Widely considered to be one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, there isn’t much about “Seinfeld” that’s been left unsaid at this point. The critically acclaimed series was the brainchild of comedians Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, telling loose, incredibly exaggerated stories from their real life as well as completely original narratives. Of course, Seinfeld played himself with Jason Alexander’s George Costanza being largely based on David.
Michael Richards — at varying points one of the most lauded and reviled comedians in television history — played a version of David’s real-life neighbor, renamed Cosmo Kramer. As Kramer, Richards broke new ground in physical comedy and turned himself into a household name as a result. Every so often, however, his heightened, jerky movements would create mayhem. In one episode of the series’ 3rd season, his over-the-top acting left him bleeding while they were shooting at a makeshift set. Here’s a closer look at what happened.
Tension were high on set
The cast of Seinfeld wander a parking garage
Following in the footsteps of Season 2’s “The Chinese Restaurant,” Season 3, Episode 6, “The Parking Garage” finds the four misanthropic heroes of “Seinfeld” lost in a parking garage. Unable to find their car, the group wanders helplessly — Jerry desperately needs to use the restroom, George has an impending dinner with his parents, Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is trying to keep her fish alive, while Kramer struggles to carry an 80-pound air conditioner. While the tension of the episode was carefully manufactured, antics behind the scenes ultimately led to Richards’ bloody injury.
As Larry David and the rest of the crew recount in a behind-the-scenes featurette, “The Parking Garage” was far more difficult to execute than it seemed to be (via YouTube). Aside from the challenge of finding enough story in such a constrained space, David overestimated their ability to shoot in an actual parking garage. The set designers ultimately decided to deconstruct the entire production lot — including Seinfeld’s iconic apartment set — and construct a parking garage in its place, even using mirrors to give the illusion of a larger, unending area.
The shooting hours required by the episode were also apparently quite long, with Richards stating in the featurette: “We were up all night.” Seinfeld recalls being so tired that he and Louis-Dreyfus could neither stand nor sit for make-up, thus it had to be applied while they laid on the concrete floor. As a result of this exhaustion, Alexander notes that the cast had trouble keeping it together on set, giggling at almost anything — a quirk that frustrated director Tom Cherones.
Richards commits to the bit a little too hard
Throughout rehearsal and shooting, Michael Richards had insisted that he be given a real, 80-pound air conditioner to lug around to make the exhaustion more realistic (a request that seemed to baffle Julia Louis-Dreyfus). When it came time to film one of the last scenes wherein Kramer hoists the unit into the trunk of his car, Richards “[decided] he’s gonna do a ‘Kramer,'” as Alexander recalled.
The goal was to send the 80-pound box seamlessly into the trunk, which was barely an inch longer than the box itself. Richards wanted to do this in Kramer’s awkward, rigid mannerisms. The result, which can be seen on YouTube, sees Richards essentially fall with his full weight into the trunk, slamming his lip on the air conditioner and splitting it instantly. As is visible on the tape, Louis-Dreyfus and Seinfeld can’t contain their laughter.
For his part, Richards stays defiantly in character as long as he can, remarking as Kramer to Louis-Dreyfus’ breaking Elaine, “I really hurt myself.” All she can do is nod in response, too close to laughing to speak. As Richards tries to play it off, no one else can meet his energy for fear of laughing, causing him and the rest of the cast to finally break into a fit of giggles. Cherones — already frustrated by the slow shooting process and lack of focus from the actors — chewed the actors out before launching into the final scene, in which they were supposed to drive away in Kramer’s car.
As Jason Alexander remembered, the director was so fed up that he insisted the first take be the only take. Of course, when Richards (as Kramer) goes to start the car it doesn’t start, again causing the actors to break character, which can actually be seen in the final cut of the episode. Richards plays this mistake off seamlessly, however, and the creative team decided to end the episode this way instead.