Mention the name of actor Michael Richards and it immediately conjures up images of Cosmo Kramer, the wild-haired, well-meaning neighbor-from-hell on the long-running NBC sitcom Seinfeld. But though Kramer is the role for which Richards is best known, it would be unfair to categorize him as a one-note actor, for he had already established a solid career as a comic character actor before landing the role in 1989.
A native of Van Nuys, CA, Richards was raised by his mother Phyllis Richards, a medical records librarian. His father, William Richards, an electrical engineer, died when Richards was a toddler. His mother raised him in Culver City, one of L.A.'s centers for movie and television production. When Richards was in the eighth grade, he developed a passion for acting that blinded him to almost all other career options. After high school, he aspired to become a dramatic actor and enrolled in the theater program at Valley College in California. There, however, it quickly became apparent that Richards' genius lay not in drama, but in comedy (he credits his mother for his sense of humor). He did not graduate and was drafted by the Army. After serving two years in Germany, he returned to attend the California Institute of the Arts. He did not earn a degree, however, until he attended Washington State's alternative school, Evergreen State College. After graduating, he returned to Los Angeles and began performing in comedy clubs. In those days, he specialized in a blend of surrealist and zany comedy. He had worked the standup circuit for less than a year when he was tapped by the ABC network to appear in their new sketch series Fridays. Though derided as a direct rip-off of NBC's more successful Saturday Night Live, the show ran from 1980 to 1982.