Some characters are so bizarre, improbable, or flat-out impossible that you have to wonder how their creators ever came up with them. In a surprising amount of cases, the answer is that they didn't: They just copied a real person and called it a day. Like ...
8 Kramer (Seinfeld)
Cosmo Kramer was the most far-fetched character in a show that included a woman who died after licking too many wedding invitations and a guy who talked like Jerry Seinfeld and had sex with a different woman every week. For the entire duration of the series, Kramer never had a real job and was always trying to make money from his ridiculous schemes -- like that time he rented a bus and charged people $37.50 to take them on a "reality tour" of his life. Who the hell would do that?
The Real-Life Inspiration: Kenny Kramer
Meet Kenny Kramer, the real-life former neighbor of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David who does exactly what we just described, right down to the price of the tour. Like Cosmo, Kenny enjoys cigars, golf, and, more importantly, trying to make money in ridiculous ways. In his case, this actually worked: During the disco years, Kenny came up with electronic jewelry that sold like hotcakes, allowing him to live a life of leisure.
In a Season 5 episode, Cosmo wants to play himself on the show-within-the-show, but Jerry says no. That actually happened with Kenny and David, who didn't even let him play the guy who plays Kramer playing Kramer on Seinfeld.
This is getting rather Inception-y.
Eventually, Kenny figured out how to profit from his connection to the show anyway thanks to his reality tour, which apparently is going way better than Michael Richards' career.
7 Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski (The Big Lebowski)
Brian Solis/Polygram Filmed Entertainment
Did you know there's a whole movie made out of The Big Lebowski quotes? It's called The Big Lebowski, and it's about a laid-back slacker known as the Dude who finds himself involved in a complex kidnapping case but spends most of the movie bowling, drinking White Russians, and talking about his carpet. The Dude's relaxed attitude has inspired a philosophical movement called Dudeism and a yearly festival, Lebowski Fest.
The Real-Life Inspiration: Jeff Dowd
The Coen brothers have a habit of putting real people in their movies, then being hailed as geniuses for creating them. The Dude, for example, is inspired by their friend Jeff Dowd, and by "inspired" we mean "it's the same guy." The main difference is that Dowd actually has a job (he's a film producer), but the Dude's personality, drink of choice, nickname, and even biography (some parts, anyway) are all borrowed from Dowd. In the movie, the Dude mentions that he was a member of the Seattle Seven, a group of political activists who were arrested in 1970 -- in real life, that was Dowd.
He's the hippie with the curly hair.
Meanwhile, some of the Dude's misadventures were based on anecdotes told to the Coens by fellow screenwriter Peter Exline, who once had his car stolen and found a teenager's homework inside when it was recovered. Exline and a friend tracked down the teenager and interrogated him in his living room, where his sick father (a Hollywood veteran) lived in a hospital bed. That whole story appears pretty much verbatim in the film.
Polygram Filmed Entertainment
Perhaps Exline can finally explain to us what "find a stranger in the Alps" means.