The Real Kramer: That's Not Me
Friday, November 24, 2006; 5:31 PM
NEW YORK -- The first call came from the Midwest. Before long, the phone was ringing, and ringing, and ringing again: Satellite radio. Fox News. Extra.
Yada, yada, yada.
For Kenny Kramer, role model for the "Seinfeld" character who shared his surname, each call was a reminder of the intersection between his real life and his sitcom doppelganger. Actor Michael Richards _ the on-air Cosmo Kramer _ made headlines with a racist rant last week in a Los Angeles comedy club.
Suddenly, everybody wanted to know what Kramer _ despite the degrees of separation _ thought about the man who played the character based on his life.
Confused? So was Kramer.
"I did at least 15 to 20 interviews," said Kramer, talking to interviewee No. 16 or 21. "All hell broke loose. There were lots of e-mails. They were about 9-1 positive. A guy who wrote a story in the Daily News said, `I hope this doesn't hurt your business.'"
Ah, the business _ where Kramer has enjoyed the merger of man and myth for nearly 11 years. Kramer, now 62, launched the "Kramer Reality Tour" to take Sein-fans on a tour of Manhattan locales featured in the Emmy-winning NBC comedy series.
It remains a brilliant concept, bringing together New York real estate and Hollywood surreality. There was the real New York Health and Racquet Club, where the fake Kramer met a bogus Salman Rushdie. Or the Midtown office building where the fake Kramer discovered a publisher for his coffee table book about coffee tables.
The real Kramer, who initially lobbied to play himself on the program, subsequently met with Richards on several occasions. His insight after the actor's meltdown during a stand-up comedy appearance: Richards had little in common with his off-kilter "Seinfeld" persona.
"I know the guy," Kramer said of Richards. "He's not this outgoing ball of fun that people would expect Kramer to be. They think he's be exciting, lovable, laughable. But he's quiet, introspective, even paranoid. He's a very wound-up guy. But I don't think he's a racist."
The real Kramer lived 10 years in a Hell's Kitchen apartment across the hall from "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David, and his life became the framework for Richards' quirky, bumbling Seinfeld sidekick, right down to the location of Kramer's apartment.
There was even a slight physical resemblance.
But Richards' repeated use of a racial epithet in shouting down two hecklers on Nov. 17 had the genuine Kramer gently reminding folks of the difference between inspiration and imitation _ even after Richards apologized during a television appearance with Jerry Seinfeld.
The real Kramer said in an interview that he's most annoyed by commentators' statements that "Kramer is racist." He notes, "Kramer is a fictitious character. Michael Richards is an actor who played that character."
Kramer said he wasn't too worried though that people would confuse Kramer, the character, with Kramer, the person.
Just in case, however, he issued a statement drawing the distinction: "I know the public is smart enough to realize that Michael Richards' personal actions in no way reflect on the character he portrayed on television or me, Kenny Kramer, the real person that the character was based on."
Kramer managed to find a silver lining in the confusion.
"You know what the good news is?" he asked. "Judith Regan is now on a plane to California, trying to sign Michael Richards to a book deal: `If I Were a Racist, Here's What I Would Have Said.'"
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