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.