With Help of ' Seinfeld, ' Legend in His Own Time; The Real Kramer Cashes In


Seven years ago, when the comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David were
sitting in Mr. David's apartment creating a television show about a single
comedian in New York, they based a character on the lanky bachelor living
across the hall, an affable guy named Kenny Kramer who had no visible means
of support and a lot of free time to spend on projects that didn't work out
exactly as planned.

Today, the Kramer character on '' Seinfeld'' is an internationally renowned
New Yorker, so famous that his real-life model has an idea for another
project. Mr. Kramer, who still lives in the same midtown apartment, is
starting up Kramer's Reality Tour, which he cheerfully calls ''a shameless
attempt to capitalize on my illustrious name and branded identity.''
Beginning on Jan. 27 at the John Houseman Theater on West 42d Street, Mr.
Kramer will show video clips, serve pizza and conduct bus tours of spots
sacred to the legions of '' Seinfeld'' fans. It will be a mobile Off
Broadway tribute to New York landmarks: the facade of the coffee shop where
the '' Seinfeld'' characters meet; the bar where Kramer apologized for
punching Mickey Mantle; the midtown office building where Kramer found
someone to publish his coffee table book about coffee tables; the takeout
shop on West 55th Street near Eighth Avenue with the great soup and
notoriously strict chef.

The Real Kramer, as Mr. Kramer now calls himself, will also use the tour to
differentiate reality from fiction, which gets a little tricky. On the
show, Mr. Seinfeld plays himself, Jerry, a comedian living at 129 West 81st
Street (Mr. Seinfeld's real former address, although the brick facade shown
on television is actually an apartment building in Los Angeles, where the
series is taped).

Mr. David, the show's executive producer, is roughly represented by George,
a character who acts out Mr. David's most neurotic fantasies. Mr. Kramer is
represented by Kramer, an unemployed schemer who lives across the hall from
Jerry and likes to burst frantically through the door without warning.
In real life, Mr. Kramer and Mr. David lived across the hall from each
other at Manhattan Plaza, the housing complex for performing artists at 43d
Street and 10th Avenue. As incredible as it may seem to New Yorkers, these
two single Manhattanites actually did leave their apartments unlocked and
walk in on each other without knocking.

''Kenny was always coming up with these oddball schemes that sounded like
they were made up for a television show,'' Mr. David recalled. ''He'd talk
you into doing something with him, and it would invariably turn out bad for
you. He'd do something like disappear and leave you waiting in the car for
an hour. This new idea, the Reality Tour, is something that the television
Kramer would do. I hope it works out for Kenny better than most of Kramer's
ideas on the show.'' Mr. Kramer, 52, prides himself on never having had a
straight job. He grew up in the Tremont section of the Bronx, dropped out
of high school at 17, sold magazines door to door, played drums in a
Catskills resort band and ended up working as a stand-up comedian for a
decade. He gave up that career in 1981 when one of his ideas paid off:
electronic disco jewelry.

''I hired handicapped workers to assemble earrings and other jewelry that
lit up,'' Mr. Kramer said. ''We'd attach a 15-cent red light to a 10-cent
watch battery and sell it for $6 in the discos. People went crazy for it.
It had this magical effect when you saw it glowing on someone's ear in the
dark. That lasted for a couple of years, and it gave me a financial
cushion.'' Since the disco jewelry days, Mr. Kramer said, he has occupied
himself coaching karate, managing an English rock-reggae band in Amsterdam,
converting his bedroom into a mini-studio for recording jingles, promoting
a coloring book on substance abuse and doing voice-overs for adult comic
strips on CD-ROM. When the first '' Seinfeld'' episode was being written,
he briefly lobbied to be allowed to play himself on the program, but he's
now thankful that the actor Michael Richards was chosen instead.

''If I'd played Kramer, it never would have flown the way it has with
Michael,'' Mr. Kramer said. ''He's the one who came up with the weird
clothes and the physical antics that have nothing to do with me. He has to
figure a new way to walk in the door every week. It takes amazing
preparation, minute detail and a lot of work.'' Such discipline doesn't
come naturally to the Real Kramer, which is why he has enlisted another
neighbor, Bobby Allen Brooks, to direct and accompany him on the Reality

''My job,'' Mr. Brooks said, ''is to make Kenny rehearse and make sure that
we cover the necessary points during the tour, that Kenny doesn't spend the
two-hour tours talking instead about the Internet, which is entirely
possible.'' The Real Kramer tried to be disciplined as he gave a preview of
the Reality Tour last weekend. He walked up Ninth Avenue, pausing near 43d
Street to point out Dak's Market, formerly Joe's Market, the name of the
fruit stand from which the television Kramer was banned. ''In the show it
was Kramer who was banned from buying fruit there, but in real life it was
Larry David,'' Mr. Kramer said. ''He was squeezing.'' Mr. Kramer pointed a
few doors down to Kam Wei Kitchen, the Chinese restaurant whose delivery
man actually helped Mr. David place a telephone order to China for an
ointment purported to cure baldness.

''On the show, after the delivery guy helps George order the stuff, Kramer
videotapes George's head so they can see later if any new hair comes in,''
he said. ''In real life, I did that for Larry. We're going to show that
videotape of his head during the tour.'' Nearby, at the Westway Diner on
Ninth Avenue, Mr. Kramer pointed out the booth next to the cash register
where Mr. David and Mr. Seinfeld drew up early plans for their show (''a
show about nothing,'' as George describes it to Jerry during the episode in
which they're planning to write a show about themselves). Mr. Kramer sat
down for a cup of coffee with his director, and for a moment his new
discipline flagged.

It was a classically Krameresque situation. Mr. Brooks, hoping to sell some
of the $27.50 tickets to the Reality Tour, wanted to tell a reporter the
''800'' number installed in Mr. Kramer's apartment for information. But Mr.
Kramer didn't want it published.

''I've been giving that number to women at parties, and it's amazing how
well it works,'' he said. ''An '800' number is a great babe magnet. I don't
want to tie up the line with a lot of other calls. Let people call the
Houseman Theater if they want information.'' Mr. Brooks was getting
exasperated. ''Here is the insanity of the Real Kramer. He's got the '800'
number, he's got The New York Times here, and he'll throw it all away for
the possibility of one night with a woman.'' Mr. Kramer grinned and
described how the Kramer character is endowed with ''kavorca,'' the
mysterious Latvian Orthodox ''lure of the animal'' that women find

''When I'm asked how I feel about Kramer, '' he said, ''I say, well,
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 kavorca.''
Mr. Kramer was eventually persuaded to give out the number - (800) KRAMERS
- but he insisted that the Real Kramer was not about to become permanently
disciplined. ''I've promised myself that I'll work hard for two years so I
can then officially retire,'' he said, explaining that he already envisions
the day when Kramer's Reality Tour goes on without him.

''My goal,'' he said, ''is to have an actor playing my part. That way we'll
have art imitating life imitating art imitating life. And I can sit back home in the

© 1996 New York Times.