When writer Larry David wanted to create an episode for his NBC sitcom starring Jerry Seinfeld about its characters creating a fictional NBC sitcom starring Jerry Seinfeld, the real show’s Kramer character expressed a wish to play the fictional Kramer character on the fictional show. The episode was based on a real exchange David once had with the real, live Kramer, his across-the-hall neighbor, Kenny Kramer, who demanded to play the fictional Kramer he inspired for David’s real show.
If all of that makes sense, congratulations on earning that doctorate in “Seinfeld”-osophy. If it doesn’t make sense, welcome to the funhouse-mirror reality of Kenny Kramer, who is coming to South Florida to explain it all for you.
Some of the stories behind the stories that made “Seinfeld” must-see TV for most of the 1990s will be revealed when Kramer offers the one-man show “Kramer on Seinfeld” on Thursday, July 20, at the Boca Black Box Center for the Arts in Boca Raton. A multimedia version of his “Seinfeld”-focused Kramer’s Reality Tour of New York, the stage show is a video-enhanced journey down memory lane, including the story of how David refused to let Kramer play himself on TV.
“It was very Seinfeldian. He came and asked permission,” Kramer says by phone from his New York apartment on West 43rd Street, in the same building that he and David called home as young comics and neighbors. Mimicking the staccato honk of David’s voice, he continues: “‘Kramer. I’m writing a pilot with Seinfeld. I want to base a character on you and call him Kramer. Is that OK?’
“I said, ‘Certainly it’s OK, as long as I get to play Kramer.’ He says, ‘You can’t be Kramer.’ I said, ‘But I AM Kramer.’ And he says, ‘Look, Kenny, I’m just writing a pilot. I have no say. But there’s no way in hell that you’re gonna be Kramer. So that’s just the way it is.’” Kramer says. And that’s how it was, though Kramer has created a cottage industry from his glancing fame, which may yet include a memoir he’s working on.
“Kramer on Seinfeld” includes beyond-the-script stories of such iconic episodes as “The Contest” and its Emmy-winning cast. It took a little time for Kramer to warm up to Michael Richards’ portrayal of him.
“I was a huge fan of the show, but at first I thought he was kind of goofy,” Kramer says. That assessment was replaced by a deep appreciation for the critical role Richards’ brand of comedy played in the success of “Seinfeld.”
“Michael Richards brought physical comedy to the show. A lot of my stuff is in his character, you know, the golf, the entrepreneurism, the hot tubs, the sex without dating, all of that stuff is me,” Kramer says, “but Michael put that physical spin on it, which is important because it made the show accessible to anybody. Little kids who don’t understand the masturbation episode, when he comes in and slaps the money on the table and says ‘I’m out!,’ it’s funny.”
Kramer says the slapstick humor Richards appeared to create on the spot was the product of painstaking preparation.
“He would spend hours in front of the mirror just to have a little seizure, or a movement of his head,” Kramer says, calling him a “technician” in a league with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. “I would never have thought to go sliding through doors and all the shtick that Michael does. He was brilliant. If I had gotten to play Kramer, the show would have gone straight down the crapper.”
The 74-year-old Kramer is quite familiar with South Florida, from Miami to the area of Palm Beach County that would become the “Seinfeld” show’s fictional Del Boca Vista. For stretches of the 1970s and 1980s he lived in Coconut Grove as a single parent, raising his daughter, Melanie, and working as a “rock ‘n’ roll” comedian in rooms that included Joe Namath’s famed Bachelor’s III in Fort Lauderdale, opening for the likes of Lou Rawls, the Four Tops and Bobby Goldsboro.
“[Bachelors III co-owner] Bobby Van loved me,” Kramer says. “It was a 900-seat club, and the audiences were really cool, and I was a huge hit. Some of the best days of my life were playing Bachelors III.”
His return to South Florida will include a stay with Melanie, who lives with her family in Boca Raton, where she is a school teacher.
Symbolic of the entrepreneurial spirit that made the Kramer character so iconic, Kramer let it be known that he’s open to a little action on the side, if anyone at South Florida’s many retirement communities would like to book him. No kidding, contact him at KennyKramer.com.
Kenny Kramer presents “Kramer on Seinfeld” 8 p.m. Thursday, July 20, at the Boca Black Box Center for the Arts, 8221 Glades Road, Boca Raton. Tickets cost $25, $35. Call 561-483-9036 or visit BocaBlackBox.com.