RICHARDS APOLOGIZES FOR RACIAL SLURS
By LYNN ELBER, AP Television Writer
LOS ANGELES - Michael Richards said Monday he spewed racial epithets during a stand-up
comedy routine because he lost his cool while being heckled and not because he's a bigot.
"For me to be at a comedy
club and flip out and say this crap, I'm deeply, deeply sorry," the former "Seinfeld" co-star said during a satellite appearance
for David Letterman's "Late Show" in New York.
"I'm not a racist. That's
what's so insane about this," Richards said, his tone becoming angry and frustrated as he defended himself. A clip from the
show played on CBS before the "Late Show" aired Monday night.
Richards described himself
as going into "a rage" over the two audience members who interrupted his act Friday at the Laugh Factory in West
Hollywood. Richards responded to the black hecklers with repeated use of the "n word" and profanities.
Jerry Seinfeld, who had issued a statement saying he was "sick over this horrible, horrible mistake" and calling it offensive, was
scheduled as a Letterman guest Monday. He encouraged Richards to make a satellite appearance to talk about the incident, a
CBS publicist said.
Richards deserved the chance
to apologize, Seinfeld said on the "Late Show." Seinfeld said, "He's someone that I love, and I know how shattered he is about"
At one point, however, Richards
grew flustered and expressed second thoughts about appearing on the "Late Show" when his use of the term "Afro-American" proved
funny to some audience members.
"I'm hearing your audience
laugh, and I'm not even sure that this is where I should be addressing the situation," he said in a tape of his appearance
shown by CBS to reporters.
Richards, 57, who played
Seinfeld's eccentric neighbor Kramer on the hit 1989-98 sitcom and whose major credit since was a failed 2000 comedy, hadn't
spoken publicly about his remarks before "Late Show." Calls to his representatives were not returned Monday.
His onstage remarks were
condemned by industry colleagues.
Comedian Paul Rodriguez, who was at the Laugh Factory during Richards' performance,
said he was shocked.
"Once the word comes out
of your mouth and you don't happen to be African-American, then you have a whole lot of explaining," Rodriguez told CNN. "Freedom
of speech has its limitations and I think Michael Richards found those limitations."
His Laugh Factory tirade
began after the two clubgoers shouted at him that he wasn't funny. Video of the incident was posted on TMZ.com.
Richards retorted: "Shut
up! Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f------ fork up your a--."
He then paced across the
stage taunting the men for interrupting his show, peppering his speech with racial slurs and profanities.
"You can talk, you can talk,
you're brave now mother------. Throw his a-- out. He's a n-----!" Richards shouts before repeating the racial epithet over
and over again.
Moderating his tone at one
point, Richards tells the audience, "It shocks you, it shocks you" and refers to "what lays buried."
While there is some chuckling
in the audience throughout the outburst, someone can be heard gasping "Oh my God" and people respond with "ooh" after Richards
uses the n-word.
Eventually someone calls
out: "It's not funny. That's why you're a reject, never had no shows, never had no movies. 'Seinfeld,' that's it."
On Monday, about a half-dozen
community activists gathered at the club to denounce Richards' remarks and demand an apology.
"These kind of comments
hurt all of us," said protester Lita Sister Herron of the Youth Advocacy Coalition. She called Richards' comments hate speech.
The protesters also demanded
an apology from the Laugh Factory. At a news conference a short time later, club owner Jamie Masada expressed remorse and
said Richards will not be back at the club until he says he's sorry.
"This is one thing we don't
tolerate. ... I personally apologize. I apologize from my heart," Masada said Monday.
Richards did appear at the
club Saturday, without incident, but that was because he had told the club he intended to apologize, according to a Laugh
Factory statement Monday.
Rodriguez, also at the news
conference, said: "I kept expecting a punch line. It didn't come."
Veteran publicist Michael
Levine, whose clients have included comedians George Carlin,
Sam Kinison and Rodney Dangerfield, called Richards'
remarks inexcusable. Comics often face hecklers without losing their cool, he said.
"I've never seen anything
like this in my life," Levine said Monday. "I think it's a career ruiner for him. ... It's going to be a long road back for
him, if at all."
Daryl Pitts, a Laugh Factory
audience member interviewed by CNN, compared the incident to another recent celebrity controversy.
"You think about Mel Gibson and what he said, and put that in the context of this, it's very
upsetting," Pitts said, referring to Gibson's anti-Semitic outburst during his arrest for drunken driving.
Scrutiny of Richards' remarks
likely will continue but won't match the level prompted by Gibson's behavior because Richards is far less famous, Levine said.
Comedian George Lopez told Los Angeles
television station KTLA that he thought Richards' lack of stand-up experience may have been a factor.
"The question is you have
an actor who is trying to be a comedian who doesn't know what to do when an audience is disruptive," Lopez said. "He's an
actor whose show has been off the air, he shouldn't ever be on a stand-up gig."