Q&A with Kenny Kramer on Seinfeld, health care and The High Line
Kenny Kramer, 69, the model for Cosmo Kramer on the Seinfeld show and former mayoral candidate, is in his 16th year of providing "Kramer's Reality Tour," that consists of an hour of his stand-up comedy and a series of stops at Seinfeld-related landmarks. He lives in Manhattan Plaza, a subsidized complex for performing artists, with his domestic partner, Marcie Castro, a singer and entertainer.
What would you most like to change or accomplish in NYC?
I’d like to see the city have socialized medicine – universal health care. These for-profit health insurers are just despicable. My partner just had a procedure and if she was on Medicare, it would have been $300 instead of the $6,000 they’re trying to make us pay. Justice Roberts was a profile in courage to go against the Republican base that put him there, but single payer is what we need. No question about it. I have a friend with Parkinson’s Disease in the U.K. He just got the operation they won’t pay for anyone to have in this country and now he has no symptoms.
San Francisco got everyone covered, but something like 40% of New Yorkers are poor or near poor. How could NYC afford to provide coverage to everyone with such an impoverished base?
Maybe our good mayor could take some of his billions for what would be a great humanitarian thing instead of giving money to the High Line. I went to the High Line early on and I was totally unimpressed. What’s the big deal? You’re walking along a railroad trestle with weeds on each side of you.
Will you be seeing Jerry Seinfeld’s performance when he returns this Fall to perform in each of the five boroughs?
I’m not going to be here! My partner will be performing on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean and I’m going to be with her. I haven’t seen him in a couple of years. He has a big estate out on Long Island and lives there and in Isaac Stern's old apartment. I talk to Larry David all the time, though. He lived across the hall from me for five and a half years.
Do you think someone as successful and rich as Seinfeld can still appeal to the everyman?
Jerry has the unique ability to observe things we all see, put them into words and make it very funny. He's a dedicated stand-up comedian and is wealth has nothing to do with his humor. It's a great feeling to make people laugh. When people are laughing, they're not in pain. It's God's work.
Will you be running for mayor again?
I won’t be running any time soon. If I got elected, I’d have to buy a suit, and I’ve spent my entire life trying to avoid that. I have a dinner jacket and a tuxedo for the cruise ship, though. I ran twice but dropped out the first time. The second time the Libertarians asked me to be their candidate.
How does being Libertarian square with your views on socialized medicine?
I’m Libertarian lite. They have some really wacky views – like everyone should be armed. I draw the right to bear arms at sleeveless shirts. But they’re Libertarians, so they never made me espouse anything I didn’t believe in.
So who are you supporting?
Has anyone declared? I’m not sure who’s running, but I know Bill de Blasio’s a good guy. When I was running for mayor before and got into a hassle with the Campaign Finance Board he really called them to task for being idiotic bureaucrats. I was being fined for filing a report late, even though my campaign had taken in no money during that period. They put together hundreds and hundreds of pages of evidence against me and made me pay a $2,500 fine. I ended up paying, but I appealed it in Small Claims Court. I lost of course.
What do you miss most about the old New York and the New York depicted in "Seinfeld"?
The color. When I moved into Manhattan Plaza in 1977, it was a red light district. We had hookers walking up and down Ninth Ave. There was a marquee I wished I’d taken a picture of: “Topless Co-Eds Working Their Way Through College.” It’s sad a lot of people can’t afford to live here any more. They're building million dollar studios now in Hell's Kitchen and letting you put the first $100,000 downpayment on your credit card so you can get the airline miles. But I love the tourists. Without the tourists, the economy of NYC would be garbage. I make my living off the tourists. The New Yorkers don’t come on my tour unless they come with their relatives or friends who are visiting. They’re too jaded. But when they come, they have a great time.
What have you seen lately that you love?
Spiegelworld! These guys have a tent set up on 45th between Seventh and Eighth and perform this X-Rated Cirque du Soleil. I saw it twice – it’s hilarious. It’s still possible to have a rich cultural life in NYC even if you don’t have a lot of dough. I belong to Theatermania Gold, Theater Extras and Audience Extras. They want (people) in the seats and sometimes you can see something for just a three dollar or five dollar contribution.
What makes a true New Yorker?
Someone who pays taxes to the city. I love New York and I’m happy to pay all the taxes I can. I’m grateful to have an income high enough to pay them.