Tony Shalhoub Was Almost Kramer on ‘Seinfeld’ — And Michael Richards Was Almost ‘Monk’

The two iconic comic actors nearly played each other’s defining roles
Tony Shalhoub Was Almost Kramer on ‘Seinfeld’ — And Michael Richards Was Almost ‘Monk’

In some bizarro alternate dimension, Michael Richards spent eight seasons endearing himself to TV mystery fans playing the title character in Monk and Tony Shalhoub had an historically rough set at The Laugh Factory.

On the surface, there aren’t many aesthetic similarities between Cosmo Kramer and Adrian Monk — it’s hard to imagine the obsessive-compulsive investigator tolerating the physical chaos of the former’s presence, let alone eating one of his shower salads. However, once you dive down into the two very different but similarly beloved roles, you start to see parallels. Both characters are the odd ones out in their respective universes, deemed exceptionally eccentric by the rest of their castmates. Both exhibit an unusual array of talents that help them find a place in a world that wasn’t meant for weirdos like them. And, of course, fans of both characters couldn’t possibly imagine any other actor bringing the beloved roles to life besides the ones who landed them.

However, neither Richards nor Shalhoub were shoe-ins for Kramer and Monk respectively — when Seinfeld was first being cast in the late 1980s, Shalhoub was actually a finalist for the part of Kramer, eventually losing out to Richards. Then, when ABC executives first put together their pitch for Monk at the turn of the millennium, they offered the title role to Richards, who passed on the project in order to create the short-lived The Michael Richards Show. And here we thought the best role for Shalhoub on Seinfeld would have been the Soup Nazi.

Shalhoub’s Kramer is just one of the many storied “what if” Seinfeld performances that we’ll never get to see in action — for better or for worse. Other notable runner-ups for roles alongside Jerry Seinfeld in the series bearing his name were Danny DeVito, who was tapped to play George Costanza but turned it down, and — seriously — Rosie O’Donnell, who scored an audition for Elaine Benes. Wouldn’t that have been “breathtaking”?

Funny enough, when Richards passed on Monk to make The Michael Richards Show, the series was weirdly similar to the one that ABC consequently passed off to USA, where it ran for eight seasons and won Shalhoub three Emmys. On The Michael Richards Show, the eponymous star played a peculiar private investigator — only, unlike in Monk, his eccentricities made him awful at his job instead of a crime-solving savant. 

Perhaps Richards and Shalhoub could have pulled off each others most iconic performances, but the way the casting cards fell feels like the best-case scenario. Still, I wouldnt mind it if someone eventually dug up footage of Shalhoubs Seinfeld screentest — he really does strike you as a solid Assman.

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