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Cosmo Kramer

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Cosmo Kramer
Seinfeld character
Cosmo Kramer.jpg
First appearance "The Seinfeld Chronicles" (as "Kessler")
Last appearance "The Finale, Part II"
Created by Jerry Seinfeld
Larry David
Portrayed by Michael Richards
Information
Aliases The Assman
H. E. Pennypacker
Dr. Martin van Nostrand
Professor Peter van Nostrand
Kessler
The K Man
Andre
Filk
Hoffman
Gender Male
Occupation Bagel Shop Worker (aka "Bagel Technician")
Raincoat Salesman
Entrepreneur (Kramerica Industries)
Non-fiction Author
Mall Santa
Tennis Ball Boy
Actor/Stand-in
Tony Awards Seat-filler
Personal Beauty Consultant
Underwear model
Rickshaw Puller
Hansom Carriage Driver
Family Babs Kramer (mother)

Cosmo Kramer, usually referred to as simply "Kramer", is a fictional character on the American television sitcom Seinfeld (1989–1998), played by Michael Richards.

The character is loosely based on comedian Kenny Kramer, Larry David's ex-neighbor across the hall. Kramer is the friend and neighbor of main character Jerry, residing in Apartment 5B, and is friends with George and Elaine. Of the series' four central characters, only Kramer has no visible means of support; what few jobs he holds seem to be nothing more than larks.

His trademarks include his upright hairstyle and vintage wardrobe, whose combination led Elaine to characterize him as a "hipster doofus";[1] his taste in fresh fruit; love of occasional smoking, Cuban cigars in particular; bursts through Jerry's apartment door; frequent pratfalls and penchant for nonsensical, percussive outbursts of noise to indicate skepticism, agreement, irritation and a variety of other feelings. He's been described as "an extraordinary cross between Eraserhead and Herman Munster".[2] Kramer appeared in all but two episodes: "The Chinese Restaurant" and "The Pen", in the second and third seasons, respectively.

Background and family[edit]

In "The Trip", Kramer admits that a man in a park exposed himself to him when he was a young boy. In "The Big Salad" Kramer reveals to Jerry that he grew up in a strict household where he had to be in bed every night by 9:00PM. In "The Letter", Kramer tells two art patrons that he ran away from home at age seventeen and stowed away aboard a steamer bound for Sweden.

Kramer never completed high school; however, it is made clear in "The Barber" that Kramer has a GED.

Kramer was estranged for a long period from his mom, Babs Kramer, who works as a restroom matron at an upscale restaurant. Unlike George and Jerry, Kramer's character does not have a well-developed network of family members shown in the sitcom. He is the only main character on the show whose dad never makes an appearance; however, in "The Chinese Woman", Kramer mentions that he is the last male member of his family, implying that his father had died. He also mentions in "The Lip Reader" that he has or had a deaf cousin, from whom he learned fluent American Sign Language, but when Kramer tries to communicate in ASL, he speaks complete gibberish and cannot correctly translate the ASL he sees others using. He also apparently has no biological children, although he adopted mile 114 of the Arthur Burkhardt Expressway in "The Pothole".

During an opening discussion, Kramer reveals to Jerry that in 1979 he was struck on the head by a falling air conditioner while walking on the sidewalk. Jerry asks if that was when Kramer lived in Greenwich Village, to which Kramer replies that he cannot remember. This is discussed in the beginning of "The Little Kicks".

In "The Strong Box", it is revealed that Kramer spent a brief time in the Army, although info about this time is "classified". In episode three of season one he says he lived in Los Angeles for three months.

Personality[edit]

[Kramer's personality] is hard to pin down. A New York Times profile described Kramer as "cartoonlike" in a piece with a headline calling him "Seinfeld's craziest neighbor". The Los Angeles Times calls him "eccentric" and "flipped-lid." To the Washington Post, he was "goofy". But he's more than so much concentrated comic schtick. Kramer is an attitude. Kramer's revolutionary far more than he's "funny". He's liberating, a one-man guide out of stereotyped sitcom behavior toward the nut-ball stuff that really happens.

—Peter Goddard, The Toronto Star[3]

Kramer has conflicting personality traits. He's sometimes shallow, callous and indifferent. Though eccentric, Kramer is generally caring, friendly and kind-hearted; he often goes out of his way to help total strangers, and tries to get his friends to also help others and to do the right thing even when they do not want to. He is confident in his own unique way of doing things, yet he can be neurotic and high-strung. His quirkiness, strange body movements and frequent gibberish mutterings have become his trademark.

Kramer also gets his friends directly into trouble by talking them into unwise or even illegal actions such as parking illegally in a handicapped space ("The Handicap Spot"), urinating in a parking garage ("The Parking Garage"), committing mail fraud ("The Package") or even hiring an assassin to get rid of a dog ("The Engagement"). Kramer is also known to mooch off his friends, especially Jerry. Kramer regularly enters and uses Jerry's apartment without his consent or knowledge, and often helps himself to Jerry's food. Kramer also uses tools/appliances of Jerry's, only occasionally with permission, and often returning them in a state of disrepair. The reason for all this is because Kramer is told "What's mine is yours" on his first meeting with Jerry ("The Betrayal").

Kramer is known for his extreme honesty and, correspondingly, lack of tact; in "The Nose Job", he tells George's insecure girlfriend that she needs a nose job. In "The Kiss Hello" when Elaine tries to take advantage of this personality quirk by inviting Kramer to meet her friend, Wendy, whose hairstyle she feels is outdated, Kramer tells her he loves it. Instead of being horrified, many characters end up thanking Kramer for his candor. Kramer rarely gets into trouble for it, but his friends often do; in "The Cartoon", Kramer makes comments to Sally Weaver (Kathy Griffin), who then blames Jerry for "ruining her life" as a result.

One explanation as to Kramer's personality and traits, with respect to his mysterious childhood and background, is hinted in "The Chicken Roaster". After a series of conflicts, Jerry is forced to live in Kramer's apartment and vice versa. Jerry, bothered by the many oddities and idiosyncrasies associated with Kramer's home, begins behaving like his wacky friend. Conversely, when Kramer begins living in Jerry's regular, normal apartment, he briefly becomes more like his calm, quick-witted friend.

In general, Kramer excels at persuading Jerry into doing things against his better judgment. On the other hand, Kramer has displayed an almost unbending loyalty toward Jerry in many episodes, especially when choosing to help him against Newman in many episodes, including "The Suicide" and "The Millennium" (in this episode, Kramer calls Jerry "my buddy" and even keeps a photograph of them arm in arm at a previous New Year's Eve on his nightstand). In the same respect, Jerry has helped Kramer out of good will and always seems to forgive and ultimately accept Kramer's mooching tendencies. At times, Jerry is clearly quite entertained by Kramer's antics, which may also be a factor in the friendship's endurance. In "The Serenity Now", overemotional Jerry declares a near-brotherly love for Kramer, to which Kramer easily responds, "I love you, too, buddy."

His relationship with Newman is defined from the start in "The Suicide", where they get along very well. Like the main characters they also get into conflict with each other, most notably "The Junk Mail". Their get-rich-quick schemes are noted in "The Old Man" and "The Bottle Deposit".

His relationship with Susan is mixed. Although they get along in "The Pool Guy", there are many episodes in which he makes her life a mess. He throws up on her in "The Pitch", unwittingly burns her dad's cabin in "The Bubble Boy", dates Mona while Susan is a lesbian in "The Smelly Car" and after calling her "Lily" in "The Invitations," she insists that he not be an usher at her and George's upcoming wedding (she was also concerned that "he'd fall or something ...and ruin the whole ceremony").

Kramer's apartment is the subject of numerous radical experiments in interior design. Oftentimes, the "experiments" never happen due to Kramer's inherent short-attention span, including his plan to eliminate all furniture and build "levels... like ancient Egypt" in "The Pony Remark". He reconstructed the set of The Merv Griffin Show in "The Merv Griffin Show". Inside views of Kramer's apartment are seldom seen, but it's known that he installed hardwood flooring and woodgrain-like wallpaper to, as he explains to Jerry, "give it the feel of a ski lodge." The apartment is centered around a large hot tub and couch styled after a 1957 Chevy. The apartment is decorated with many small statues of people, all made entirely out of pasta: Kramer also gives these to his friends as gifts, for example to Jerry in "The Fusilli Jerry" and Bette Midler in "The Understudy". Kramer has also experimented with his apartment entrance, including reversing his peephole "to prevent an ambush" in "The Reverse Peephole" and installing a screen door (after salvaging it from George's parents' house) in "The Serenity Now".

Kramer has a liking for smoking Cuban cigars. It starts in "The Wallet" and in "The Abstinence" he sets up a smoking club in his apartment, which included a regularly-scheduled "pipe night" for those who preferred pipe tobacco to cigars and/or cigarettes. His face gets ruined after so much smoking and he hires Jackie Chiles to sue the cigarette company, but instead gets his image as the Marlboro Man on the Marlboro billboard in Times Square. At one point, he goes so far as to try to hire Cuban cigar rollers in an attempt to make his own Cuban cigars in "The English Patient", but the scheme goes awry when the "Cubans" turn out to be Dominicans.

Richards' portrayal of the Kramer character closely resembles that of Stanley Spadowski, a janitor-turned-children's-TV-host he played in the 1989 comedy UHF, starring "Weird Al" Yankovic.

Kramer's conversation sometimes contains onomatopoeia or nonsensical sounds in order to stress an emotional point or describe earlier actions. He sometimes expresses his agreement with a sentiment or suggestion via the word "Giddyup!". He is also known to indicate pleasure with, "Oh, Mama!"

Of the four main characters, Kramer has the fewest on-screen romantic relationships. He does not seem to have trouble attracting women, but his relationships often come to an embarrassing end, and, like Jerry's, are usually short lived.

Kramer has on a few occasions taken people under his wing and aggressively protected their interests.

Kramer is known to embrace strange philosophies unique to himself, and reject acceptable social behaviors or established facts.

Development[edit]

Michael Richards, who played Cosmo Kramer, in 1993.

Inspiration[edit]

The character of Kramer was originally based on the real-life Kenny Kramer, a neighbor of co-creator Larry David from New York. However, Michael Richards did not in any way base his performance on the real Kramer, to the point of refusing to meet him. This was later parodied in "The Pilot" when the actor that is cast to play him in Jerry and George's sitcom refuses to base the character on the real Cosmo Kramer. At the time of the shooting of the original Seinfeld pilot, "The Seinfeld Chronicles," Kenny Kramer had not yet given consent to use his name, and so Kramer's character was originally known as "Kessler."

Larry David was hesitant to use Kenny Kramer's real name because he suspected that Kramer would take advantage of this. David's suspicion turned out to be correct; Kenny Kramer created the "Kramer Reality Tour", a New York City bus tour that points out actual locations of events or places featured in Seinfeld. The "Kramer Reality Tour" is itself spoofed on Seinfeld in "The Muffin Tops." In the episode, when Kramer's real-life stories are used by Elaine to pad the biography of J. Peterman she was ghostwriting, he develops a reality bus tour called "The Peterman Reality Tour" and touts himself as "The Real J. Peterman," even though, as Jerry notes, reality is the last thing Kramer is qualified to give a tour on.

Richards' physicality can be seen in his early 1980s appearances on The Tonight Show, the early 1980s ABC sketch comedy show "Fridays", and his appearance in the film "Young Doctors in Love" where he plays a hit man; a nod to this appears in the "Air Conditioner" episode.

Given and surnames[edit]

Kramer was known only as "Kramer" during the show's first five seasons (from 1989 to 1994), though in "The Seinfeld Chronicles", Jerry referred to him as "Kessler", which was his original name for the show, until it was changed to "Kramer". However, in the first draft of the script, he was named "Hoffman". In "The Betrayal", when it is shown how Jerry met Kramer, Kramer says that his name is incorrectly listed as "Kessler" in the apartment building. This retcons the pilot's use of "Kessler" as the character's name.

George finds out his unusual first name of "Cosmo" through an encounter with Kramer's long estranged mom, Babs (Sheree North), in "The Switch". Despite this, most characters continued to call him Kramer for the remainder of the show's run (although many minor characters referred to him as "Cosmo"). The name came from a friend of a producer, whose nephew was born of the given name Cosmo before Larry David had confidently decided on Kramer's name.

Additionally, the episode titled "The Bet" would have revealed Kramer's first name as "Conrad", not "Cosmo", but it was never filmed.

Employment[edit]

Despite the failure of the majority of his schemes and his unwillingness to even apply for a normal job, Kramer always seems to have money when he needs it. In the episode, "The Shoes", Jerry remarks that Kramer received a "ton of money" at some earlier point in his life (presumably via inheritance). In "The Visa", George makes a comment about Kramer going to a fantasy camp, and how Kramer's "whole life is a fantasy camp. People should plunk down two thousand dollars to live like him for a week. Do nothing, fall ass-backwards into money, mooch food off your neighbors, and have sex without dating. That's a fantasy camp."

As a younger man, Kramer had several jobs. In the episode "The Strong Box", Kramer says one of the things in his strongbox is his military discharge. Upon being asked, "You were in the Army?", Kramer replies, "Briefly," and claims the reason for his discharge is classified. Also, in the episode "The Muffin Tops", Kramer mentions shaving his chest when he was a lifeguard. His long term unemployed status is partially, if nonsensically, explained in "The Strike", when he went back to work at H&H Bagels after being on strike since 1985. His union finally settled the strike when the minimum wage of New York was raised to the hourly rate the strikers had demanded twelve years earlier (Kramer still felt the strike was a success although his fellow strikers apparently all moved on years earlier). He only worked at H&H Bagels a short time before he was fired, and, during the brief period he was re-employed there, he went on strike at least once more because he was forced to work on Festivus, a holiday only celebrated by Frank Costanza.

Along with his stint at H&H Bagels, Kramer is engaged in a variety of short-lived jobs.

He is a compulsive gambler who successfully avoids gambling for several years until "The Diplomat's Club", in which he bets with a wealthy Texan on the arrival and departure times of flights going into New York's LaGuardia Airport.

A struggling (and terrible)[4] actor, Kramer's first gig was a one-line part in a Woody Allen movie in "The Alternate Side" (his line, "These pretzels are making me thirsty", becomes the show's first catchphrase). Although he is fired before completing his scene, he says he "caught the bug" because of it, and briefly moves to Los Angeles to pursue a career in Hollywood. After returning to New York, Kramer auditions for the role of "Kramer" in the pilot of a new sitcom called Jerry, using his stage name of Martin van Nostrand ("The Pilot"). He is unable to complete the audition due to an intestinal problem. Kramer later works as a stand-in on a soap opera with his friend Mickey Abbott in "The Stand In" and various other low-paying or non-paying theater projects, such as acting out illnesses at a medical school in "The Burning".

Inventions, entrepreneurship, and lawsuits[edit]

Kramer shows an entrepreneurial bent with "Kramerica Industries," for which he devises plans for a pizza place where customers make their own pie ("Male Unbonding"), a bladder system for tankers that will "put an end to maritime oil spills" ("The Voice"), and a product that will put ketchup and mustard in the same bottle.

In "The Friar's Club", he creates a concept restaurant that only serves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which he calls P.B. & Js.

He also comes up with the idea of a beach-scented cologne in "The Pez Dispenser", but a marketing executive for Calvin Klein tells him the idea is ridiculous.

In "The Doorman", Kramer and Frank Costanza co-develop a prototype for a bra for men called the "bro" or the "manssiere".

In "The Muffin Tops", Kramer cries foul after failing to receive due credit for J. Peterman's book success which is based on Kramer's misadventures. He then confronts Peterman during a book signing and is kicked out of the event. Kramer then declares himself "The Real Peterman" and initiates The Real Peterman Reality Bus Tour, charging customers $37.50 for a tour of his life.

Kramer also hatches a scheme to smuggle Cubans to the United States to make Cuban cigars, only to learn the "Cubans" are actually Dominicans ("The English Patient").

He participates in lawsuits against various people and companies and considers himself "very litigious". He is always represented in these lawsuits by Jackie Chiles, a parody of Johnnie Cochran. In "The Maestro," he settles one such suit (though receiving no monetary compensation) against a coffee company whose beverages are too hot (a reference to the McDonald's coffee case). In "The Abstinence," Kramer sues a tobacco company for the damage its products cause to his appearance, and in "The Caddy," he sues Sue Ellen Mischke for causing a traffic accident that ruins his chances of becoming a professional golfer.

Coffee table book about coffee tables[edit]

A storyline running throughout the fifth season is the development of one of Kramer's few successful ideas. Kramer first thinks of the book in "The Cigar Store Indian", although he later claims that he first had the idea when skiing. Throughout the season, his quest to get the book published becomes a running gag. Although Elaine is shown as disliking the idea, Mr. Lippman, her boss, likes it, which surprises her. Pendant Publishing (where Elaine and Kramer's then-girlfriend work) decides to publish it in "The Fire".

In "The Opposite", Kramer starts his "book tour" with an appearance on Regis and Kathie Lee. By accidentally spitting his coffee over Kathie Lee Gifford ("All over my Kathie Lee Casuals!"), his book tour immediately goes down in flames. Also in the episode, as a result of a bizarre chain of events, Elaine inadvertently causes the end of Pendant Publishing and therefore the end of Kramer's book. Nevertheless, the book is mentioned later in the episode "The Wizard" where it is revealed that the book is being made into a movie and the money Kramer makes allows him to briefly retire to Florida and run for president of the condo board at Del Boca Vista, Phase 3.

The book itself is full of pictures of celebrities' coffee tables, and even had a pair of foldable wooden legs so that it could itself be turned into a coffee table. He also says that he has plans for a coaster to be built into the cover.

Tom Gammill and Max Pross, writers of "The Cigar Store Indian", came up with the idea of the coffee table book about coffee tables, and Larry David added on the idea of the foldout legs to turn it into a coffee table.[5]

Physical moments[edit]

Kramer's physical eccentricities are a frequent source of humor. His entrance is a recurring gag. He frequently 'slides' into Jerry's apartment, often resulting in applause, as in "The Virgin". In "The Revenge" Kramer clumsily carries a dry sack of cement powder to the washing machine. In "The Foundation", he takes on a group of kids at a karate school, and in "The Van Buren Boys", after giving his stories to Elaine to write, he slips up on the golf balls and lands on the floor.

Pseudonyms[edit]

Like the other three characters, Kramer has pseudonyms he uses in various schemes.

Under the name H.E. Pennypacker in "The Puerto Rican Day", Kramer poses as a prospective buyer interested in an elegant apartment in order to use its bathroom. Kramer also appears as Pennypacker to help Elaine get revenge on a Mayan clothing store, "Putumayo", by repricing all the merchandise in the store with a pricing gun in "The Millennium", though due to a mishap with the pricing gun, Pennypacker was forced to instead remove the desiccants from clothes in the store in order to render them "noticeably musty in five years". In this latter capacity, he claims Pennypacker is "a wealthy American industrialist."

As Dr. Martin van Nostrand, Kramer tries to get hold of Elaine's medical chart to erase the negative comments her doctor has made in "The Package". He also uses the Van Nostrand alias in the episode "The Slicer", posing as a "Juilliard-trained dermatologist" for a cancer screening at George's company, Kruger Industrial Smoothing. Mr. Kruger later recognizes him as Dr. Van Nostrand in "The Strike". Kramer uses the name Martin van Nostrand (without the "doctor" prefix) while auditioning for the role of himself on the show Jerry in "The Pilot, Part 1". Kramer poses as Professor Peter van Nostrand in "The Nose Job" in order to retrieve a favorite jacket from another man's apartment; Kramer's jacket, to which he attributes at least some of his amorous success, is a minor plot point in other episodes until, in "The Cheever Letters", he trades it to a Cuban embassy official for several boxes of authentic Cuban cigars.

Kramer is also occasionally called "the K-Man" ("The Barber", "The Bizarro Jerry", "The Busboy", "The Note", "The Hamptons", "The Scofflaw" and "The Soup Nazi").

A derogatory designation for Kramer has been "hipster doofus", a moniker assigned to him by a woman in a wheelchair he once dated in the episode "The Handicap Spot", and occasionally directed at him by Elaine, as in "The Glasses". The nickname was first used in The Atlantic Monthly review of Seinfeld.[6]

Reception[edit]

Ken Tucker wrote in a 1992 review in Entertainment Weekly that Kramer is "the most cartoonish, least-defined person in Seinfeld. Kramer is an earnest dope whose long, gangly body always seems to surprise his mind — he’s always running, stumbling, bumping into things; he doesn’t enter Jerry’s apartment so much as he explodes into it."[7] In 1999, TV Guide ranked him number 36 on its '50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time' list.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

The band Kramer's Place made reference to the character Kramer.

It is shown that Kramer is subletting his apartment from Paul Buchman, one of the main characters in NBC's Mad About You. Paul and Kramer have a conversation about Paul giving Kramer the apartment in Mad About You episode "The Apartment" (Season 1, Episode 8).

Pop-Punk band Ledger make reference to Kramer in the title of the song "Some Days You're Kramer, Some Days You're Costanza."

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ "The Glasses". Seinfeld. Season 5. Episode 3. 
  2. ^ David Aaronovitch (September 8, 1996). "Why American sitcoms are the best". The Independent. Retrieved November 10, 2009. 
  3. ^ Goddard, Peter (September 14, 1997). "The K-K-K- Kramer Effect". Toronto Star. p. F1. 
  4. ^ "Seinfeld, Season 3 – DVD extras". Amazon.com. Retrieved Jun 5, 2009. 
  5. ^ Gamill, Tom; Pross, Max (2005). Seinfeld Season 5: Audio Commentary - "The Cigar Store Indian" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 
  6. ^ "The Handicap Spot". StanTheCaddy.com. Retrieved Jun 16, 2009. [I]n this episode, Kramer was referred to as a "hipster doofus," which is an inside joke Larry David wrote in response to a review of the series by Francis Davis that appeared in the December 1992 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. In the review, Davis describes one of the characters as "Jerry's across-the-hall neighbor, a hipster doofus known simply as Kramer." 
  7. ^ Tucker, Ken (January 10, 1992). "Seinfeld". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 6, 2009. 
  8. ^ TV Guide Book of Lists. Running Press. 2007. p. 191. ISBN 0-7624-3007-9. 

External links[edit]