Kramer Goes Wild
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Seinfeld star Michael Richards appeared via satellite phone on The David Letterman Show this week. He apologized after screaming the N-word at two black hecklers while performing at a Los Angeles comedy club.
Commentator Jimmy Izrael says Richards learned this the hard way. Stand up comedy isn't for everyone.
JIMMY IZRAEL: Some words are not ready to be adopted into the popular lexicon. They contain just enough venom to alienate people and put the speaker in a world of hurt. When people decide to use them, better that they be professionals like comedians.
Actor Michael Richards understands this point better than most, lately. Richards who has built a career playing roles as pimps, gimps and assorted goof balls; hit a stride in his role as lovable, hipster-doofus Cosmo Kramer on NBC's “Seinfeld,” affectionately called, the show about nothing by its fans, better known as the show without black people at my barber shop. But we all postulated about how anyone who could suspend belief long enough to imagine a New York without any people of color.
But actors don't make the best comedians because they don't have the time necessary to deflect hecklers without, you know, skewing racial insults and threatening them with hate crimes.
As a fan of Seinfeld, I really wanted to believe that this was Richards doing a character of some sort, that he was at the vanguard of a new Andy Kaufmanesque, guerilla, anti-comedy movement. I thought maybe he was tossing the slur into the act. You know, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce style.
The thing is, you got to know when you're up on stage, pining for the days when you can lynch black people. Your act has probably taken an unpleasant turn. I've been following the reaction in the media and it runs the gamet from free speech nicks(ph) applauding his forthrightness and taking the hecklers to pass to people that think Richards should never work again.
But what can we really do to him? We can't deport him. We can't sterilize them, cause he's already got kids. So what's the suitable penalty? We may never know, because the fact is that Richards won't belong from the stage. His career, such that it is, will survive this gaff because while it's no longer fashionable to be racist, we see time and time again that it's perfectly acceptable.
He was on Letterman mumbling something about looking deep inside to find out where all that hate toward Afro-Americans was coming from. Yeah, right. He might not try stand-up again. But he'll hire a top-notch PR agent, have a come to Jesus moment on Oprah's couch, co-star with Pauly Shore in an off-Broadway Production of Weasel, the musical, and then fade even further into obscurity.
Mel Gibson is back in business after his anti-Semitic comment. And Richards will follow suit. He has apologized but he's only sorry he was caught on tape. In any case, he's got no worries because he's still making plenty of money off the Seinfeld residuals. And it's a good thing, because whatever career this actor thought he had as a comedian has made his last turn around the bowl.
CHIDEYA: Jimmy Izrael is a columnist for the Web site AOL Black Voices.