Accidental Heroes of the 20th Century 34: Cosmo Kramer, TV Character
Saturday 03 April 1999
There are many such examples, but Cosmo Kramer is not going to be one of them. Michael Richards, who played Jerry Seinfeld's wild-eyed neighbour since the show's inception in 1990, has not only turned his back on his Seinfeld character; he has also, apparently shorn off the trademark shock of hair (admittedly for a TV role; he's been playing Mr Micawber in a new production of David Copperfield).
Mind you, he can afford to. Since a pay hike in 1997, Richards, along with his co-stars Jason Alexander (George) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine), has been earning $600,000 an episode. They make 21 episodes a year. You do the maths.
So how did a minor character, Jerry's gangly, ungainly neighbour with his Hawaiian shirts, mad hair and habit of sliding into Jerry's flat unannounced (Richards apparently perfected that sliding entrance while he was still at school) become such a hero? A cult hero in this country, perhaps, but a genuinely popular one in the States.
Sky television recently showed the final double episode of Seinfeld for British viewers (Americans saw it last year). If you don't want to know what happens, look away now. I said now. Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer end up in prison, having been charged under a state "good Samaritan" law that requires onlookers to help out if they see a crime being committed. The joke is on Jerry, George and Elaine, whose unsympathetic characters were such a ground-breaking feature of this sitcom "about nothing".
Vain, selfish and greedy, endlessly negotiating their self-absorbed way round the Manhattan rat run, they encapsulated so many of the "qualities" of modern, urban life. It was their recognisably compromised characters that struck such a chord with millions of viewers. It was funny that they were such unpleasant people. We are all, mostly, in our own little ways, unpleasant people. Not such pitiful characters as George, hopefully, but then by their transgressions we could forgive our own lesser weaknesses.
It was fitting that they should eventually end up in prison. But not Kramer. Cosmo Kramer was never of their ilk.
Where they were cynical, he was endlessly optimistic. While the other characters were neurotic to the core, Kramer was at ease with his lot. Where the others were endlessly plotting their smallest move in the Manhattan jungle, Kramer was getting recklessly involved in madcap schemes. Kramer didn't give a fig. He was an artist.
In a nice twist, the person who inspired Seinfeld's writer, Larry David, to create Kramer is a real person - called Kenny Kramer. A former stand up comedian in his fifties, Kramer lived next door to David throughout the Eighties. In an inspired move that his fictional counterpart would have been proud of, Kenny Kramer has started up his Kramer Reality Tour, busing tourists around in a 60-seater coach and pointing out the real- life hangouts of the Seinfeld characters. It's sold out every weekend.
As he told reporters last year. "Only in America can you become famous for living across the hallway from somebody."
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Isis propaganda video shows 25 Syrian soldiers executed by teenage militants in Palmyra
- 2 Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
- 3 The map showing the most dangerous tourist destinations in Europe, according to the Foreign Office
- 4 The biggest first date turnoff has been revealed
- 5 German man found living with 300 rats in tiny apartment
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture