Friday, September 28th, 2012

The Lesson Michael Richards Learned from His Racist Tirade 6 Years Ago Has Nothing to Do with Racism

Jerry Seinfeld’s old costar Michael Richards was his guest on the season finale of his web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” this week. The video’s a whopping 17 minutes long, but Richards ends up addressing his horrifying racist outburst at the Comedy Store from six years ago right around the 14-minute mark. Richards seems to genuinely feel disturbed and guilty over what happened (he hasn’t performed comedy since), but when he reflects on what he learned from the incident, it oddly has nothing to do with racism:

“I think I worked selfishly, and not selflessly… It's not about me, it's about them (the audience). That's the lesson I learned seven years ago when I blew it in the comedy club and lost my temper because somebody interrupted my act and said some things that hurt me and I lashed out in anger. I should have been working selflessly at that time… I busted up after that event seven years ago. It broke me down. It was a selfish response. I took it too personally and I should have just said, 'Yeah, you're absolutely right. I'm not funny. I think I’ll go home and work on my material, and I’ll see you tomorrow night [silly noise] and split! Something. Anything.”

Richards calls himself out for having been selfish, angry, and “not funny” during that disastrous Comedy Store set, but the fact that he was all those things wasn’t really the controversial part. The guy’s apologized enough for a shitty thing that happened a long time ago, but none of his mistakes from that night that he points out here really account for him screaming the n-word at a black audience member seven times in less than a minute, expressing nostalgia for old-timey racial violence, and just treating the guy diminutively for having a different skin color than him. Maybe the lesson Michael Richards should have walked away from that incident with isn’t “I shouldn’t be selfish, angry, and unfunny,” it’s “I shouldn’t think/say/scream slurs and terrible violent things about people of other races.”

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  • jacobthesnacob

    The rant was at the Laugh Factory, not Comedy Store.

  • Dave

    You heckle at a comedy club you deserve anything thrown at you.

    • rustram

      The only problem with that is that was thrown back was a grenade and not a dart – had it not been such an explosive word, we'd be looking at him more like Daniel Tosh.

  • jabrwcky

    I think you missed the point of what he's saying. I think he's trying to point out that it's never good to lash out in anger. It was wrong because it was in anger. He wasn't mad because the guy was African American, the racial slurs were just a lazy way to express his anger at a heckler.

    • Delores Redman

      thank you for explaining that well. and basically that's what racist tirades are "a lazy way to express his anger at a heckler."

  • slappywhite

    Also… this episode was great and who cares anymore. It was six years ago and he has apologized for making racist comments many times before. His comments in this episode were in response to something Seinfeld said.

  • D-Winn

    I'm so sick of these moral snob posts where splitsider writers talk down to everyone. It's so self-glorifying and petty and immature. I love the site but I'm sick of articles bashing people when they say "attractive people can't be funny" etc, etc. I don't come to this website to read about anything but comedy. Don't deviate from comedy. "Wrong Lesson" is such a condescending category for an article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joey-Green/1023431830 Joey Green

    What jabrwcky said

  • Please

    Stop shaming this talented guy who screwed up a while ago

  • ldot

    i'm ready to forgive the guy man…no need to kick him when he's down…and he seems to be way down…

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasonfarr Jason Farr

    Yeah, I agree with jabrwcky. I think you missed the point a little. He's said publicly before how wrong what he did was. And he knows Seinfeld knows that. Richards is talking to someone who knows Richards knows that it was wrong to do what he did. He is talking to someone in a secondhand nature about another element of it. I'd just much rather live in a society where when someone atones for what they did wrong we accept it and move on. We're not dealing with a Paris Hilton here who hasn't really ever taken responsibility for her actions (like using the n-word twice and the most recent incident where she didn't really admit what she did.) We also aren't dealing with a habitually aggressive douche like Mel Gibson whose apologies seemed phony. Richards admitted his mistake, sought counsel and deeply self-reflected to grow and change. We really need to stop racking him over the coals.

  • Comedian

    Bradford Evans isn't a comic and has never been in that position. He's never been heckled onstage. He's never known what it's like to lose control of a room to a loud mouth bachelorette party, or a drunken Saturday late show. He's a high and mighty comedy nerd who lucked into a great job at a good comedy website.

    I'm not saying what Richards said is right. It isn't. But he's apologized for it, over and over again. He's been made fun of it publicly, over and over again. He agreed to make fun of himself, over and over again (Curb Your Enthusiasm.) He legitimately, in this video, gives you the impression that he fears the stage now. But he's owning up to making the mistake of losing control when he did … and now some white kid with his own white guilt wants to keep the hate going. This isn't Mel Gibson where the guy was caught on tape half a dozen times with racial & sexist slurs, who still denies he did anything wrong. This is a guy who used to be beloved and openly admits constantly what he did was wrong. This is a comic who was onstage, was pushed too far and unleashed in the wrong way. Even Chapelle said in a LaughFactory video that 20% of him was a furious black man in that moment and 80% was a comedian who felt for him, he just had a bad night.
    All in all Bradford, we get it. Racism is bad. You're definitely not a racist. You HATE racism. But you did miss the point of what Jerry was doing by putting this episode in his series last. He was making a statement by defending his friend and giving him a chance to own up and work out those demons in a public forum. He was saying something by encouraging him to not give up. Something I'm sure any good friend would do.
    And last I checked … Jerry Seinfeld knows more about comedy than you ever will. So maybe watch the video with a bit more of an open mind instead of declaring your own (veiled) social standpoint.

    • driko

      he was used to people licking his butt on "seinfeld", he thought doing stand-up was as easy as doing sitcom.as long as he lives that one moment will serve as a representative "microcosm" for the rest of his carreer..to put it in a better word..he's fucked!

  • Samps

    "The guy’s apologized enough for a shitty thing that happened a long time ago."
    You clearly disagree with your own sentence. Why else would you expect him to denounce his own comments again for the millionth time, in the same paragraph?
    What he said, he said out of anger and frustration, not racism. He was infuriated by a couple of stupid hecklers (the fact that they were called the n-word in retaliation for their juvenile behavior doesn't change the fact that they were being obnoxious jerks) and in his anger, he said the nastiest, most hateful thing he could think of. Just like most people do when they are really angry or frustrated. Anger control is, and should be, his primary concern. It directly addresses the problem that he brought upon himself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1034883265 Eddie Barnes

    Michael Richards said it like it was, He stated his own thoughts and they were loud mouth nigs…. ya know when blacks get angry the cry to the naacp, but where do white people go, we have noone, we should reinstate the kkk, which is the same as the naacp …to handle all white people affairs. no longer are black oppressed they are the majority. whites on the other hand have no say, and are now the minority. we need someone to stand up for our rights

  • Foxglove

    Wear out any subject for a few brownie points, won't you? The inquisition for racists lately is akin to the Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era. Why don't we give the r-word a rest, and actually try to write an article?

  • carson1

    Late to the party, but yeah, this post was unfair. In addition to everything that has already been said in these comments, Richards comments in this video were organic to the conversation that was being conducted. It's not like Jerry just out and asked "Hey, remember that thing that happened? Why do you think it was so bad?" It was a part of a conversation on the response was totally in the context of that conversation. Touching on the racism of his tirade would have been at least slightly out of context.

  • Comedy Fan

    I agree totally with all the comments here. I'd just like to add that saying offensive things is something comedians often do. Comics like George Carlin, Artie Lange, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, Tracy Morgan, Michael O'Donahue, Lenny Bruce, etc. all deliberately say uncomfortable things. The problem with what Richard's' did was that it was offensive and stupid instead of offensive and funny. This is probably why Richards saw no need to address the point made in this article. Simply criticizing him for being offensive ignores decades of comics who've said terrible things, made us laugh while doing it, and totally gotten away with it.

  • Khadijah White

    You people are so gross. He didn't just use a racial epithet (which is bad enough – it wasn't funny, it wasn't a joke, it was just racist). He invoked LYNCHING. He said "50 years ago I would have you hanging upside down with a pitchfork up your ass". Do you not GET that?? The systematic murder of Black people at the hands of angry mobs of white people? The gruesome pictures of mutilated Black bodies with smiling white teenagers underneath? Do you not get that HORROR? It's the equivalent of telling a Jewish person that if you had your way, you'd put their whole family in an oven. That would be anti-semitism. You can decide if you think that's funny. I can say it's horrible. But there's no QUESTION that it's anti-semitic. And there's NO QUESTION that what Richards said was racist. You should be ashamed of yourselves. I'm so sick of racist people denying racism so that they can continue to be racist. It's a good trick, but an incredibly disgusting one.

    • Comedy Fan

      Nobody's defending racism, Mr. White. If you think we are, you're completely misunderstanding the topic of this discussion. We're simply looking at Richards' mistake in the context of comedy history. It's obvious that what he said is awful and we all agree. Nobody is saying anything different. (This is why Richards has repeatedly apologized for it, by the way.) But it isn't reasonable to judge what he said totally out of context. Richards was acting in the role of a comedian when he said those things. And this website isn't about politics, it's about comedy. Why do people like Sarah Silverman say bad things and make us laugh. But when Tracy Morgan said terrible antigay things a while ago, he had to apologize for it. Michael Richards did apologize but his apology wasn't widely accepted. Other people like Don Imus who made unpopular racist jokes also apologized but they were able to return to their careers. The question we should be asking is: Why is Michael Richards' mistake any different?

      • Londonview

        That fact that you refer to it as a "mistake" sums up your inability to grasp the offense caused.

  • Khadijah White

    http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0309/lm18.html Nothing about this is funny. Nothing.

  • Buck Henry

    Thank GOD no black comedian ever went on a tirade against Jews, Whites, or Asians……. The sad truth is that blacks feel as if they are excused from hateful speech in the guise of "keepin it real" but they are the FIRST to holler when the word "boy" "you people" or ANY number of phrases are directed their way. Funny aside, I remember dating a black girl in San Antonio, nice, attractive, smart – racist dad. He wouldn't let me come up on the porch because of the color of my skin. So, before we castigate Richards, let's KEEP IT REAL and cut the poor me shit.

    • Stevenson

      Looks like you're wallowing in the "poor me" shit yourself!

  • Marius Quentical

    And the press has failed to admit that the heckler called him a honkey and a cracker! Richard's should have stopped the show and had security throw the heckler out on his azz.

  • John

    You forget that the Black audience member called Richards a "cracker".
    But I guess that's okay.

  • http://thecartesian.com/ James

    I'm so sick of these moral snob posts where splitsider writers talk down to everyone. It's so self-glorifying and petty and immature. I love the site but I'm sick of articles bashing people when they say "attractive people can't be funny" etc, etc.online survey jobs without investment I don't come to this website to read about anything but comedy. Don't deviate from comedy. "Wrong Lesson" is such a condescending category for an article.