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The Kramer Moments That Michael Richards Ad-Libbed On Seinfeld

When watching "Seinfeld," it's normally pretty easy to spot what gags are explicitly scripted. Though best known for telling tales about "nothing," the series always finds Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Kramer (Michael Richards) exploring social norms and awkward situations in their everyday lives (via IMDb). 

Take Season 2, Episode 11 ("The Chinese Restaurant"), for example. The gang tries to get a table without a reservation, while also resolving several storylines. Jerry feels guilty about brushing off his uncle. George is worried he ruined his chances with a girlfriend. Elaine is extremely hungry. And they all need to get to a show on time. Along with Season 3, Episode 3 ("The Pen"), it's one of only two episodes of "Seinfeld" that don't feature Kramer. However, the writers realized Kramer was so important to the strength of the show that he wasn't left out again. 

For the rest of the show's run, Kramer slips, slides, stammers, and stutters his way through each episode — and yes, many of those moments were ad-libbed. But which ones?

Even with a script, Richards couldn't plan every sound that came out of his mouth

In the first episode of "Seinfeld," Kramer was called Kessler. Early episodes imagine him as a homebody who never leaves his apartment. Although Kramer underwent significant changes throughout the series, he was always a quirky character. He keeps up a continuing gag as Jerry's intrusive neighbor, popping over for snacks and offering odd solutions to everyday problems. He's the kind of guy who would — and did — have a talk show set in his apartment to interview friends whenever they came over (Season 9, Episode 6, "The Merv Griffin Show"). And this was pre-YouTube and cell phones with video, don't forget.

While Kramer is undoubtedly an oddball, his character is much more than a collection of eccentricities. He's slapstick and pratfalls too. He's that signature slide sending him through the door to Jerry's apartment. Possessing a talent for physical comedy, Richards gave Kramer a unique set of moves. We can't help but wonder whether he ad-libbed them during filming.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Richards said there were always several options when he got a script. The cast had just three days to rehearse before taping, but he spent a lot of time on his own, working through ideas for how to play his scenes. While rumor has it his first slide through Jerry's door happened because he was late for a cue, as well as improvising his run through traffic in Season 8, Episode 16, "The Pothole,"  it wasn't physical comedy he recalled ad-libbing. Instead, it was Kramer's vocal stylings. "The sound effects were all made up," he said.

It was all up to Kramer

Remember all those strange pops, clicks, whoops, and whistles Kramer inserted into "Seinfeld" episodes when he was talking? They helped break up the scripted dialogue between characters. His way of talking may have sounded weird, but it also came across as remarkably realistic. After all, people rarely speak in real life the way they do on TV shows. Real conversations have interruptions and long pauses. They ramble into unrelated territory. They also include expressive sounds that can't always easily be described. When Richards replicated and invented these sounds on the fly while he worked, he added a new dimension to an already fully realized character. It was exactly what was needed on a unique-for-the-era show taking a new perspective on realism.

Fans loved the unusual sounds Kramer came up with, and Richards' castmates appreciated his way of working, too. Remembering his time on set with Richards, Alexander recalled overhearing the actor test out wild and jarring vocalizations between takes. Seinfeld was equally impressed. "He had to find all these little things," Seinfeld said. "And now when I watch (the show) and I see all that work he put into it, it all really made a difference."

According to Richards, the noises he made weren't planned. They "just came through," whenever Kramer needed them. In fact, that was how he always played the character. As Winfrey put it, "You didn't play him? He played you?" Richards agreed with that assessment wholeheartedly. "Yeah," he said. "The task was for me to get out of the way."