Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Richards has forever tainted memory of Kramer

My heart sunk and my stomach churned a little when I listened to Michael Richards racist rant taped at the Laugh Factor in West Hollywood. I heard reports on what Richards, who played the popular character Kramer on "Seinfeld," said this morning. But when I watched the video for myself, I was sickened.

Part of being a stand-up comic is being heckled. I've seen comedians fire back at audience members and it's just uncomfortable for everyone else. After all, we go to comedy shows to laugh. Richards, as a long-time professional, should have been able to handle the hecklers. Instead, he fires off the "n-word" over and over again and with enthusiasm remarks about a time when blacks were victims of civil rights abuses.

Since the outburst, Richards has apologized saying the attack was fueled by anger and not bigotry.

"For me to be at a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, I'm deeply, deeply sorry," Richards said during a satellite appearance for David Letterman's "Late Show" in New York.

As much as I love "Seinfeld" and Richards' character, Kramer, this changes everything. In this day and age, there really is no reason for such comments.

Times columnist Monica Carter also wrote about the incident, which you can read in Wednesday's Times. Or watch the video at your own risk, at http://www.tmz.com/2006/11/20/kramers-racist-tirade-caught-on-tape/


Joel Anderson said...

Michael Richards is not funny.

We know that for sure now ... Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David were the comedic engines behind "Seinfeld." Not the dude who played Kramer.

If it wasn't already over, then Richard's flagging career in stand-up should have certainly ended last weekend.

The only thing unfunnier would have been him reading passages from "Mein Kampf" to the audience.

Anonymous said...

Michael Richards screwed up. But he's still funny. Very funny.

It's Tim, your former co-worker. And I post this response at my own risk, given the hysteria that dominates all media. Any attempt made to EVEN APPEAR to defend Richards right now will be ripped apart.

I know the word Richards used is extremely volatile and he should have known WAY better than to say it in this day and age. There was a time when it was "in play" in the comedy world of the '70s, when comedians white and black used it to DEFLATE its connotative power.

But please take a breath and reconsider the severity of your reaction. It's easy to join the chorus but harder to think, "I never thought this guy was a bad guy before; what happened?"

Even Paul Mooney, of "Chappelle's Show" and one of Richard Pryor's best friends back in the day, whom I saw on one of the talking heads shows earlier, said he has known the man for 30 years and didn't believe Michael Richards is racist. But he felt the man seriously blew his cool as a comic in about the worst way ever.

I'm not defending what Richards said. It was wrong. But it's a YouTube world. If everyone would calm down, and read the other eyewitness reports coming in, not to mention the extended video segment that goes beyond what most of us saw on YouTube, it's a little more understandable. Not entirely forgivable, but ... a little more clear.

Richards is a really famous comic actor/comedian, who inhabited one of the greatest comic characters ever, who comes from a tradition of Lenny Bruce/Andy Kaufman types who challenged the audience. So he's at a comedy club on Friday, and reportedly, this table he eventually attacked spent his whole act talking loudly among themselves, and eventually starting shouting things at Richards specifically.

Probably the biggest insult you can pay a performer in the middle of their stage act. And he wrongly resonded with the biggest insult you could pay that table during your act.

I haven't heard Richards use those words to describe what happened. He can't.

Once everybody catches their breath, he may.

Joel Anderson said...

Tim, you're a funny guy. Michael Richards is not. Not at all.

Here's the deal: there's no big campaign to defend "Kramer" because what he did was virtually indefensible.

It's not that he should have known better than to say that highly charged racial epithet; it's that the word rattled around inside his head at all, poised to come out of his mouth at the slightest provocation.

This is not the '70s. Michael Richards has to manage in the era that he lives in now. The n-word once came into "play" in a variety of forms then, before then and now, from the mouths of people I might surprised to consider a friend. There's no great mystery to the word. We all know what it means and what it stands for and the ugly history behind it. I suspect Michael Richards knows all that too. He's unfunny, not oblivious.

Paul Mooney is delusional about his "friend." I probably would be, too. It's rough to accept that maybe you misjudged someone, maybe you thought you were close to a person you never really were close to at all. Mooney was trotted out for a quote only because of who he is (black) and what he said (Richards is not racist), not the substance of what he said.

Michael Richards is no Lenny Bruce. He wasn't challenging the audience; he was being challenged. And he couldn't take it, unlike a more experienced or gifted comic might have. Heckling is no great shakes; it happened to Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinison, Seinfeld himself and any other comic who's ever picked up the mic. If they could deal with it, so could Michael Richards.

If it was all about the heckling, then why did Michael Richards use the epithet he did? How did he decide to hone in on that very word?

Something welled up inside of him, I suspect, something that had been there for a long time.

The only thing funny about this whole deal is that it took so long for it to finally come out.

Melinda Williams said...

First and foremost, I will admit I haven't watched the clip. For some reason, I just feel like it will anger me more than I can handle given it's the holiday season and I do my best to be cheery this time of year.
That being said, judging from what I have read, I think what was most offensive was not the word (even though it was repeated numerous times), it's the rest of the comments. Basically, he's attempting to joke about someone being lynched and that this black man had somehow stepped out of place by daring to heckle a white man. That's more offensive to me by leaps and bounds.