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Tuesday, November 21, 2006


When I awoke this morning, the last thing I expected to see was Michael Richards — better known as Cosmo Kramer from TV's SEINFELD — neck deep in a shitstorm of his own making, the kind of incident that made me shout at the TV, "Career OVER!!!" The morning news showed bootleg footage of a stand up performance in LA wherein Richards lashed out at a couple of black hecklers, and... well, read it for yourself:

Michael Richards, Seinfeld's Kramer, apologizes for racial slurs
LYNN ELBER, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - He called two black hecklers the "n-word" and enthusiastically referenced a time when blacks were often victims of civil rights abuses, but Michael Richards said his verbal barrage during a stand-up routine 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," the former "Seinfeld" co-star said during a satellite appearance for David Letterman's "Late Show" in New York. "I'm not a racist. That's what's so insane about this," Richards said, his tone becoming angry and frustrated as he defended himself.

Richards described himself as going into "a rage" over the two audience members who interrupted his act Friday at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood. His explanation was reminiscent of Mel Gibson's assertion that he wasn't anti-Semitic after he let off a barrage of Jewish slurs during a traffic stop last summer: despite what came out of his mouth, that's not what is inside him.

Industry colleagues were in no hurry to accept Richards' apology. "Once the word comes out of your mouth and you don't happen to be African-American, then you have a whole lot of explaining," comedian Paul Rodriguez, who was at the Laugh Factory during Richards' performance, told CNN. "Freedom of speech has its limitations and I think Michael Richards found those limitations."

Veteran publicist Michael Levine, whose clients have included comedians George Carlin, Sam Kinison and Rodney Dangerfield, called Richards' remarks inexcusable. Comics often face hecklers without losing their cool, he said. "I've never seen anything like this in my life," Levine said Monday. "I think it's a career ruiner for him. ... It's going to be a long road back for him, if at all."

His Laugh Factory tirade began after the two clubgoers shouted at him that he wasn't funny. A videotape of the incident was posted on Richards retorted: "Shut up! Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f------ fork up your a--." He then paced across the stage taunting the men for interrupting his show, peppering his speech with racial slurs and profanities. "You can talk, you can talk, you're brave now, mother------. Throw his a-- out. He's a n-----!" Richards shouts before repeating the racial epithet over and over again. Moderating his tone at one point, Richards tells the audience, "It shocks you, it shocks you" and refers to "what lays buried."

While there is some chuckling in the audience throughout the outburst, someone can be heard gasping "Oh my God" and people respond with "ooh" after Richards uses the n-word. Eventually someone calls out: "It's not funny. That's why you're a reject, never had no shows, never had no movies. `Seinfeld,' that's it."

Richards deserved the chance to apologize, Jerry Seinfeld said on the "Late Show." "He's someone that I love and I know how shattered he is about" what happened, Seinfeld said. At one point, however, Richards grew flustered and expressed second thoughts about appearing on the program when his use of the term Afro-American" caused some audience members to laugh. "I'm hearing your audience laugh and I'm not even sure that this is where I should be addressing the situation," he said.

Richards, 57, who played Seinfeld's eccentric neighbor Kramer on the hit 1989-98 sitcom, hadn't spoken publicly about his remarks before "Late Show."

Now I'm hardly surprised when I hear shit like this, but what the fuck was he thinking? It's stupid enough to call Black people niggers and not expect to get your ass kicked, but to do so ON FUCKING STAGE?!!? And bringing up lynchings in such a manner is not the kind of thing that one blurts out in the heat of the moment; that's an intentional dredging up of one of this nation's most painful and protracted campaigns of terror, and Richards obviously knew what kind of reaction it would provoke. I saw the footage of this for myself at and at first wondered if he was drunk or high on something, but now I'm convinced that he's simply your garden variety racist idiot. I'm not that shocked by what he said, but the fact that it was all captured thanks to the magic of those enterprizing bootleggers is the icing on the cake, and Richards' rantings will no doubt be sampled in rap recordings for at least the next year. I can just imagine the sound of the bass-driven SEINFELD theme looped over a phat beat as the voice of Kramer rains abuse upon "niggers," only to be far more eloquently clowned by professional Black wordsmiths.

I also found Richards' apology on Letterman to be hilariously insincere, and he was so clearly gobsmacked by the enormity of his gaffe that he looked like he'd been hit by a freight train.

Sadly, Mel Gibson could not be reached for comment.


J said...

This is my favorite quote:

"I'm not a racist. That's what's so insane about this," Richards said.

Sure. That's what's insane about it. They cut the next line he uttered which was, "some of my best friends are ..." (Oh, no he didn't.)

Nicole V. said...

So, Mel Gibson and Michael Richards walk into a bar...

John Bligh said...

I saw it. I'd say it's a good bet that Ol' Cosmo had one too many Gin and Tonics.

Damn, it is entertaining watching someone commit career suicide. Of course, he has so much F-U money, it won't really affect anything but his ego....

Bunche said...


for another perspective on this, check out what my buddy Chez has to say at:

Anonymous said...

First of all, thanks for the shout-out -- and of course the compliment.

I think my main argument wasn't that the use of the word isn't detestable in almost every context -- and I freely admit to obviously never having been the target of those who say it in anger or as a term of endearment. My problem has always been that there are those who can't even say it, not even in the context of discussing the uses of the word -- an instance which neuters it about as much as any word can be. Listening to a grown man or woman say "The N-word" is just goddamned silly.

I also firmly believe what I said, about how using racist language doesn't always make you a racist. It damn well points you in that direction, and to think otherwise -- as I mentioned -- is wholly ill-advised. But there are exceptions. In spite of what years of utopian public service announcements have tried to convince us, from the time we're children we notice differences between each other -- and when we get angry, we sometimes attack those differences simply because they're the easiest and most vulnerable targets.

But that theory may be an entirely different post.

As always, I'm glad I know you Bunche.

Ken said...

Just getting into the swing of what happened and at first blush it seems pathetic. If he said the epithet once, it might have hinted perhaps, at bad personal interactions he's had with african american, perhaps. But to say it so vociferously points to a pathological issue. Moreover, he views blacks as a monolithic group, and one which deserves lynchings for acting out certain behaviors which he doesn't like. Ouch! Too bad, it'll now be hard for me to enjoy Seinfeld now. Hey, that's another whole topic: I can't stomach the idea of watching the old Gibson films that I loved (Mad Max, Braveheart) and it pisses me off. Being an opera fan, I still enjoy listening to Wagner, justifying it that I can separate the personal asshole/monster from their sublime creation, ie their child/oevre should be judged on its own merit and shouldn't suffer from being birthed by a ghoul. Whatdya think?

Lizzie said...

What career?

Bunche said...

Ken, you raise an interesting point: should the works of an artist who turns out to be a major douchebag be snubbed by association?

I say no. True it can be hard to separate the artist's douchebaggery from his works, but for the most part those works have nothing to do with said douchebaggery. I too love Wagner, but for obvious reasons one must remove the composer's personal views from the equation in order to enjoy his music. Same can be said of the majority of Gibson's films; he may be a raging anti-semite, but that has nothing to do with MAD MAX and THE ROAD WARRIOR since they are really George Miller's babies and would probably have worked just as well had they starred Joe X. Budidowitz.

The SEINFELD thing will be much more problematic though, thanks to it being run many times per day in syndication, and we'll have to see if the programming directors of the stations that run it keep it on in such heavy rotation. Even in syndicatio it's a ratings monster, so we'll just have to wait and see. As for me, I've been over SEINFELD for quite a while, and would much rather see saturation reruns of the late, lamented GET A LIFE.

Walter said...

Very thoughtful posts. More thoughtful than any discussions I have read, or heard elsewhere. Very refreshing to see intelligent discourse. I personally don't know what to think. I do see the "double standard" idea of one group of people, not being able to use the word, while another group can. But I also understand, sometimes, why that is. I agree with you Steve, that if someone is a racist, or bigot, or any other ugly thing, that it shouldn't necessarily take away from their work, or art. I think of Mel Gibson, Wagner, and also T.S. Eliot, Ezara Pound, Roald Dahl, Ty Cobb - I'm afraid you could go on and on. Yet even though their work should stand on its own, it is hard to not think of their ugly natures, or ugly utterances. I was surprised to hear that Richards had said what he did. It does make me sad when you hear that crap. But suprised mostly because you wonder how people, celebrities, politicans and others in the spotlight could be so stupid as to not know how this will bite them back hard. But I am no innocent, and know that this stuff is there, and that so many are capable of it. Roger Wilkins spoke of this quite eloquently when discussing Robert Kennedy and John Kennedy - that they weren't really committed at first to sweeping civil rights legislation. But that they, as white men, had to look at themselves closely, acknowledge not only what was going on in the country but in their own hearts, and realize that as whites they were lying to themselves if they didn't acknowledge that no matter how hard they wanted to think otherwise, there was racism almost inherent in most white people. But at least the Kennedys matured and grew, whereas it is too painful or difficult for some others to. Obviously, I can only imagine what it is like to be black in this country. But I try to be cognizant of that, and I thank God that I had politically liberal parents, even if growing up I hated their earnestness about it.

Anonymous said...

Jim Browski says:

You can't really say he has committed career suicide, because he evidently doesn't even have a career to kill anymore.
Check him out at imdb. Except for some sporadic talk show appearances and an as yet unreleased animated film, he has done absolutely nothing since his self titled sitcom failed back in 2000. Granted he can survive quite well from his Seinfeld residuals, but that is hardly the thing to quench a large egotistical thirst.

Hey! Maybe he can get a job as the spokesman for Dennys!

JewishWarriorPrincess said...