Cranston Herald, Providence, Rhode Island, July 4, 1996

The Real Kramer Comes To Town
By Peter Iannuccilli

Who came first Cosmo or Kenny? Kramer that is.

For the past seven years, Seinfeld fans have fallen in love with Cosmo Kramer, the wacky, high-haired independent that lives next door to comedian Jerry Seinfeld, but now lovers of the hit sitcom can learn about the show's origins from Kenny Kramer or "The Real Kramer."

Last Wednesday, Kramer's "Reality Tour" came to the auditorium of the URI Shepard Building in Providence thanks to the Learning Connection. For $29, members of the always-growing Seinfeld cult were able to have questions answered by Kenny Kramer, Seinfeld Executive Producer Larry David's former next door neighbor who the character of Cosmo Kramer is based on. Rare video footage was shown to prove that this was no lie.

Since January, Kenny Kramer has had a bus tour around New York City where he brings fans to siets frequented by the Seinfeld characters. But last Wednesday was the first time he brought his tour on the road.

With his long black hair pushed back with a baseball hat turned backwards, Kenny, 52, stood on stage dressed in a pink, shortsleeve button down shirt from the 1970's, worn-out blue jeans and Spot Bilt running sneakers. The wardrobe was comparable to Cosmo's, but that was where the physical similarities ended.

"His hair goes up. Mine goes down," said Kenny. "He's clean shaven. I have a mustache."

The show, which lasted just under 3 1/2 hours, was vintage Cosmo Kramer. It was interesting. Cosmo is interesting. It was funny. Cosmo is funny. There were unexpected foul-ups (three computer breakdowns that paused the show each time). Cosmo is always performing unexpected foul-ups. For "Reality Tour" co-host Bobby Allen Brooks, the show was frustrating because Kenny insisted on doing it his way. For Seinfeld characters, Cosmo is frustrating because of his stubborness.

The best part of the show was it told stories that nobody has heard before and provided a history of Seinfeld that every fan wants to know.

The Creation

In 1977, Kenny Kramer and Larry David moved into Manhattan Plaza, a new apartment building owned by New York City. It was subsidized housing for performing artists. "If you proved that 70 percent of your income came from the performing arts, you could live there and pay 25 percent of your salary as rent. The city would pay the rest. It was a system to allow you to fulfill your dreams," explained Kenny, who currently lives in the same apartment. Stars such as Angela Lansbury, Tennessee Williams and Christian Slater lived in Manhattan Plaza.

Kenny and David lived next door to each other and became great friends. They were both standup comedians.

"Larry David's act was like stand-up Russian Roulette," Kenny told the crowd of 65. "Audiences either loved him or hated him. He could not take any rejection ... Every day, he would write, write, write and I was partying, basically."

By 1987, Jerry Seinfeld was a huge standup hit and David was still struggling. David approached him with the idea of Seinfeld.

Fans know the rest from "The Show Within the Show," an episode of Seinfeld during which George and Jerry want to create a sitcom about nothing. That episode is basically reality.

The character of George is based on Larry David. Jerry Seinfeld is based on Jerry Seinfeld and Cosmo Kramer is based on Kenny Kramer. Elaine was added later when NBC said the writers had to add a woman.

"When they (Seinfeld and David) were writing the pilot, Larry came over and said, "Kenny we're going to use you for a character,'" explained Kenny. "I said, 'OK.'"

The rest was history except that the character was almost named "Bender" instead of Kramer because when Kenny was first asked to sign a contract to release his name, he was told he could not receive any money off the name "Kramer." He refused to sign it and David said well, we'll just use the name "Bender." But Seinfeld said he had to have the name "Kramer" so Kenny worked out a deal where they could not use his first name and he did have the right to "Kramer."

The Stories

With the help of pictures, Kenny told stories of some of the episodes that were realities. He showed a picture of the Kam Wei Kitchen to bring the audience back to the episode where George decided to order a hair growth solution from China. When he called to order, the person on the other end of the phone only spoke the Chinese language. When a Chinese delivery boy from the Kam Wei Kitchen shows up at the door with George's takeout, he makes the boy order the hair growth product by speaking Chinese. When he gets the product in the mail, Cosmo videotapes George's bald head to get a before-and-after effect.

A much similar incident occurred in real life except George was Larry David. "He had the takeout boy order this stuff and when it arrived, it (the hair product) smelled so bad," said Kenny. "But Larry said it was going to grow hair. He had to try it."

Kenny showed the actual footage of when he videotaped David's head 15 years ago. The audience enjoyed the bit.

Another reality is the episode about "the soup nazi" - a cold chef who makes incredibly delicious soup, but will not serve you unless you stand in line and don't make a sound.

Al is the name of the real-life chef. He owns The Soup Kitchen. Every time Kenny stops at The Soup Kitchen on his "Reality Tour" through New York, Al refuses to smile, wave or acknowledge him. "But his soup is amazing," Kenny told the audience. "The seafood bisque has large chunks of lobster in it."

Sometimes Larry David would switch the roles of the real life characters and the fictional characters.

"My apartment was always open to my friends," said Kenny. "Larry used to always walk into my apartment and take food out of my refrigerator. One day he said he would pay me for everything he took from me so he began writing down everything he took and put a price on each item."

This bit showed up this past season in Seinfeld, but Cosmo was the one taking from Jerry's refrigerator.

Last Wednesday's show proved Kenny Kramer has been a quiet part of the success of Seinfeld. Next season, Larry David will not be involved with the show for the first time since it began. On the show, David is also the voice of George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees and George's boss. Kenny Kramer knows Larry David so well he does a perfect imitation of him; therefore, he can do a great imitation of David doing George Steinbrenner.

Who knows, Kenny Kramer could take that role next year and reality might meet fiction face to face.