Did Jerry Seinfeld miss an opportunity with Michael Richards on Web series?

By | October 17, 2012 at 12:09 pm | 13 comments | feature slider, News, Opinion | Tags: , , ,

Michael Richards said some really bad things in a comedy club seven years ago. Why can’t people let it go? We live in a time where celebrity is currency. More and more, people are over-reacting to things said in comedy clubs so that they can blog about it in a grab for their 15 seconds of fame. Here’s what people seem to forget: heckler responses are unscripted, unrehearsed and often justified lashing out at people interrupting not just a person’s work and their art, but their passion, their life blood.

Sometimes these off-the-cuff responses can be clumsy or clunky or mean or thoughtless because there’s a very short window where a comedian can respond or lose control of a show completely. Why is Richards the one guy who can’t seem to be forgiven or his comments forgotten? I’d say probably because he built one of the most beloved characters in television history and people have trouble separating Richards from Kramer.

I thought it was great of Jerry Seinfeld to put his considerable weight behind Richards and show his support by featuring him on his web-series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and they obviously always had the intention of bringing up “that” incident so that Richards could show that he’s still suffering seven years on. He is clearly, genuinely, sorry. But most of this clip made me cringe as much as an episode of The Office without the funny.

With some great soul-searching, podcasts out there like WTF, You Made It Weird, The Mental Illness Happy Hour, Seinfeld’s attempt to show genuine moments in their friendship, especially given the closeness and love they clearly share, seemed a wasted opportunity to show that they’re both human and real and even dare I say, be funny while doing it. They mostly seemed stilted and uncomfortably aware that they were on film, trying out bits and doing characters, and Richards’ contrition towards the end was to me one of the only genuine moments in the video. Richards seems sincerely broken, his eyes are haunted and he spent the better part of the 17 minute episode clinging to the character that was beloved by millions. Understandable given that his character is still so irrevocably connected with his unfortunate heckler response.

In case you didn’t get it, these are the rules in attending a comedy club:

The person on stage is an artist. Let them perform the art that you and everyone else in the room paid to see. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, exit graciously without disturbing the other patrons. A comedy club is sacred ground where the person holding the microphone gets to say whatever the fuck they want, no matter how repugnant, as is a basic human right. No-one who wasn’t in the room at the time has the right to judge what went on.

As for the clip, I found it less cringe-worthy on re-watching, but I still think Jerry missed an opportunity to show us a bit more of the ‘real’ Michael Richards, without the schtick (as is his mission statement for the show), so that we can finally move on from 2006. I hope Richards gets back on stage one day.

About the Author

Julie Lawless

Julie Lawless is a comedy maven and comedian wrangler based in Sydney, Australia. She has her fingers in many funny pies and will shoosh you if you talk during a show. She's even on twitter! (@juls_el_rox)

  • Maudefan

    are you insane? that is exactly what JS was doing? Maybe you came to the experience with preconceived notions.

  • Greg

    This episode was hilarious. I dont know what you were watching. Physical comedy comes naturally to Michael Richards, which is why he did it during this episode with Jerry.
    And in what world is shouting “Nigger” on stage a sound and logical thing to do? “A comedy club is sacred ground where the person holding the microphone gets to say whatever the fuck they want, no matter how repugnant, as is a basic human right.” Freedom of speech isnt absolute. A comedian cant say whatever they want, same goes for any other human being in any other social interaction. There are hate crime laws on the books in this country. Calling someone a nigger to their face isnt a “basic human right”. Thankfully he didnt have to face any legal repercussions because I think Michael was genuine in his apology and the incident’s fallout still affects him. But you cant say that someone who can say anything they want. It’s the old “yelling fire in a crowded theater” argument, only here it’s calling someone a nigger in front of comedy club audience. It’s not allowed, and he could’ve gotten into more trouble than he did.
    With that said, hecklers suck and comedy has no bounds. There is no topic that should go untouched, but Michael tried too hard to be edgy in that instance and wound up making a fool of himself.

    • Juls

      when did i ever imply that shouting “nigger” on stage is sane or logical? his shouting those things gives you the right to make an informed decision about his character. if he hadn’t, you would still think of him as someone who wouldn’t say those types of things- personally I’d rather be informed. Paul Mooney says it so much better than i ever could in Paul Provenza & Dan Dion’s book iSatiristas!- incidentally, he forgives Richards.

      The “crying fire in a crowded club” analogy is tired and illogical. To do that would endanger lives & has no bearing whatsoever on the freedom of speech argument. And just to be clear, a comedian CAN say whatever they want and they are being jailed and executed for it in other countries. That freedom is one of the things that makes our countries great and should be cherished and protected.

      As for the clip, meh. Too much schtick.

      • Greg

        I never said he was the type of person who would “never do those things”. It was surprising because it was so random and such an awful attempt at being edgy. Once again, I direct you to the hate crime laws. You must not be aware of them because if you direct a word like “nigger” at a black person, you can be brought up on charges. That is the law as it STANDS currently. You completely glossed over that point and went instead to the “fire in theater” line. It’s illegal. Dont try and talk around it. Any comic who is worth ANYTHING will you tell you about the line between malice and facetiousness. Even the most hardline, filthy comics know what that line is. It doesnt matter what the goddamn topic is, no one is trying to censor anybody. And the comics who are actually funny dont let advocacy groups dictate their acts when they get butthurt over topics they deem sensitive. This isnt about “taboo” topics.

        • Mark L.

          Hate speech laws are unconstitutional in the United States. You cannot be charged with a crime for calling a black person (or any other person of any other race) a mean name. No point was “glossed over” or “talked around”, you’re simply incorrect in your understanding of the law.

  • Artistformerlyknownasfox

    I agree Jules, it was uncomfortable and I felt he only thanked Jerry for sticking by him to kind of say to the viewers “Hey, this guys on my side, I must not be that bad right?” What he did on stage was stupid and insane (and possibly dangerous) but it was a mistake and anyone who judges him as beyond reproach is a fucking hypocrite, EVERYONE makes mistakes, and everyone has made one or two HUGE ones. What Richards needs to do is walk back on stage, say “Yep, I was a dick, I absolutely should not have said those things and I’m sorry…. now, whats the deal with lesbians?.” in other words, move on, own it and get back out there, sure he will have his die hard haters, but who doesn’t? he can either spend the rest of his life a broken remorseful man or he can get to redeeming himself, now, whats the deal with those lesbians?

    • Bojorco

      That’s not judging him as “beyond reproach.” Those people are most definitely reproaching him.

  • http://twitter.com/juminowicz JAMES U

    “More and more, people are over-reacting to things said [in web series] so that they can blog about it in a grab for their 15 seconds of fame.”

  • BestComedyShows.net

    I think the main thing to take away from this episdoe is that Richards’ intentions are good. He’s truly apologetic and the vitriol he received went way too far. At the same time, it’s up to him to move on and I think the best thing he can do now is try to have a light heart about it. Some good natured jokes would about the situation would have been timely.

  • Mike

    Julie, you are truly a pathetic human being. Shame on you.

    • askjiir

      For what??

  • Bojorco

    What he did in the first place was bad, and he lost control of himself, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as people like to claim. The heckler was a miserable dick, and he provoked an outrageous and exaggerated response from the comic. And after race has been brought into the mix, the heckler gets to come back at Richards for being white? Isn’t he trying to be just as hurtful? That’s where the real crime lies, doesn’t it? In one’s intentions to hurt through words? After that, the heckler takes his own BS down another notch when he calls Richards a “loser” who’s “never had no shows” (sic), that he’s “never had no movies” (sic), and that the “only” thing he’s done is Seinfeld. Uh-huh. Trying to make Richards look like a minor league ballplayer who never got more than the metaphorical “cup of coffee” in the big leagues isn’t going to work. The heckler who couldn’t heckle ended up trying to go pretty low himself that night, and didn’t have a lot in his arsenal to do it with.

    Indeed, Richards reacted poorly and non-creatively to an uncalled-for interruption to his show. He could have done much better, as a more experienced stand-up comic doubtless would have. But for the public to complain this much for this long about that incident, ensuring that the man will never work again or to even make public appearances is madness. On several occasions since then he has come off as genuinely contrite and aware that he temporarily lost his mind and his self-control during the incident. When to this very day, people still want to see him as a seething, angry bigot and dress him in a white robe in front of a burning cross so they can ostracize him for wearing it, it says a ton more about them than it does about Michael Richards. He screwed up, badly. But much of the public prefers the high that ongoing self-righteousness gives them to the good feeling that letting someone atone and start again gives them.

    • askjiir

      Well reasoned and well put. Wish more people were as intelligent and reflected as you.