Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Michael Richards -- The Meltdown and the Apology

The other night Michael Richards (Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld) came unglued while being heckled in a comedy club. He spewed racism and hatred that feels pretty alarming. You can watch it below.

I am a cynical man. So when I read a column over at Popwatch that speculates this whole thing could be an attempt to revive a failing career, I was willing to go along.
Try this scenario on for size.

Richards performs his despicable routine, and of course, it's videotaped. Footage gets quickly distributed throughout the blogosphere (hi, PopWatch!), and eventually winds up on six o'clock newscasts everywhere. Richards' publicist releases a statement saying the actor's remarks were taken out of context, or, as my colleague Dalton Ross is guessing, that said remarks were meant to "'challenge people to think about racial stereotypes'…or some crap like that." By the weekend, there'll be the inevitable trip to rehab, for addiction to alcohol or painkillers or racial slurs. Next up, a "ripped from the headlines" episode of Law & Order (and maybe a flavor of CSI, too), followed -- just in time for February sweeps -- by the Conciliatory Interview Tour of Larry King, Diane Sawyer, Today, and (if she'll have him), Oprah. Sure, there'll be plenty of folks who won't ever buy what Richards is selling, but if the goal is to be talked about, to get his name back in the limelight (and on the lips of even a handful of casting directors), won't Richards end up further ahead, career wise, than he was last Friday morning?

So then last night on David Letterman, with Jerry Seinfeld as the guest, Richards provides an apology and explanation. It's painful to watch, yet there is the feel of a performance being staged -- like this whole mess is a performance art thing gone horribly wrong.

You be the judge.

For whatever it's worth, this thing has gotten him a lot of publicity. No one is out there defending him, except maybe Seinfeld (you have to guess that his appearance and the apology was staged as soon as this whole thing came down and it became such a huge story).

If he was riffing on the Mel Gibson thing as some type of crazy, in our faces performance art, I think the piece was not well-received. But watching the original video of the tirade, it feels half and half -- half performance, half authentic hatred.


Anonymous said...

There were Racial Slurs from both sides. Both equally wrong !

Anonymous said...

I was disappointed like most people to learn about the hateful diatribe made by Michael Richards. I have to applaud the people in the audience who were outraged enough to leave the show during his appalling tirade. I was even more disappointed by his attempts to apologize for what is clearly a deeply held emotion towards another group of people. While he appeared to be genuine, he was somehow pathetic at the same time. As a performer especially a comedian he should have a thicker skin and this certainly can not be the first time he’s been heckled. Suck it up and grow up. We all need to learn that saying hateful things to one another is unacceptable be it racial or otherwise. We need to learn to use our words in a more constructive manner. Part of the disappointment is that we believed that Michael Richards was somehow like the lovable character of Kramer but in reality Kramer is fictitious and the rumors swirling around Hollywood that he was not such nice person seemed to have played out this past weekend. Finally, I don’t believe that the Laugh Factory allowed him to perform another night to apologize for his actions but that he was simply under contract to perform and they believed the incident would blow over without media scrutiny. Their actions should have been more immediate.

Anonymous said...

Like anyone else out there has never gotten mad and just let the anger take over and said things they shouldn't have. He had an outburst of anger, not hatred. I don't think it was directed at black people in general, it just happened to be black people heckling him. People say things like suck it up and grow up. Like they've never 'lost it' before. Don't tell someone how to act in a situation you've never been in. I'm not taking up for him, I'm just saying that everyone has been in a situation before where you lost control and said things that you shouldn't have.

Unknown said...

Soon we will learn that it was all a test by Richards, separating his fans that have 2nd Tier humor from those with lowly 1st Tier humor. This is all Borat Richards at his wiliest.

Yes, he'll lose 90% of his fanbase. But, for the rest of his life, the remaining 10% will buy any shit he dishes out.

william harryman said...

Hey Tom,
Most of the people who found this post at Technorati have no idea what in the hell you are talking about.

About writing it off as saying things he shouldn't have -- 'cause we all do it. I've never in my life called anyone the n-word and told them that they should be lynched with a fork in their ass. And I've got anger issues. That's so far over the line that the line is no longer even in memory. It wasn't anger -- it was racism. He tried to walk it back, but it was too late.

I damn well would have walked out too, after I picked my jaw up off the floor.

His apology felt very strange to me, very forced, very unnatural. It made me more uncomfortable than the outburst did. He didn't sell it and the audience was clearly not buying it -- Seinfeld had to tell them to stop laughing because it seemed like a comedy bit, like Richard Lewis who did the whole neurotic thing back in the 80's.


Unknown said...

WH: Right. Most of the people who find this post at technorati -- btw, congrats on now having your tags LISTED at technorati, again -- won't know what I'm talking about.

But how often do people ever know what I'm talking about? How often do *I* know what I'm talking about?

Does anybody ever really know what time it is?

Sorry. Gotta go. I'm now a member of the hip-no-ties'd Richards Cult. I must watch Seinfeld. I must watch Seinfeld. I must watch Seinfeld.

Oop. Sorry. I was writing in tongues there for a second. Yipes, my Nazi Soup is boiling.