As just about the whole world has seen by now, actor/comedian Michael Richards had one of the worst meltdowns in the history of show business about 10 days ago. He was doing his standup act, and after being heckled by two black fans about his act, he vented his rage at the two guys with a hateful racist rant against them, as it was being taped on a quick-thinking person's cellphone.
Richards, who everyone knows as the quirky neighbor Cosmo Kramer on the "Seinfeld" TV series, may have just killed any semblance of his career with the events at the Laugh Factory that night. He quickly went into spin mode about what happened, as his buddy Jerry Seinfeld gave him the chance to apologize on David Letterman's show a couple of nights later.
Richards insisted he wasn't a racist, but the evidence of what happened is pretty overwhelming to the contrary. A good comedian would take a heckler like the ones he encountered and turn it to his advantage, something Richards clearly couldn't do. He's always had a rep for being rather tightly strung, and doesn't handle criticism well. He is a completely different person from the character of Kramer he played on TV.
Then he made a really bad move. He ran to so-called black leaders like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, pleading to them that he wasn't a racist and begging their forgiveness. (I guess you might say that the "Michael Richards Apology Tour" is in full swing.) Now, for the next few months or even years, we will see Richards at every turn apologizing to everyone who will listen, especially to the black community, about his racist rant. It has already taken a sad and pathetic turn, and will probably just get worse as time goes on.
And of course, the stupidity is in full bloom. I read a really inane letter to the editor in yesterday's New York Daily News (aren't most of them inane anyway?) that said that "if Richards and the Seinfeld crew are truly sorry for his racist tirade, they should donate a proceeds of their DVD sales to Hurricane Katrina victims." Where do I start on the stupidity of this statement? First, what do the producers of "Seinfeld" have anything to do with what Richards did? And if Richards does donate money to charity because of this, it will look like he's trying to buy his way out of trouble. Just throwing money around to some charity won't whitewash what Richards did, and it is truly one of the worst things he could do now.
I have no sympathy for Richards for what he did on stage that night. It was totally indefensible. There are lines in standup comedy you don't cross, and he crossed it. His rant wasn't part of his act, and this will be the price he pays. He says he wasn't drunk, on drugs or any other controlled substance while on stage that night.
But let's face the facts about Michael Richards: he really hasn't had much of a career since "Seinfeld" ended in 1997. He had his own sitcom shortly after that but it went nowhere. He's had a few bit parts in movies, but for all purposes, his career ended when "Seinfeld" did. People have talked about a so-called "Seinfeld Curse" (don't get me started on what I think of curses), but it appears that Richards will never get away from the character of Kramer, which clearly had become an albatross for him. (Did you notice the newspaper headlines always refer to him as "Kramer" and not "Richards?") He may have gained fame and fortune from the show, but now he's seeing the darker side of it.
Richards would have been better off going into seclusion for a time instead of making these pathetic attempts at spin control. He clearly needs some kind of help with his anger issues. His meltdown on stage was scary to watch, even if it didn't include the racial slurs he uttered. I hope he can straighten out his life and get his career back, but I wouldn't exactly bet on it right now.
What happened at The Laugh Factory on November 17 will probably dog him for the rest of his life.