new media technology. "They said it needed 'entertainment value,' so that was the genesis of the idea for Kramer's Reality Tour."

Kramer, though more down-to-earth than his television caricature, also needed business counsel. So he hired comedian Bobby Allen Brooks as the show's director and as his own "official Kramer biographer."

"He's lost a lot of brain cells at this point in life," cracked Brooks, another neighbor. "I've got to make sure Kenny stays in reality for those three hours of the tour."

Brooks also has to make sure the tour's promotion isn't uncontrollable. In recent weeks, "Seinfeld" fans have kept Kramer's 1-800 number - which he answers himself - ringing at least 18 hours a day. His web site,, draws hundreds of daily visitors as well.

And "Kramer's Reality Tour," scheduled for 10 shows over the next five weeks, has already sold out - filling the unlikely star with larger dreams. He's busily scouting for a larger bus to accommodate fans once it premieres. He's earned his city tour guide license, in the hopes of expanding the Kramer tourism empire to the boroughs.

Maybe, Kramer sighed, he'll someday be able to help the Soup Nazi - the real-life upper West Side restaurateur on which the nasty "Seinfeld" character is based - restore his image.

Is he at all embarrassed about cashing in on his own name?

"I'm shamelessly promoting myself here." Kramer grinned. "It's art imitating art imitating life."