JERRY SEINFELD LOOKED MORE NERVOUS THAN RICHARDS ON LETTERMAN
So Kramer said the N-word again, again and again. Is he a racist? Who cares! The fact that comedian Michael Richards melted down in front of comedy club audience doesn't have any bearing on race relations in this country. This is not the O.J. Simpson divide or the L.A. riots of that era.
Richards' rant liberally using the N-word is just an entertainer mouthing off in a place where outrageous things are said. His words have none of the gravitas of a public figure or even the high-profile tabloid figure of Britney Spears. Richards is a has-been unable to come close to replicating one of the greatest TV characters in history.
His tirade was reprehensible or so off the wall that he could not label it borne out of edgy comedy. But, the venue is important in this controversy which, coincidentally or not was breaking in the midst of O.J.'s return to the spotlight. The comedy club just may be the last bastion of 100 percent free speech. I've listened to comedians say the most offensive and outrageous things in the name of comedy. But, when you buy a ticket plus the two drink minimum the chance that a performer will say the N-word or curse profusely is included in the deal.
The need to have shock value is an important tool in a comedian's bag of tricks. I believe Richards was heading this way when he began hurling racial epithets at the balcony and many in the audience laughed at the opening salvos. Unfortunately, Richards went overboard pacing the stage with a surreal calmness and making unmistakable allusions to slavery in his taunts to the hecklers.
When Richards showed up on the Late Show with David Letterman his apology was clumsy and as scategorically intelligible as his rant last Friday night. How did he start talking about hurricane Katrina victims? What was he doing on Letterman other than to save the legacy of Jerry Seinfeld's famed sitcom. Here's Seinfeld, booked to promote the DVD of the seventh season of Seinfeld, giving way to a somber Richards piped in via satellite to say sorry to the obvious. What a way to grind a comedy program to a halt.
The funny thing about the appearance on Letterman is that the man whose reputation had been so badly soiled looked less worried than the co-creator of Seinfeld. Seinfeld was so nervous that the perception of his franchise and its most lovable character would be soiled by the racist comic that he hastily brought Richards with him to his appearance even telling the audience to stop laughing as the uncomfortable Richards tripped over his words like the famous Kosmo Kramer.
Michael Richards is probably no more racist than the average American and Jerry Seinfeld no more greedy than the richest businessman, but if comedians are pressured to say the mundane and quiver from edgy comedy that is the basis of their craft then America is cursed to be entertained by a thousand Dane Cook's and that would make me very, very uncomfortable.