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Meet the real Kramer: The inspiration for `Seinfeld' role has turned
his life into bus tour

By Fred Kaplan, Globe Staff, 02/12/96

NEW YORK - Weekends at noon, a couple of dozen grown men and women
crowd the lobby of the John Houseman Theater, grinning sheepishly
because they're waiting for Kramer.

Cosmo Kramer: the hyperjolted neighbor-across-the-hall on ``Seinfeld,''
the nation's No. 1 TV comedy show, which airs Thursday nights (and
also, in syndication, nearly every night). But it's not Michael
Richards, the actor who plays him, that the fans are fidgeting to see.
It's Kenny Kramer, the real-life person on whom the TV character is

Through most of the '80s, the real Kramer lived across the hall from
Larry David, a stand-up comic who went on to become the cocreator and
head writer of ``Seinfeld'' and - in some traits (neuroses and
baldness) - the model for the show's George Costanza character. Kenny
and Larry barged in on each other's unlocked apartments, ate lunches
together, talked maniacally about Kramer's endless string of get-rich
schemes ... (Sound familiar?)

Cut to the present. Larry David is one of TV's most powerful producers;
Michael Richards is shopping for a $2.5 million house in Brentwood. So
Kenny Kramer, who lives in the same Manhattan apartment he did 10 years
ago, wants a piece of the action too - a little one, anyway.

For two weeks now, he's been running ``The Kramer Reality Tour,'' a
three-hour bus tour of landmarks from ``Seinfeld'' episodes, punctuated
by inside gossip, the true-life stories behind the scripts and trivia
contests (winners get ``I Know the Real Kramer'' T-shirts), and capped
by a lunch of pizza, cola and a Snickers bar - all for $27.50, double
that come March, when the tourists start streaming into the city.

Tickets are sold out for weeks to come, and Kramer's 800 number
(800-KRAMERS) has been ringing off the proverbial hook. The hard-core
enthusiasts who have gone on the voyage so far include a group of
friends who drove 40 miles from Jersey, a college student up from
Maryland, a couple from Long Island celebrating their 30th wedding
anniversary and the editor of a ``Seinfeld''-fan newsletter called
Nothing (which, as ``Seinfeld'' fans know, is what the show is about).

``As soon as I do this 10 times, I'm getting a 59-seat deluxe bus,''
Kramer likes to tell his audience. ``After that, I'm going to hire
somebody to play me. Then you'll have life imitating art imitating art
imitating life. And I'll be back in the Jacuzzi.'' Spoken like a real

Kramer starts his show trotting onto the theater's basement stage. He's
tall, 52, with a toothy smile and droopy mustache, wearing a backward
Yankees cap over graying shoulder-length hair, a blue jacket with
``Kramer'' inscribed on the breast pocket and a ``Seinfeld'' decal on
the shoulder, a paisley ascot over a blue work shirt over a gray
T-shirt, faded jeans and Army boots.

He reminisces about the old days, shows a videotape from 10 years ago
of Larry David doing a wildly funny stand-up bit about a teen-age boy
put on trial for self-abuse, then leads the audience onto the bus, on
opening day racing past a dozen cameramen and reporters pleading,
fruitlessly, for a free ride.

On the bus, a fan asks if the show pays him for the use of his name.
``Nah,'' Kramer replies. ``Look, in any given year, there are about 500
pilots made and two of them become hit shows. There was no way of
knowing this would be one of them and I didn't want to do anything to
hold things up.'' So when Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David asked him if
they could base a character on him for their pilot, he signed the $1

It was Seinfeld who liked the sound of keeping the character named
Kramer. In retrospect, the real Kramer is thankful. ``They were going
to call him Bender,'' he says. ``If that had happened, it wouldn't have
been as easy for me to cash in on this.''

Then, off to the landmarks, all on Manhattan's West Side. First,
Kam-wei Kitchen. In the episode where George calls China to get a
baldness-remedy cream, a Chinese-food delivery boy comes in and George
puts him on the phone to translate. ``This really happened and this is
where the Chinese food came from,'' Kramer enthuses. On the show,
Kramer videotapes George's bald head, for a before/after shot. This
really happened too, and Kramer flicks on the tape of Larry David's
bald head.

At this point, the bus driver - who, in a Seinfeldesque twist, turns
out to be Tim Jackson, who plays The Fat Guy on the David Letterman
show - points out a hit-and-run fender-bender going on 20 feet away.
The crowd yells, ``Kramer, go get him!'' Kramer strikes a Kramer pose
and shouts, in a fine impersonation of his Hollywood doppelganger,
``Excuse me, it's a job for Kramer!''

Back on the tour, there's Dak's Market (formerly Joe's), where on one
episode Kramer gets barred from shopping for squeezing the fruit. ``It
really happened to Larry, not me,'' Kramer says. ``Larry's a great
fruit picker, but he was a squeezer.''

There's the Soup Kitchen, model for the ``Soup Nazi'' episode about a
soup-stand owner who ladles out heavenly cuisine but only if you follow
his prisonlike rules. Like his TV counterpart, Kramer has befriended
the owner, who took offense at the show's nickname for him. ``This
man's a real artist who's suffering for his soup,'' Kramer intones.

And, of course, there's the photo op - Tom's Restaurant, on 112th and
Broadway, the exterior for the diner where the show's characters eat
and talk.

The tour ends at Manhattan Plaza, on West 43d, where Kramer and David
lived - and Kramer still lives - in subsidized housing for performing
artists. ``A little old lady lives across the hall now,'' he says. ``I
wonder what she's writing.'' He raises his eyebrows.

Over lunch, he puts on a video of outtakes shown at the ``Seinfeld''
end-of-season party. Everyone is rapt, not least Kenny Kramer. Some
wonder if he's bitter at being left behind. It doesn't seem so. How
many times had he watched this video - a dozen? a hundred? and he tapes
every ``Seinfeld'' episode too - yet there he sits, eyes glued to the
screen, laughing like a kid.



These landmarks are.......

This story ran on page 42 of the Boston Globe on 02/12/96.


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