- "Do I look like a hipster doofus?"
- ―Cosmo Kramer
Cosmo was known only as “Kramer” for many years on the sitcom; not even Jerry knew his real first name. It was George Costanza who found out his unusual name through an encounter with Kramer's mother, Babs Kramer, in Season Six. Cosmo appeared in all but two episodes: Season Two's “The Chinese Restaurant” and Season Three's “The Pen”.
Kramer's character is based on the real-life Kenny Kramer, a neighbor of co-creator Larry David. At the time of the shooting of “The Seinfeld Chronicles”, Kenny Kramer had not yet authorized the use of his name, and so Kramer's character is known as “Kessler”.
Larry was hesitant to use Kenny Kramer's real name for the fictional Kessler, because he suspected that Kenny Kramer would take advantage of this. His 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. In fact, the "Kramer Reality Tour" is itself spoofed on Seinfeld—when Cosmo Kramer receives money from catalog sales company owner Jacopo Peterman for the use of his various stories in Peterman's biography, he develops a reality bus tour and touts himself as "The Real J. Peterman." Kenny Kramer also made both monetary and non-monetary demands on Castle Rock Entertainment—all of which were met.
The backwards episode, "The Betrayal", explains that Kramer's original name, "Kessler", is just a misspelling on his intercom buzzer.
Kramer has many conflicting personality traits. Described by an art patron as "a loathsome, offensive brute," he is often shallow, callous, and indifferent. On the other hand, he is often caring and friendly, going out of his way to get his friends to help others and to do the right thing even when they don't want to. Kramer is known for his extreme honesty and lack of tact; in "The Nose Job", he tells George's girlfriend that she "needs a nose job". Instead of being horrified, many of these people end up thanking Kramer for his candor. Kramer never gets into trouble for it, but often his friends do. He also gets his friends into trouble by talking them into things such as parking illegally in a handicapped space ("The Handicap Spot") or urinating in a parking garage ("The Parking Garage").
Kramer is perhaps the most social of the four main characters, and seems to have more friends and associates than any of the others, some of whom are just as eccentric if not more so than he is. This includes Bob Sacamano, an oft-referred to, but never-seen character, as well as Newman, played by Wayne Knight. Although they seem to get into many fights, Newman often participates in many of Kramer's inventions and money-making ideas. Kramer is popular with Jerry's parents: he calls them once a week, and even briefly lives in the same retirement community in Florida as they do. He participates in schemes with George's father, Frank Costanza, such as the invention of a male brassiere (the "man-ssiere" or the "bro"). He is extremely sensitive, and he does not like being told to drop dead. Lola, the lady for whom Kramer replaces her wheelchair in "The Handicap Spot", dumps him, telling him that he's not good-looking enough for her and, of course, to drop dead. In "The Betrayal", his friend FDR repeatedly wishes that Kramer drop dead.
Kramer's signature on the show is entering a room sliding in, much like Art Carney's character in The Honeymooners. This reportedly first became a recurring gag when Richards was late for a cue; trying to save the scene, he burst into the room, much to the delight of the audience.
George Costanza once commented, upon hearing that Kramer had gone to a baseball fantasy camp, that Kramer's whole life was 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."
Perhaps Kramer's first scheme was running away from home at age 17 and stowing away aboard a steamer headed for Sweden; it is unknown how he returned to the United States from Sweden, however.
The only known steady job Kramer had throughout the entire series was in "The Strike", where he went back to work at H&H Bagels after being on strike for over a decade. His union finally settled the strike and he was reemployed. He only worked there for one episode before he was fired. During the time he was working at the bagel shop, he went on strike again because of having to work on Festivus. He also worked part-time as a department store Santa before being fired for spreading Communist propaganda to young children. In "The Bizarro Jerry", he works at an office, before it is discovered that he has no business education, and that his reports are "nothing but gibberish".
Kramer has a variety of ways of making a living, including gambling, working in various theater projects, acting out illnesses at a medical school, getting a spot on the show Murphy Brown, and pitching ideas for inventions like his Coffee Table Book, a book about coffee tables and celebrities with their coffee tables that featured a coaster on the cover and legs on the bottom to make the book itself a little coffee table. In "The Dinner Party" Kramer reveals he doesn't carry his wallet or any money with him, following advice from his osteopath. When George asks how he pays for anything, Kramer mysteriously replies, "I get by."
Kramer also participates in lawsuits against various people and companies. He won one such suit (though he received no monetary compensation) against a coffee company whose beverages were too hot (a reference to a famous real-life lawsuit brought against McDonald's) and a tobacco company whose products aged him prematurely. His lawyer is Jackie Chiles, a parody of Johnnie Cochran, the late celebrity defense attorney of O. J. Simpson.
Kramer saves money by appropriating items from Jerry, most notably food. Jerry's apartment is Kramer's second home; he has his own key to the apartment and rarely bothers to knock. Kramer's own apartment is sublet from documentary filmmaker Paul Buchman from Mad About You. Kramer's apartment is the subject of numerous radical experiments in interior design, including "levels" (no furniture), a reconstruction of the set of The Merv Griffin Show, and other bizarre schemes.
A struggling (and untalented) actor, Kramer briefly lived in Los Angeles, where his only accomplishments were accosting Fred Savage, appearing in a cameo on Murphy Brown, and being suspected as a serial killer. He was quite good as "gonorrhea," however, at Mt. Sinai Hospital's student-diagnosis sessions, drawing rave reviews from the hospital's staff for his performance. Kramer also was given a part as an extra in a Woody Allen movie for which he practiced the line, "These pretzels are making me thirsty." However, he is fired from the set shortly after breaking a beer mug, which shattered and injured Woody with the broken glass, thus making Woody cry. He also worked as a stand-in on a daytime television soap opera with his friend Mickey in "The Stand In". Additionally, Jerry claims that Kramer does the worst Cockney accent he has ever heard.
A devout viewer of Seinfeld probably will have noticed that even though Kramer is usually unemployed, he is able to afford a Manhattan apartment, which are usually very expensive. Of course, some explanations are made here:
- Kramer usually eats Jerry's food, occasionally to Jerry's annoyance. In "The Seven", Kramer wants Jerry to start a tab, but soon was forbidden to eat from there since he couldn't pay and left food around to spoil until he paid Jerry the tab by selling a bike designed for girls.
- Another episode has George asking Kramer how he makes a living. Kramer responds, "I get by."
Like the other three characters, Kramer has pseudonyms he uses in various schemes; H. E. Pennypacker, Dr. Martin van Nostrand, and Peter van Nostrand are the most popular. Under the name H. E. Pennypacker, in "The Puerto Rican Day", Kramer poses as a buyer interested in an apartment, in order to use its bathroom. Kramer also appeared as Pennypacker to get revenge on a store, Putumayo, by repricing all the merchandise in the store with his pricing gun. As Dr. Martin van Nostrand, Kramer tried to get Elaine's medical chart to erase the negative comments her doctor had made in "The Package". He also used the van Nostrand alias in the episode "The Slicer", posing as a dermatologist for a cancer screening at Kruger. Kramer used the name Martin van Nostrand (sans the "doctor" prefix) while auditioning for the role of himself on the show Jerry. Kramer posed as Professor Peter van Nostrand in "The Nose Job" in order to retrieve his jacket from another man's apartment. Kramer has also been referred to as "Assman" in reference to the license plate the state of New York accidentally gave him. Other nicknames such as "Krame" and the "K-man" were short-lived. One nickname that Kramer can't stand is "Hipster Doofus," a moniker once assigned to him by Lola, the wheelchair woman he once dated in "The Handicap Spot"; Elaine has also been known to call him this.
Seinfeld writer Larry Charles claimed Kramer would be a QAnon believer today, hinting that the US entertainment industry "is run by a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles." He said that on the show, Kramer embraced off-the-wall concepts and ideas, which would make him a 'lover of rabbit holes'.
The gallery page for Cosmo Kramer can be found here.