Alan Carter
September 24, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Kramer has a mantra: ”Yo Yo Ma.” Michael Richards has one too: ”Ben Kingsley is NOT Gandhi.” This does not reflect some weird obsession on Richards’ part. It’s just the Seinfeld star’s oblique way of saying that he is not Kramer. But before you swallow that whole, consider this scene on a late-summer afternoon in the San Fernando Valley. As Richards steers his white Lexus down busy Van Nuys Boulevard, he spies a driver in front of him trying to make an illegal U-turn. Suddenly, Richards is seized by a maniacal, Kramer-like fit of derring-do: He aims his car straight at the offending vehicle and floors it. After the other car speeds out of the way in a panic, avoiding a crash by inches, Richards bursts into crazy laughter. ”I guess he’ll never do that again, huh? Hahahaha. I think I gave him a heart attack. Hahahahaha!” Which just goes to show that there are some points at which the usually mild- mannered comic actor and the wild-mannered comic foil intersect. It’s inevitable that Richards sometimes lapses into Kramerian behavior, even while fighting the typecasting. As the NBC Thursday series begins its fourth season-its first as a certified phenomenon-Richards’ loony entrances into Jerry’s apartment have become automatic showstoppers and have helped him earn a Supporting Actor Emmy nomination. And he finds himself swept up in a hurricane of fan hysteria. ”The past few weeks I’ve felt like there is this blitz going on,” says Richards, 44. Everywhere he goes, he is greeted at high volume. At Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Foods Market, where he stops to pick up a veggie sandwich: ”Kramer!” At the dealership where he drops off his car for an oil change: ”Kramer!” ”They never say Michael or Michael Richards,” says the actor, a little wistfully. ”But I love Kramer.” He theorizes that it is not just his character’s charming goofiness that has incited all the clamor. ”It’s his sincerity, his commitment to a situation-and he’s a fighter. We just did a show where George was being real mousy. Kramer tells him to stand up.”

Kramer played a secretary on Murphy Brown and modeled underwear on his ”spectacular” buttocks for a Calvin Klein ad. Michael Richards could use a secretary to keep track of all his gigs, but he doesn’t do TV commercials-yet. Richards had cameos in the summer movies Coneheads and So I Married an Axe Murderer and just wrapped a costarring role in the film comedy Airheads. ”I’ve got parts lined up for the next two years,” he says. ”And they have nothing to do with Kramer.” He also notes that his solo show at the recent Montreal International Comedy Festival sold out all 2,200 seats in less than two hours. ”People expected to see Kramer,” he acknowledges, ”but my act, sort of a nontraditional stand-up act where I tell stories, wasn’t about Kramer. And I got a standing ovation. That was gratifying.” He says he has turned down several offers to pitch products, including soft drinks, for as much as $2.6 million per campaign. ”The money is staggering to me, really staggering,” he says. ”But they would own me. I’m afraid to be associated as the guy who sells a product. I want to be in this business for 30 years. I don’t want to be a shooting star.”

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