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Posted by on Nov 21, 2006 in At TMV | 50 comments

Seinfeld’s Kramer Ruins Career With Racial Insults (UPDATED)


There’s an old line: “When I told people I wanted to be a comedian, everyone laughed at me. Today, I’m a comedian, and no one’s laughing at me now!”

Was that written for Seinfeld’s “Kramer,” Michael Richards?

Richards, a veteran comic actor, sketch comedian and longtime cutting-edge comedian unleashed racial-epithet crammed rant onstage at The Laugh Factory, sparking a firestorm that will most certain downsize — if not virtually destroy — his career. Yes, he’ll still have his Seinfeld residuals. But so much for product endorsements, major Hollywood parts or a new TV show. He is now damaged goods.

The story was broken via a video posted on Harvey Levin’s great show biz news site TMZ.com:

Michael Richards exploded in anger as he performed at a famous L.A. comedy club last Friday, hurling racial epithets that left the crowd gasping, and TMZ has obtained exclusive video of the ugly incident.

Richards, who played the wacky Cosmo Kramer on the hit TV show “Seinfeld,” appeared onstage at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood. Kyle Doss, an African-American, told TMZ he and some friends were in the cheap seats and he was playfully heckling Richards when suddenly, the comedian lost it.

The camera started rolling just as Richards began his attack, screaming at one of the men, “Fifty years ago we’d have you upside down with a f***ing fork up your ass.”

Richards continued, “You can talk, you can talk, you’re brave now motherf**ker. Throw his ass out. He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! A nigger, look, there’s a nigger!”

The crowd is visibly and audibly confused and upset. Richards responds by saying, “They’re going to arrest me for calling a black man a nigger.”

One of the men who was the object of Richard’s tirade was outraged, shouting back “That’s un-f***ing called for, ain’t necessary.”

After the three-minute tirade, it appears the majority of the audience members got up and left in disgust.

Richards was immediately banned from performing at the club again (although on cable news shows the explanation was that he might be able to perform there if he apologized).

David Stein writes:

Richards’ slur-filled response to “hecklers” at The Laugh Factory was the most foul and disgusting thing I have ever seen on stage. Before you ask what a sports talk show host knows about comedy, I have owned a comedy club for the past 15 years and have been a stand-up comic for the past 20 years. I personally have seen more than 5,000 shows. Never — and I mean never — have I seen a performer talk to an audience in such a manner — with racial slurs for the sake of racial slurs. No punch-line. No tongue-in-cheek. No Kramer pratfall. Just good ole civil rights-era racial epithets.

Who still talks like this? Racists. Oh, I’m sure Richards will claim he was just trying to be funny, that is was a joke gone bad. After all, the “joke gone bad” thing worked for John Kerry last month, right? As a comedian, as a comedy club owner and as a Jew (Richards is Jewish,) I am appalled. Comedy is subjective, but this was not comedy. This was not intended to be comedy. This cannot even be excused as a typical comedian’s response to a heckler. A typical comedian’s response to a heckler is, “Hey, do I come to where you work and mess with the French fry machine?” A typical comedian response to a heckler is not yelling racial slurs and then saying, “Fifty years ago we’d have you upside down with a (expletive) fork stuck up your (expletive.)”

I laud the Laugh Factory’s condemnation of Richards and subsequent banning of him from the club. At least his fellow comics didn’t defend him like when all those basketball coaches defended Bobby Knight last week after he clearly hit a player in the chin.

Indeed, this may be remembered as Richards’ “Mel Gibson Moment” except for one difference. Gibson was drunk when he displayed his anti-semitism (no excuse). Richards was merely angry (no excuse). Tony Hicks notes:

It was all squeamishly bizarre. And — because this was a public figure spewing hate in a public place — somebody needs to do some honest explaining.

The concept of the celebrity breakdown isn’t new, but Richards, and Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant earlier this year, have taken it to a new, strange place. After all, this isn’t a spaced-out Mariah Carey handing out popsicles on MTV in 2001, before doing a brief striptease and saying, “I just want one day off when I can go swimming and eat ice cream and look at rainbows.”

Nor is it a drugged-up Robert Downey Jr. breaking into a neighbor’s house to take a little nap. Like we all haven’t done that.

There have been some classics, but most of them made us chuckle, not wince….But this is different. As a white-Euro man, I have no clue about the feelings generated by some idiot-celebrity telling a black man, before a room full of people, that he deserves lynching. And Richards, even if flees to the old “snapping-under-pressure” defense, deserves further calling out. It’s seems an unnecessary reminder, but celebrities aren’t the people they play. Period. So why is it so shocking to see them act like jerks?

But the race issue makes this worse for Richards. We’re not allowed to talk about race in this country. Everyone is afraid of offending by asking honest questions, or giving honest opinions. Comedians blur the line further, especially with the so-called “N” word. Dave Chappelle uses it, and we fall of our chairs laughing. Of course, being a matter of context, it’s funny.

Even a white guy could possibly get away with it, if done in the proper context. However Richards was going after two guys personally, going so far as to remind them we used to lynch them not long ago.

Maybe Richards needs a fork in his (expletive). If nothing else, to see if his career is cooked.

Hicks is correct: there will be spin, and Richards is already appearing with Jerry Seinfeld on David Letterman to offer a profuse apology.

“For me to be at a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, I’m deeply, deeply sorry,” he said during a taping of David Letterman’s “Late Show.”

“I’m not a racist. That’s what’s so insane about this.”

But, in the longrun, it probably won’t do him much good. The toothpaste is out of the tube and it’s hard to get it back in again.

Mel Gibson will never again get huge B.O. — meaning “box office,” not body odor…but to many Jewish moviegoers he will forever have the latter. They won’t pay a dime to see him.

Pee Wee Herman never recovered from the exposure he received when police spotted him at a porn flick. The exposure (at the porn flick and the negative publicity) effectively ended his career as a highly popular national entertainer who was on the verge of becoming a cultural icon due to his movies and CBS kids TV show.

Richards’ career will never be the same, either. Seinfeld seems like a loyal type, so it’s unlikely he’ll abandon Richards (if there is any reunion special in the works). But things won’t be the same:

  • Richards’ image is destroyed. How can you say “oops it slipped out” when you repeated the n word over and over?
  • Richards may have been trying to unsuccessfully channel Lenny Bruce or George Carlin (note in the video below when he talks about “words,” insinuating that they don’t really matter.) Instead, he came across more as David Duke — with bad hair.
  • Richards’ performances will never be perceived the same again on the Seinfeld DVDs by many. They won’t go through a suspension of belief and see an actor seamlessly portraying an eccentric. To many African-Americans (and some others) they’ll see an actor who they have pegged as a not-so-closet bigot.
  • Richards has had a long and highly distinguished career as a comedian and sketch comic so there was no excuse. He is NOT an amateur. This will obscure much of his previous work, in the court of public opinion.
  • Richards will have a hard time explaining to professional and even starting comedians why he said what he did in a situation facing a heckler, even a highly aggressive one. Heckler put down jokes are as old as stand up comedy. There are tons of one-liners people have used throughout the years to squelch hecklers. Examples are here (family friendly) and here (ADULT material). More here. What’s the common denominator in these anti-heckler lines? Even an experienced comedian knows that you don’t handle a heckler by insulting their race. That would be the sign of someone less than an amateur.

    And Richards is hardly an amateur. So there is NO EXCUSE that explains what happened and NO APOLOGY will erase this blight on his career.

    The big question — and story — is what made him not just go over the line but go totally off the comedy reservation.

    And, yes, there IS something “wrong with that…”

    Here’s the video that has sparked the controversy (WARNING: Adult Content) so you can judge it for yourself.

    PERSONAL NOTE: A reader asked for my comments as a performer.

    I’m not on the same level as Richards or Seinfeld, but I can say that every performer has stories of bombing. There is even a book that deals with the highs and lows of stand up — a book called “I Killed” which I’m reading now. Check it out.

    Read bios of comedians and they all have stories of performances that were Performance Hell. Clearly, Richards was not doing well in the minutes leading up to his poor choice of how to proceed. If a performer starts to “bomb” it is an excruciatingly lonely experience; the performer can’t just say “Oh, well, you hate me tonight, so goodnight!” but they have to try to salvage the performance. That entails experience, fall-back performance strategies…and also a lot of LUCK. The phrase “flop sweat” reflects a performing reality in cases such as this.

    I have my own share of horror stories. One was doing a show for an audience clearly composed of people associated with organized crime. They did not want a show at all (but I had been contracted to do one). Many years before I went into ventriloquism full-time, I did a song parody satire at the piano in New Delhi. And the wife of a high American official was very angry at jokes that poked fun at anyone. In my own case, in the these-days-rare cases where a “bad show” happens I shift to alternate strategies, move set segments around around, etc. If it doesn’t work? I complete my show, smile graciously and leave when it is over. I would NEVER use name-calling. Why? The comedian has to try to win over the audience. Just name-calling turns the audience against the comedian.

    A few putdowns usually will do, and I’ve seldom had to use those. The great ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson had one line he’d use if he had problems from a heckler. His dummy Danny O’Day would say to the heckler: “Who’s working your string?”

    Wit, even aggressive humor, is one thing; just hurling words to hurt and shock accomplishes nothing…if you’re there to do COMEDY.

    UPDATE: Apparently Richard’s apology on Letterman didn’t hit it out of the ballpark. TMZ.com:

    Looking sallow, drawn, and speaking in halting fragments, Richards explained via satellite from Los Angeles to David Letterman and friend Jerry Seinfeld in New York, that he had lost his temper after some members of the audience interrupted his act and that he “took it badly,” unleashing the racist invective that TMZ first aired this morning. He apologized to the people who took “the brunt” of his abuse, saying he was “really busted up,” but then went on a strange tangent on race relations, saying he was “concerned about hate and rage” and about a “great deal of disturbance between blacks and whites” after Hurricane Katrina.

    Richards did not say whether any other factors contributed to his actions, adding only that he would be doing “personal work” in the aftermath of the incident.

    Audience members in the Ed Sullivan Theater, who were watching Richards on a screen, began laughing at Richards at first, thinking that the interview was a comedy skit, until Seinfeld admonished them, saying, “Stop laughing. It’s not funny.”

    UPDATE: Watch Richards’ apology on Letterman on Crooks and Liars HERE.

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    Copyright 2006 The Moderate Voice
    • Serge

      As a comedian, as a comedy club owner and as a Jew (Richards is Jewish,) I am appalled.

      He’s not, by the way — someone ought to let Stein know that he can be appalled in one less way.

    • Marlowecan

      A very bizarre performance. Richards clearly seems to lose it in raging at the hecklers.

      It would have been nice if Joe had commented upon this from the perspective of his non-TMV persona as an entertainer.

      Thing is: I have dealt with audiences that size in other capacities, and being the focus of that much attention is a source of power as well as vulnerability. My point being, Richards could have easily dealt with the hecklers. One always imagines scenarios beforehand about dealing with problems.

      Just imagine yourself on a open stage…under the lights and those gazes…screaming “nigger, nigger, nigger!”

      I doubt anyone here could conceive of themselves doing such a thing. That’s how bizarre this seems.

      Man, it sounded like pure rage…almost hatred. It must have been especially shocking up close.

      I was struck by the almost dignified responses of audience members: “That was uncalled for.” There was clearly a lot of hurt in that room.

      As Joe says, the reality of youTube makes this damage much worse than Gibson’s unseen rant. I liked Joe’s (unintentional?) pun though, which captures how youTube has transformed our culture:

      “The toothpaste is out of the tube and it’s hard to get it back in again.”

      There was the OJ bizarreness (Regan’s rep is damaged now, like Richards)…now this! This year seems to be closing on a very bizarre note…as if the collective unconsciousness is unravelling.

      What will happen next?

    • Joe

      I’ll add a personal comment as per your request.

    • Marlowecan

      “It would have been nice if Joe had commented upon this from the perspective of his non-TMV persona as an entertainer.”

      Phrased that badly…I meant from his personal experience at performing before crowds and dealing with groups.

      As someone who has done that, this seems especially strange to me.

      Perhaps there folks here who have done stand-up who can comment further?

    • Marlowecan

      Joe said: “I’ll add a personal comment as per your request.”

      Wow. That was fast.

      Yes, I had just thought that although your critique was excellent…and obviously influenced by your entertainment knowledge…you didn’t reference your personal experience in appearing before crowds.

      That seemed to be an important point here, given it wasn’t a private raging about “Jewish sugartits” in the entertainment industry from a jail cell…but in the context of a performance.

    • Bedeborah

      I havae always loved watching Kramer for years. I’ve enjoyed talking him up to my children about the show he had years ago that kept me in stitches.
      Not anymore. And it was not just the N word that makes me appalled, its the words he said about fifty years ago. Has he forgotten that he’s jewish and what happened to his people fifty years ago.
      I except his apology but I do not want to see him again.

    • Joe

      I think your response will be typical. Entertainers (also bloggers by the way so when any of us write we need to keep it in mind) forget that if someone doesn’t know someone PERSONALLY they will make judgments based on what they see of them. Tom Cruise’ popularity has taken a sharp nosedive recently. ETc. People can love someone they see on the screen, or a newspaper columnist, or whatever. But it is difficult later for people to just watch or read the person’s work if something has happened to change the perception of the person. It will eventually hit Jerry Seinfeld in the pocketbook. It’s like all of the great Naked Gun movies with Leslie Nielson. When they are played now people watch OJ Simpson do his part see something different than what they saw when the films first came out and if they did another one of them OJ would not be invited. I just don’t think Richards will recover significantly from this. He doesn’t need the money due to his big payout from Seinfeld and he’ll never get those big bucks again. Also, do you think he’d draw a huge crowd if he appears at a comedy club? Most likely a hostile crowd, no matter what he says now.

    • two_shoes

      Sue the bootlegger, the camera-phone assassin!

      “It’s not funny, that’s why you’re a reject, never had no shows, never had no movies, ‘Seinfeld’ that’s it.” Oh Snap!

    • From someone…

      …who still loves watching “Lethal Weapon”.

      This whole thing is quite a surprise and hard to understand however I still love the Kramer character from Seinfeld and will continue to do so. Why in the world wouldn’t I?

      For being published at a site called “The Moderate Voice” I’m a bit surprised at the reactions here: do you people only listen to music made by those with your own opinions? Only read books by authors you look up to? Do you stop loving something just because you later on see that whoever responsible had faults or even great faults? If so isn’t that just incredibly shallow and infantile?

    • Joe

      Sorry. The commenter named Kramer left us a comment linked to a site that referred to Richards as “Jew comedian.” We really are not interested in those kinds of links so we’ve removed that comment. We offer polite warnings to people of all viewpoints if the line is crossed and try not to just ban people. Please read the guidelines below once more. We are not interested in providing links to sites such as that…but anyone is free to do their own site. We have not banned the commenter this time but we have removed the comment with the links. JG

    • Marlowecan

      Thanks for the update Joe.

      In reading your commentary I was reminded of a newspaper article from when Milton Berle died, which published an interview with him from a few years earlier about his comedy routines and included some of his stock replies to hecklers.

      He had at least fifty of them that the newspaper printed . . . a number of these multi-warhead jokes for dealing with particularly troublesome hecklers.

      They were devastatingly funny, especially in that they were tactical nukes whose delivery blew away the immediate heckler while leaving the surrounding audience laughing at their brilliance…and thus ensuring any further response was unlikely.

      Berle mentioned in his interview that he had been collecting these over the course of his career, and kept them in reserve for every performance.

      Preparation and hard work makes great Comedy seem effortlessly brilliant.

    • Marlowecan

      From Someone wrote: “For being published at a site called “The Moderate Voice” I’m a bit surprised at the reactions here: do you people only listen to music made by those with your own opinions? Only read books by authors you look up to…If so isn’t that just incredibly shallow and infantile?”

      No, I think people are just shocked at the outburst. I’m not confusing Richards with his character from Seinfeld or anything…I just think such an outburst in a performance is shocking.

      Speaking for myself, I often admire aspects of those I disagree with. For example, I have seen “Triumph of the Will” a number of times, and marvel at Albert Speer’s and Leni Reifensthal’s stagecraft of Nazi power. George Lucas did as well, and paid homage to the film in the closing shot of Episode IV of “Star Wars”…doesn’t mean Lucas agrees with the Nazi ideology, but just admires the technique.

      I don’t know what fuelled the outburst? Drugs perhaps? Who knows. But the video only gives a distant impression of how it must have been.

      I still have my Seinfeld DVDs, and will buy the new season when it comes out this Xmas, but I still think this scene was very very bad.

    • Dr. Don Key

      I’m shocked and disgusted. I’m one of the world’s biggest Seindfeld fans. I’ll continue to be as such, but I’ll never support “Kramer’s” work until he makes ammends. Hey, a joke’s a joke, but he crossed the line. He’s WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY outta line!

    • Dr. Don Key

      I’d like to make a few other points. Firstly, sometimes the oppressed become the oppressors. It’s amazing and ironic how certain minorities can support causes/legislation/political parties that are not in the best interest of minorities. The misleading argument that many Republicans make is that everyone is equal, so they should be treated equally. Yes, everyone is equal, but everyone is not -treated- equally. Considering what I know of American history and particularly what’s happened after the Civil War, I can’t fathom how any woman or minority could support the Republican party. I never knew that Kramer was Jewish. It’s a non-issue for me, but after the Holocaust, his case is one of the oppressed becoming the oppressor.

      Also, you know how you say what’s REALLY on your mind when you’re drunk, right? You say what you’re REALLY thinking. People also do that when they’re irate. As Trent Lott’s and George Allen’s pro-segregation comments were not a slip of the tongue, Kramer’s wasn’t either. Quite simply, racism is a behavior that is learned, and must be unlearned. Also, a racist doesn’t have to be sporting a white hood. Consider Senator Byrd, for instance. Yes, he’s the only Senator who was in the Klan. That said, he’s made ammends.

    • Marlowecan

      Dr.DonKey said: “Considering what I know of American history and particularly what’s happened after the Civil War, I can’t fathom how any woman or minority could support the Republican party.”

      I don’t understand what you mean here. I mean, Lincoln was a Republican. The Republicans were tarred for years as being the party associated with Reconstruction and of freeing the slaves.

      This explains why the Democrats dominated in the south for generations after Reconstruction ended, and White segregation authority was imposed.

      The Democrats did not become the party of Civil Rights until relatively recently – Truman forced the key split in the 40s – and many conservative southern Whites migrated to the Republicans (a process that itself took a generation). This explains Byrd’s Klan affliations, as he taps into this older Southern Democrat model.

      Is Richards Jewish? Who knows. If so, it is particularly ironic that he should make that comment about “50 years ago” uppity Blacks like his heckler would be lynched given that 50 years ago the Jews were being massacred.

      Saw the Seinfeld video on Letterman. He is trying to help his friend and colleaque. It is very sad. I don’t suppose we will know what was behind it for some time. I imagine Richards career is finished.

      Although maybe Regan and Fox are looking for someone to interview to fill the gap not that the OJ show is cancelled?

    • MB

      People must see “Kramer blacked up”:
      http://youtube.com/watch?v=DVt6eoKB9sw

    • Dr. Don Key

      Marlowecan (3:35)

      “I don’t understand what you mean here. I mean, Lincoln was a Republican. The Republicans were tarred for years as being the party associated with Reconstruction and of freeing the slaves.

      This explains why the Democrats dominated in the south for generations after Reconstruction ended, and White segregation authority was imposed.

      The Democrats did not become the party of Civil Rights until relatively recently – Truman forced the key split in the 40s – and many conservative southern Whites migrated to the Republicans (a process that itself took a generation). This explains Byrd’s Klan affliations, as he taps into this older Southern Democrat model.”

      Immediately after the Civil War, there were more African-American Republicans than Democrats. However, as you stated, a lot of white Southerners weren’t elated about the outcome of the Civil War. The transformation wasn’t immediate, and as you detailed-took generations. However, the “swapping” of the GOP and Democratic parties was somewhat solidified with the Civil Rights movement. Some Democrats supported it, while white Southerners tended to perceive it as another reason to switch parties. Bottom line is that the GOP isn’t your great-grandfather’s GOP.

      “Is Richards Jewish?”
      Yes, the article reveals it.

      “Who knows. If so, it is particularly ironic that he should make that comment about “50 years ago” uppity Blacks like his heckler would be lynched given that 50 years ago the Jews were being massacred.”
      I agree 100%. Then again, Condi Rice grew up in a wealthy black family and claims that she never experienced racism growing up in Missouri. Uncle Tomism isn’t dead.

      “I imagine Richards career is finished.”
      100%. As is Mel Gibson’s and others who make such outbursts.

      “Although maybe Regan and Fox are looking for someone to interview to fill the gap not that the OJ show is cancelled?”
      Yeah, FOX is shameless. Any fuel for the fire, I guess. If OJ had been white, or his wife had been black, in all sincerity would it have been the case that it was? Probably not.

    • e

      The problem with this video is that there is no context here. How long did they heckle? What did they say? We have no idea what they were doing to anger Richards. The guy has been doing standup for years. What made this encounter with hecklers any different from others?

    • Oh great, Joe. From my praise of the ‘clean comedy’ of L&H to Kramer’s mental breakdown. You just had to top me you &%$^*@#$!

    • gal

      It was unprofessional and unhinged, and I would expect more self-control out of someone who’s been a working performer for so long. C’mon, how many hecklers has he faced in his career — you’d think he would have a few stock responses to that sort of thing so he can shut the hecklers up and get back to his show. He let the hecklers completely derail him.

      No, I won’t be going to see him perform any time soon, but I never planned on it anyway. Yes, I’ll still continue to thoroughly enjoy the reruns of Seinfeld, a show I love, but I’ll not be able to view Richards as a person the same way again. I hope this incident ultimately serves to help him get over the anger he clearly holds.

    • As a Seinfeld non-fan (Abbott &Costello were better and cleaner) I have to agree that there is a bit of smugness in some of these replies.

      Yes, Richards has torpedoed his career, but America loves comenbacks, and a few years and a few dozen other celebrity ‘incidents’ will put this into perspective.

      I doubt Gibson’s career is over, too. Strangely, in watching media coverage of this it is white liberals who are more outraged than blacks, who kind of expect this sort of profane ejaculation every so often.

      Recall, this is a nation where klansmen like Byrd, segregationists like Trent Lott, and anti-Semites like Farrakhan cruise on w little damage. Even a huckster like Al Sharpton has put his numerous racial scams behind him. Rudy Giuliani had monetary investments in apartheid era S. Africa, and he’s considered the Republican frontrunner for Prez.

      These folks have all done far worse than Richards regarding ethnic transgressions. And racism, while bad, is not on par with rape, pedophilia, nor murder. Sorry, but OJ’s far more vile than Michael Richards. Regardless of his race.

      The point is that everyone has ethical lapses of one sort or another- be they sexual, racial, personal, addictive, etc. If Richards is really sorry you’ll see it when the inevitable morning tv interview w Diane Sawyer, or prime time one w Barbara Walters airs in a month. With a book to follow.

    • I find the whole episode darkly humorous.

      In essence, this is the liberal version of the Ted Haggard Scandal. Instead of family values, the liberal ideal being flouted is the “brotherhood of man”.

      The problem of course is knowing where the line is. Apparently its fine to hate Christians, but not blacks.

      Its all so confusing.

    • Elrod

      I thought Condi grew up in Alabama. If so, it’s impossible that she didn’t “experience racism,” especially as she was there during the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.

    • Elrod

      This is very disturbing, to say the least. I’ve never been a big Kramer or even Seinfeld fan, so it isn’t like I’ve lost a great icon. But still, Richards comes from a long line of sharp Jewish comedians who made their way largely through self-mockery. One of the most effective ways that we Jews dealt (and deal) with anti-Semitism is self-deprecating humor and irony. The vaudeville stage was the perfect set for that, a chance to poke fun at our own awkward adjustment to the New World, and for us to jab right back at the world that mocked us. Over time Jewish humor has pushed the envelope on self-deprication and generalized “ethnic joking.” The tradition that brought us Lenny Bruce and even Howard Stern also brought us Woody Allen and Jackie Mason. The best of all, in my book, is Mel Brooks, who pivots from Jewish self-deprication to generalized anti-racist racist humor. Blazing Saddles is the coup de grace in this genre, forcing the audience to decide what it’s laughing at. Even Sacha Baron Cohen, dare I say, follows in this same tradition. Jewish humorists have never been “politcally correct.” They are strongest, in fact, when they are quite politically incorrect.

      But Richards’ rant doesn’t come across in the same ironic tinge as, say, Mel Brooks. In fact, it seems like pure, unironic white supremacist rage. I just went to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute this weekend and I was reminded of the world of 50 years ago, when Emmitt Till was lynched in Mississippi, and white mobs terrorized blacks in Birmingham and Montgomery who dared stand up for the right to eat at white lunch counters or cast votes. What struck me was the absolute rage in the faces of the mobs in Birmingham, or in Oxford, or Tuscaloosa, or Little Rock. It was that rage that we saw in Michael Richards. And there was no irony at all.

    • Lynx

      Wow, what an outburst. On the one hand, I find it hard to believe that a man in the preforming arts since his teens and that even did educational skits about drugs and race relations while in the military, would hold deeply racist views. I’m going to have to say that he is racist because the evidence is rather damning. I took Gibsons remarks as a showing true anti-semitism, I don’t think it would be consistent to take this as anything other than racism. The only other explanation that occurs to me is that he just reached for the most hurtful thing he could find and vomited it. Disgusting, in either case.

      According to wikipedia Richards is not jewish but is in fact, get this, a Mason. I assumed he was Jewish because of Sienfeld but I guess you don’t have to be it to play it. In any case I find prejudice amongst minorities to be even more amazing than amongst non-minorities. Jewish prejudice against blacks, or black prejudice against Gays. You’d think that being at the recieving end of unfair treatment would teach you a lesson.

    • capelza

      Apparently its fine to hate Christians, but not blacks.

      Who hates Christians? There is a difference between a Christian and the Extreme Right Chrisitan “coalition”. I’m a church going Episcpalian and I despise the people who want to impose their religious values on their fellow Americans. Don’t confuse the two.

      Re: Richards. This is a shocking thing to see. Was never a big Seifeld fan, but I appreciated the impact it had on TV. Words fail me.

    • Joe

      To cosmoetica: you raised a point. I have LOTS of DVDs and almost all of them are “clean comedy” classics from many eras. I find I watch those over and over and over. I DID see Borat — and liked it. But that’s a different form of comedy. The point about what happened with Richards is that in no way, shape or form did what he did fit into comedy. It isn’t like the old Sam Kennison scream show; it isn’t like the biting, insult wit of Don Rickles. It was just rage and anger and a display of someone losing his temper because an audience member was talking and making comments during his act. That’s a very unfortunate part of live performing. The Laurel and Hardy style clean comedy attracted fewer hecklers, but this kind of comedy did indeed attract heckling in the days of vaudeville. But if you read vaudevill history, if a peformer had reacted like Richards did, their career would have been totally over. It’s hard to see how he fully recovers from this one. FYI I have reviews I want to do on TMV about some of the “clean comedy” dvds I have — some of them are gems of classic comedy. And they hold up well years later (some of the ones I have to stacked up to watch were filmed when I was a kid and I never saw them until now). I collect and watch this kind of thing. Next month I’ll review the reissue of the old Abbott and Costello TV show. The point is a)clean comedy has endured and still “kills” if it’s done right, b)the other styles of comedy can also “kill” , c)if something flops an entertainer has to try win back the audience or AT the LEAST finish his set and get off the stage graciously, then move onto the next gig. Insulting or joking about an audience member’s race, religion or whatever and name calling WITHOUT ANY PUNCH LINE is a career destroyer…no matter who does it. Here we have someone famous who won’t be invited to as many comedy clubs in the future. Why would they invite someone who is likely to draw more hecklers now than comedy fans?

    • Sardonicus

      I’m sick and tired of all the political correctness, and double standards that exist in the entertainment industry and elsewhere these days.

      Of course we are all offended and in shock over the Michael Richards rant,…
      but many an evening I’ve set and watched black comedians use the “N” word as well as others, such as “HONKEY” “CRACKER” “WHITE BOY” “WHITE TRASH” and so on and so forth.
      Quite a double standard.
      Accptable to target Whites, Christians, and Jews, but everyone else is off limits,…if you happen to be white. BS.

    • The Seinfeld series is in my top two series of all time. I was shocked, disturbed – you name it about this incident. I right away recalled seeing Jason Alexander tell Oprah years ago, after she asked who is the least funniest on the show off camera, he said, Michael Richards. It was surprising to me because I felt based on everything I’ve seen all four main characters do in interviews or other shows, that Jason was the least funny. But then I also saw Andy Kaufman’s bio on tv and there was old clip of him appearing on this Fridays sketch comedy show years ago (pre-seinfeld) with Michael Richards. When Andy had a bizarre moment that went of script Richards reacted the strongest and most upset about the incident.
      So this is all freaken weird seeing this in that perspective. Richards needs writers to write his lines. He has an amazing gift for physical comedy and I believe he can act. I believe he displayed way more guts going on Letterman then Gibson did HOW MANY WEAKS/MONTHS LATER talking to Diane Sawyer! He needs mega therapy! I believe there is redemption but he has a lot of explainin to do! I can’t believe how people cannot watch Seinfeld anymore yet will watch a Roman Polansky movie – give him an Oscar – etc – he was convicted for sex with a minor! And don’t get me started on the genius Woody Allen, who took naked pics of his step-daughter, then went and married her. Yikes! Mr. Richards can find redemption but he’ll need to spend the rest of his life making up for this incident not to this whitey boy, but to those he offended with his racial slurs!

    • Kim Ritter

      Maybe, like Mel, it is a rare glimpse of a private personna bursting through in a public performance, in a moment of vulnerability. Gibson revealed an ugly part of himself only because he was caught unexpectedly under the influence. Richards may have responded with his real prejudices, when in a moment of anger, he let down his guard. Most celebrities are loved and overindulged in this world. Surrounded by sycophants who reinforce their own narcisistic approach to life, why should they have to hold back?

      Richards showed appalling taste and judgement, but probably revealed how he really thinks. its just a chink in the wall that most self-indulgent celebrities surround themselves with.

    • I too have a problem with anger. It’s been diagnosed as borderline personality disorder. It has plagued me since I was a young child. Nothing gives me a bigger thrill than to be uncivil. I just love to go to extremes. It gives me a kind of euphoria. Revenge can feel better than love to some. It’s a sick sad existence. I’ve been in therapy since 1969. I now live in a self imposed solitude. People say behavior can be modified if the desire is there. I feel I am evidence to the contrary. Am I evil? What am I? Of course there is tourette syndrome where the person absolutely has no control. There are so many things out there than can ruin your life. For those of you that are normal be very, very grateful.

    • Holly in Cincinnati

      I think I’d rather have Pee Wee Herman back.

    • Sardonicus: I agree to a point. But there is a diff when a black person calls another ‘Nigga’, or a fat person makes fat jokes. Self-deprecation is acceptable to most. That said, the idea that a Jew or a black or a WASP cannot be made fun of across lines is wrong. Richards seemed not to, in the clip, be mocking black illegitimacy, or ‘pimp-daddyism’ or the like. He seemd to be angry and angry at the black heckler, not mocking. Is it a capital crime? No.

      Donnie D: Sex and race are two diff standards. As for Polanski, even the girl he had sex with admitted there was no force. Is thsi right? No. Should Polanski be hounded thirty years later? No. Consider all the female teachers who have seduced male students. We give a thumbs up to the boys for nailing them. Are they as guilty as Polanski? Yes. Do we rage about it? No. Why?

      As for Allen, he’s a perv, but ultimately, he and Polanski will be judge for their films, and Richards by his laughter making ability.

      This racial burst is a smudge, like a permanent pimple on his face, but that’s all.

    • ffstar

      To compare what Richards did with the John Kerry slip up is ridiculous. There surely isn’t a transcript of Richards prepared remarks for the evening showing that he meant to say something else. Sometimes name calling is called for, and in this case, David Stein is a Jackass.

    • Marlowecan

      Cosmoetica…I think you missed the point of what Saronicus was saying. He wasn’t just noting that Black comics use the word “nigger” but that they also frequently use derogatory terms for Whites”

      “…many an evening I’ve set and watched black comedians use the “N” word as well as others, such as “HONKEY” “CRACKER” “WHITE BOY” “WHITE TRASH” and so on and so forth.Quite a double standard….”

      He is making an interesting point here. Clearly, there is a double standard. This may be based, at least in part, upon the perception of Whites being dominant in society and therefore less vulnerable to racial attacks.

      We see variations of this double standard throughout our culture. For example, at the university I attended the university’s bylaws on Racism officially defined it as a “practice where White individuals or groups denigrate, by word or inference…”.

      Interestingly, the university’s leadership was entirely White, and my Black friends at the university considered the whole policy stupid given that they felt particularly denigrated by the university’s large Asian population who — under the university’s official policy — could never be accused of racism as only Whites could be “racist”.

      While the above is OT, I just cite it to note that I think Sardonicus does have a broader point here that you may have overlooked.

    • Menig

      Richards is a 33rd degree Freemason: the top degree. I wonder what his ‘brothers’ will think of this tirade of his.

    • Marlowecan

      Donnie D. above suggests an excellent explanation for this whole incident…which is highlighted in the quote I cite from another professional comic below.

      Namely, that Richards was never a “COMIC” but was, rather, a “COMIC ACTOR”.

      By this I mean, he was good at physical comedy and at interpreting written lines…but verbal stand-up was totally alien to him. I have seen this referenced elsewhere, but did not think about it until reading Donnie. Richards has evidently been trying to rebuild his career through stand-up comedy, but it may be argued he simply did not have the experience or comic talent to deal with hecklers without internalizing their criticism and exploding in rage.

      Not to justify it, but to explain the bizarreness of the incident. See below:

      “Comedian George Lopez told Los Angeles television station KTLA that he thought Richards’ lack of stand-up experience may have been a factor.

      “The question is you have an actor who is trying to be a comedian who doesn’t know what to do when an audience is disruptive,” Lopez said. “He’s an actor whose show has been off the air, he shouldn’t ever be on a stand-up gig.”

    • Marlowe: I got his point, and though I loathe PC, there is some truth to their idea of power in humor.

      Blacks mocking white culture is different because white culture is dominant here.

      This is why WASP jokes are fair game, as is mocking Christianity, while other religions is not. Personally, I think everything, from myself to you, to anyone else, to any group, instritution, etc., is open to humorous gibes.

      Unfortunately, most people are not that open and mature, and they use their taking offense as a weapon. Just look at South Park’s creators. They at least admitted they make fun of Jesus and not Mohammed cuz they don’t want Moslem nuts blowing them up.

      Most ethnic humor is of the ‘how many X does it take to screw in a lightbulb’ variety, therefore not really funny. But, most good humor will offend somebody. The point is, though, when a Chappelle makes fun of Whitey, it’s an act.

      Richards seems to have alowed his real ugliness shine.

    • Kramer shoulda counted to ten. It seems he was in a stage persona and thought that the audience might accept the outburst as such, but he crossed the line. ON THE OTHER HAND, before we all burn the man at the stake, I would like to remind our friends in the African American community that you can’t sit next to a group of African American teenagers or ‘gansta’ twenty-somethings without hearing them repeatedly refer to themselves as ‘niggas’. Ditto for popular rap, such as Kanye West’s Gold Digger (“she ain’t hangin with no broke niggers”). There’s a bit of a double standard at work here. I don’t believe Richard’s sincerely meant what he was saying, although he was angry. He simply couldn’t get out of his stage persona. Now our PC Drive-by-Media is going to play this over and over. It’s a no-win situation.

    • tj

      For all those who complaining about a double standard, – that it’s OK for blacks to refer to themselves or other blacks as “nigga” but not OK for a white person to use the term, here’s something to consider:

      There are all kinds of situations where the same term can be offensive or not depending on the context and WHO is using it. It’s not something limited to race. Most people understand this and act accordingly.

      The term “nigger” is an historically loaded word that has a different meaning coming from a white person’s mouth than it has from a black person’s, – even if the meaning is unintentional. It’s as simple as that.

    • Randy

      Just for the record, Richards is NOT Jewish:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Richards

    • The first anti-heckler zinger was fully justified. Everything beyond that was out of hand.

      Despite his outburst, I still stand behind Michael Richards and his antics from UHF. Perhaps the hecklers should have used the money they saved from buying cheap seats to research the movies Richards has been in.

      One thing remains certain: don’t heckle a comedian on stage unless you’ve got a personality death wish. To them, nothing (and I mean NOTHING) is sacred. Just ask Lisa Lampanelli.

    • America

      Michael Richards was in a comedy club. There is no difference between Richards tirade and Lenny Bruce who also played with words. This is one big overreaction.

      The mistake Richards made was in trying to top himself by repeating the N word. It is too racially charged and dividing. Again, the audience overreacted – it’s a comedy club not a political rally. It is either funny or not.

    • Kramer Hater

      Im sad, I loved Sienfeld but Im never watching it again! Why? Because I have no desire to see richards ass ever again, period! I should hope no one ever hires him again! He deserves what he gets. So sad!

    • Blue

      In considering the larger context, I have to include the damage Richards has done to himself. . . I see his outburst as an expression of self-hatred rather than racism directed against a heckler. . . I see the particular comments he made about lynching, as an improvization designed to do the greatest damage (to himself) in that particular situation. . .

      In emotional work there is a concept of ‘gapping’, where emotions denied for a long time are suddenly triggered into expression with the person expressing them not being in control or even conscious of what is going on – the gap here is between what one is conscious of and what has been supressed and made unconscious.

      “It’s not funny, that’s why you’re a reject, never had no shows, never had no movies, ‘Seinfeld’ that’s it.” – I think this bit, posted by two shoes earlier, may be a more accurate reflection of what made Richards snap. . . what if this is what he has been feeling about himself and his career for a long time? . . . if he has been denying these feelings and if self-hatred finally burst out – it would express in a way that would hurt him more than the person he was ranting at. . . and this seems to me what has happened. . . the resulting reaction to his rant may be a mirror of both what made him snap and of the intent behind the original heckling. . . There is another aspect of gapping relevant here, in that the longer an emotion is suppressed the more it deteriorates into panic or rage – so the more veteran performer would actually not be better prepared for making a measured response once he gaps. . .

      The gapping concept could also support the theory that Richards is a closet racist, but looking at the larger context – – – I see a performer who has struggled with self-doubt for a long time and finally lost control over the emotions he’s tried to suppress. . .

      – – –

      Comparing Richards to Milton Berle seems unfair to me. . . I see current comedians working much, much closer to the edge of improvisation than the comedians of Berle’s era. . .to improvise, to take advantage of opportunities a performer has to open himself, to allow himself to be vulnerable – and that in turn makes a heckler’s attack cut that much more deeply. . .

      Anyone who heckles a comedian has to accept a risk of public embarassemnt. . . on balance I feel more compassion for Richards here than a black man who made the first choice of stepping into uncertain territory. . .

    • Good points, Blue. In seeing the outburst several times, I think he was trying to be edgier, but was out of his league. Imagine if Donny Osmond tried to be Ozzy Osbourne. He might go much farther than Osbourne, whose antics were an act, and do something really bizarre and dangerous.

    • ponte

      David Stein is an idiot for comparing this to John Kerry’s failed joke. Kerry was the subject of a decontextualized soundbite smear campaign. He never said anything about US troops, the suggestion was only insinuated when taken out of the context of his criticism of the Bush Administration. In the context of his speech, it was clear that he was referring to the US Government getting stuck in Iraq, not uneducated soldiers. Richards has no such excuse going for him. Watching it in context only makes it more unbearable.

    • Sardonicus

      “For all those who complaining about a double standard, – that it’s OK for blacks to refer to themselves or other blacks as “nigga” but not OK for a white person to use the term, here’s something to consider:

      There are all kinds of situations where the same term can be offensive or not depending on the context and WHO is using it. It’s not something limited to race. Most people understand this and act accordingly.

      The term “nigger” is an historically loaded word that has a different meaning coming from a white person’s mouth than it has from a black person’s, – even if the meaning is unintentional. It’s as simple as that.”

      The same word uttered from different mouths should have the same meaning. To apply two different meanings to the same word just because one speakers skin is of a different color is a form of racism in itself.

    • Bleeding Heart Liberal

      I take issue with this author comparing Abbie Michael Richards (Kramer) to David Duke. David Duke would never say any of the atrocious things Richards said. The media is filled with lies and BS and I have learned long ago to double check what is said in the media. Among the millions of lies in the media are those about David Duke–and mind you, I am a LIBERAL writing these words. I strongly urge people to start reading and watching these lying writers with a more critical eye.

      The Moderate Voice is certainly not “moderate”, but writing BS.

      If you don’t believe me about David Duke, then do what you should have been doing all along and check everything out for yourself–including what he has to say. Go to his website at davidduke dot com, look for November 24, and you will see a transcript of his commentary on “David Duke on Kramer, the “N Wordâ€?, Racism, Violence, Israel and Palestinians”

    • catherine yronwode

      I enjoyed reading a take on this incident from the perspective of a professional comedian. That helped put the incident in a new perspective for me.

      I think people are confused about whether Michael Richards is Jewish because he played a Jewish character on ‘Seinfeld’ — but his anti-Jewish rants (in which he blamed Jews for killing Christ), in addition to comments by those who know him personally at other sites, would seem to indicate he was raised Catholic.

      The question of alcohol or drug abuse has not been broached here in depth, but it certainly comes to mind when reading a transcript of his rambling, incoherent so-called apology on the David Letterman show. His references to Hurricane Katrina and to some sort of approaching black-white conflict are incomprehensible and seem mentally disturbed.

      Finally, i think it very sad that he is a Freemason, for the Masonic organization generally upholds the tents of tolerance and brotherhood. I think Michael Richards owes his fellow Masons an apology for casting his own darkness upong the lodges n which he is a member.

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