'Seinfeld' Comic Richards Apologizes for Racial Rant

Michael Richards, best known for his role as Cosmo Kramer, responded to a comedy club heckler with racial epithets.
Michael Richards, best known for his role as Cosmo Kramer, responded to a comedy club heckler with racial epithets. (By Kim D. Johnson -- Associated Press)
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Michael Richards, who played the quirky Cosmo Kramer on "Seinfeld," apologized yesterday for using racist language in an angry exchange with an African American man at a comedy club on Friday.

Richards, 57, appeared on "Late Show With David Letterman" last night to say he was sorry about his tirade at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood during a stand-up performance. "I lost my temper onstage," he said, adding, "I said some pretty nasty things to some Afro Americans. . . . You know, I'm really busted up over this and I'm very, very sorry."

Footage of the outburst made its way onto the Internet yesterday, prompting the comic actor's response. The clip shows Richards interrupting his monologue onstage and yelling "Shut up!" at a patron, who apparently had been heckling during Richards's routine.

Richards then exploded, "Fifty years ago they'd have you hanging upside down with a [expletive] fork up your [expletive]. Throw his [expletive] out!"

He then repeatedly used a crude racial slur to label the man.

While some in the audience laughed, one unidentified woman can be heard on a tape of the incident gasping, "Oh, my God!" at the remarks.

The man continued to yell back at Richards, saying several times, "That was uncalled for!" He called Richards a series of names, including "cracker" and "[expletive] white boy" and disparaged his post-"Seinfeld" career.

"Yeah, I'm washed up," Richards replied mockingly.

It's possible that he is. Other prominent people, such as Mel Gibson and Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), have inflicted career-threatening wounds by making racially insensitive remarks in recent months. Gibson apologized repeatedly for a drunken rant against a Jewish policeman who arrested him in July. Allen also apologized after calling a young worker for his opponent "macaca" at a rally in August. The incident became an issue in Allen's unsuccessful bid for reelection.

Richards made an unscheduled appearance on the Letterman show, appearing via satellite from Los Angeles at the request of his former co-star Jerry Seinfeld, who was a guest on the show, according to a CBS source.

His sometimes rambling apology took on a Krameresque spin when he said, "There's a great deal of disturbance in this country, and how blacks feel about what happened in Katrina and, you know, many of the comics, many of the performers are in Las Vegas and New Orleans trying to raise money for what happened there, and for this to happen, for me to be in a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, you know, I'm deeply, deeply sorry. And I'll get to the force field of this hostility, why it's there, why the rage is in any of us, why the trash takes place, whether or not it's between me and a couple of hecklers in the audience or between this country and another nation, the rage . . . "

Seinfeld, who had previously been booked to promote the DVD release of "Seinfeld's" seventh season, had earlier issued a statement saying he was "sick" over Richards's remarks.

"I'm sure Michael is also sick over this horrible, horrible mistake," Seinfeld said in his statement. "It is so extremely offensive. I feel terrible for all the people who have been hurt."

Richards's rant was condemned by protesters who showed up at the comedy club Monday and by some of his fellow comedians. "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 said in an interview with CNN. "Freedom of speech has its limitations, and I think Michael Richards found those limitations."

The incident ended Friday when Richards, who was billed in advance of the show only as a special guest, left the stage without finishing his routine. The club's host, Frazer Smith, then took the stage and told the crowd, "I want to tell you guys, sorry about that." By then, many were getting up to leave. Richards returned to the club and performed Saturday night.

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