Fred Stoller, an L.A. comedian who appeared prominently in one episode of Seinfeld and who wrote a few famous episodes of the show (including The Soup), was sued by the man who inspired the Cosmo Kramer character, Kenny Kramer, for defamation.
The bizarre lawsuit, which ended this week in favor of Stoller, blended the sue-happy character of Cosmo with the reality of legal costs for the defendant. “I felt this universe of Seinfeld was still going on,” Stoller tells L.A. Weekly today.
See also: Fred Stoller, Professional TV Guest Star
It was all too real. You see, the real-life Kramer, Kenny, took issue with Stoller's book, Maybe We'll Have You Back: The Life of a Perennial TV Guest Star, in which the comedian recounts taking Kramer's real-life bus tour of New York locations made famous by the (filmed-in-L.A.) show:
The book states that the tour went to Greenwich Village to revisit an episode, The Outing, in which Jerry Seinfeld and friend George Costanza are believed by a young journalist to be gay. The catchphrase of the episode is, “Not that there's anything wrong with that.”
According to a passage of Stoller's memoir:
In the gay-dominated Greenwich Village, I had to hear [Kramer's tour guide] make everyone scream out, ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that!'
He called the guide “some sort of deranged cheerleader.”
In classic Cosmo Kramer fashion, Kenny Kramer took offense, accusing Stoller of accusing him of being homophobic. (Got that?) The plaintiff said that the tour never even went to Greenwich Village.
But after a seven-month court case, a judge in New York dismissed Kramer's defamation suit.
“All he said was, during the bus tour the tour guide hits on every popular catchphrase that the show is known for,” Stoller's attorney, David Albert Pierce, tells us.
Judge Barbara Jaffe said there shouldn't be any anti-LGBT stigma attached to the phrase; even the gay community praised the episode after it aired in 1993. She concluded:
Although Stoller finds the exercise annoying, any reasonable reader would understand it as Seinfeld-related shtick, even if the phrase was repeatedly screamed out as the bus wended its way through “gay-dominated Greenwich Village.” And, although pointing to gay people and taunting them with the phrase from within a large tour bus wending its way down tiny streets in Greenwich Village may reasonably reflect homophobia, nowhere does Stoller depict any pointing and he never uses the term “taunting.”
Stoller tells us that Kramer “just twisted it” when it came to reading his book:
When I found out I was being sued, he sent some rabid Facebook message to me, not getting the humor of my book and misconstruing it.
He admits that Kramer's actions reminded him of Cosmo's character:
When I'd read his rantings about it, even though I know it's not [actor] Michael Richards suing me, I pictured him saying, 'I'm going to get him, Jerry!'
Stoller is a bit battle-scared by the episode nonetheless.
His tale of the tour was a minuscule part of a memoir that recounts his appearances on different shows and even a one-night stand with comedian Kathy Griffith, whom he says loved the book.
Interestingly, the comedian says that in addition to his guest spot on the show, he appeared in one episode as an extra with the real Kramer. Both were in the stands during a hockey game. And, he says, the duo once copped some free soup in New York after a connection was made to Seinfeld and the line “soup is a meal” from an episode Stoller wrote.
He says he's had to foot the legal bill for the ordeal and acknowledged the help of friends who held a fundraiser. Stoller said comedian Fred Willard gave him money for the case, too.
“My book is a lighthearted memoir,” Stoller said. “The court victory is one of those bittersweet things. Obviously this shouldn't have happened. I never wrote something to get anyone or be mean. I just wanted to tell my story and be humorous and connect to people.”