Tuesday, November 21, 2006

what happens when you interrupt the white man

the other day, michael richards—best known as "kramer" on tv's seinfeld, though his role in the movie uhf is dear to me—was doing stand-up at the laugh factory in LA when he was heckled by some blacks in the audience.

heckling is one of the dangers of live performance, especially stand-up. i myself have been heckled before as a musician, and it's hard to deal with. the best stand-up comedians are able to turn it around and hilariously make fun of the hecklers. michael richards didn't respond so well.

instead, richards flew off the handle, declaring that "fifty years ago, we'd have you upside down with a fucking fork up your ass!" and before eventually screaming the N-word over and over like a petulant child. some audience members yelled back that his comments were uncalled for, and he argued with them before angrily walking off stage.

even worse for richards, the tirade was captured on tape. the recording is shameful and shocking to watch. (you can watch it here, but be warned that the video features an angry white man screaming racial slurs... in other words, it's extremely not-work-safe.)

last night, richards went on the late show with david letterman (via satellite) to apologize, insisting that he is not racist, but was only very, very angry. you can watch that segment here. in the segment, richards is clearly upset, and seems to be sincere. but, as shakespeare's sister says, the idea that he's categorically "not racist" is hard to swallow. there are a million ways to insult someone who's pissed you off. why jump immediately to lynching references and screaming racial slurs?

still, he is to be commended for taking responsibility (at least partially) for his actions, and not blaming it all on substance abuse like mel gibson did.


Anonymous said...

You're right. There are a million ways to respond other than these terrible racist comments. You have to wonder who Michael Richards is. I've heard he was difficult to work with and he was the only seinfeld regular not to appear on curb your enthusiasm.

I cannot watch the tape. I have admired him for so many years on Seinfeld (and in UHF) and I do not want to ruin that.

Doug said...

Personally, if I were a standup, I think I'd bypass the racist comments everytime in favor of suggesting that the heckler's mother is a whore who said the very same thing this morning, only I couldn't understand her on account of all the sperm (possibly mine) gurgling around in her throat.

But that's just me. Even if I got flustered and it was lame, I think it'd be more or less o.k. to just bail out, screaming "YOUR MOM'S A WHORE" over and over.

Perhaps this is why I'm not a stand-up comic.