'Seinfeld': Kramer Wouldn't Exist If It Wasn't for Ed O'Neill

There are plenty of TV shows that will live on in fans’ memories — not to mention on streaming services and in syndication — long after their final episode runs, and that has certainly been the case for Seinfeld. The sitcom was groundbreaking in its approach, and it helped launched Jerry Seinfeld into comedic all-star status.

Of course, the lead and itular character is perhaps the most memorable, but the show truly had an ensemble cast, and each of the four main characters brought their own flair to the long-running and extremely popular comedy. One of those iconic characters was Cosmo Kramer, and the series came dangerously close to not having the key actor who pulled off this important portrayal. 

‘Seinfeld’ was famously called ‘a show about nothing’

Seinfeld premiered in 1989 and ran for nine seasons before concluding in 1998. It centered on then-35-year-old Seinfeld, a stand-up comedian who had been working in the business for less than a decade. Loosely based on Seinfeld’s actual personality, the show featured the day-to-day lives of the comedian, his neuroses, and his neurotic friends as they lived in New York City. 

If that description seems a little underwhelming, it’s worth noting that the show lacked a distinct “hook.” In fact, even fans of the show have referred to it as a “show about nothing,” noting that there’s no central thesis or overarching goal driving the plot.

For his part, Seinfeld rejects this description as overly simplistic and insists that his tendency to use observational humor about life’s little things doesn’t mean there isn’t meaning in the series. Regardless, it certainly did steer away from any overt lessons on morality and seemed to mostly just play out the lives of some quirky friends. 

Kramer was portrayed by Michael Richards

With a show so focused on the daily lives of its ensemble cast, the people playing those characters become very important. Without the drama of big twists or the compelling narrative of a plot-driven story, the actors had to really be able to pull off their roles, and Michael Richards certainly delivered as Cosmo Kramer. 

Kramer was Seinfeld’s eccentric neighbor, and one of his defining characteristics was that he never seemed to have a job. While some fans have speculated that he was independently wealthy, he was mostly shown moving from scheme to scheme and getting the rest of his friends involved — often against their insistence that it was a bad idea.

Over the course of the show, Kramer sues multiple businesses, invents a bra for men, and sells his life story to Elaine’s boss. The quirky character required a particular finesse, and Richards developed a finely-tuned physical comedy that allowed him to pull off the role. 

Ed O’Neill’s ‘perfect’ role saved Kramer 

These days, Seinfeld is held up as a smashing success, a touchstone of comedic gold, but it would have been hard to predict that a show without any real plot to speak of would have done so well. One of the primary actors might be forgiven, then, if they had taken a different part had it been available. That was almost the case for Michael Richards, and — without him — Seinfeld would never have been the same. 

As Thought Catalog reports, Richards was also auditioning for another sitcom at the time. He was vying for the part of Al Bundy on Married with Children. Apparently, he had done quite well in the audition and was neck-and-neck with Ed O’Neill for the role.  O’Neill got the part that would help define his own career, and Richards admitted that it was the right call: “But God look how he played it. He was so perfect for the role.” 

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