By SOLVEJ SCHOU
The Associated Press
Thursday, November 23, 2006; 2:38 AM
LOS ANGELES -- First he went on national television to apologize for his racial tirade against two black hecklers. Now Michael Richards is taking his contriteness to the next level: he's hired a public relations expert with deep contacts in the black community.
New York publicist Howard Rubenstein took on Richards as a client Wednesday after being contacted by the actor-comedian. He then arranged for Richards to call the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
"I've known those gentlemen for many years," Rubenstein told The Associated Press.
"Michael apologized profusely. He wants to heal the tremendous wound that he's inflicted on the American public, and on the African-American community," he said.
Jackson, reached by phone, said Richards called "expressing his remorse and his confusion."
"He's embarrassed. He got caught on tape. That's a big part of his anxiety now," said Jackson.
"Clearly he needs some race sensibility training, and some psychiatric help. His anger is volatile and dangerous to himself and others," Jackson said. "I hope he gets the help he needs. But the culture that's producing this kind of animosity toward blacks must be addressed. ... We're increasingly facing cultural isolation in Hollywood, in the movies and in TV."
Jackson added, "We have to evaluate the use of the n-word and categorize it as hate speech, no matter who uses it."
Calls to Sharpton's home and to his National Action Network on Wednesday were not returned.
Richards, who played the kooky neighbor Kramer on the TV show "Seinfeld," lashed out at the hecklers last week during a performance at West Hollywood's Laugh Factory. A video of his rant then appeared on TMZ.com.
In a subsequent satellite appearance on David Letterman's "Late Show," Richards said his remarks were fueled by anger, not bigotry.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said in a statement Wednesday that the tirade and anti-Semitic comments by Mel Gibson earlier this year point to a pervasive trend in American culture, and that Richards' declaration "is indicative of the type of denial that too often accompanies racist rhetoric."
Rubenstein, whose media relations firm specializes in "crisis management" according to the firm's Web site, said he had never met or spoken to Richards before the actor called him.
Clients of Rubenstein's firm include Amazon.com, the New York Yankees, ABC Inc., Walt Disney Co., Time Inc., News Corp., Columbia University, the NAACP Image Awards and Bloomberg L.P., according to the Web site.
"I've been very involved in the African-American community for 25 to 30 years," Rubenstein said. "It would be a tragedy if this exacerbated our race relations. I hope I can help. ... It's always been an effort on my part to improve African-American and Jewish ethnic relations."
As for reports that Richards shouted out anti-Semitic remarks during another standup comedy routine in April, Rubenstein confirmed his client did, but that he was only role-playing.
"He's Jewish. He's not anti-Semitic at all. He was role-playing, he was playing a part. He did use inappropriate language, but he doesn't have any anti-Semitic feelings whatsoever," Rubenstein said.
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