A month ago, Michael Richards was just a wiry faced, seemingly double-jointed comedian who had made a name for himself, Cosmo Kramer, in the ensemble sitcom: Seinfeld. Despite the fact that he’s a three-time Emmy-award winner, in post Seinfeld days, Richards has found himself trying to re-invent himself or regain what he was to start with. Those within the cast have jokingly referred to it as The Seinfeld Curse.
After the show’s end, Richards went back on the stand up route, a familiar road for most comedians. That road had a definite fork in it, and as a result, Richards has found himself at the middle of a racial melee stemming from a standup act at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood that went woefully awry. He claims he was heckled, and so, to point out the outrageous nature of it all, he came back with fervor, continuing the barrage.
It’s all a misunderstanding, he says. Nonetheless, he’s hired a crisis expert to mitigate professional damages, hoping to circumvent the problems faced by Mel Gibson following his alcohol-induced lack of judgment. It should be noted that Richards performed at the Laugh Factory the very next night without incident. Since then, and the publicity fallout, the Laugh Factory has issued a statement that Richards is no longer welcome to perform at the venue.
There’s a huge point of irony to all of this. Most of us know Richards as the wild neighbor, Cosmo Kramer, on the hit show, Seinfeld. Yet, there are things you don’t know about Richards, and given the current boiling cauldron he now finds himself in, there are some little tidbits that shed a new cast on the problems he’s facing.
Radio and television played his rant at hecklers again and again. You can hear Richards throwing the N word out there as easily as he would be yelling “taxi” on a downtown, New York street. On a David Letterman appearance after the incident, Richards says he was trying to go over the top with this action to show how absurd it all was. It didn’t work. Moreover, the two men involved say they were not heckling and were baffled by Richards’s response. They plan to sue.
Put it in the context of his former life, and you’ll see why this is even more strange than it appears on the surface. Take for example, that Richards was drafted during the Viet Nam war. He didn’t serve in Viet Nam, but ended up in Germany where he was a co-director of V Corps, a Training Road Show. There, he produced and directed shows, of all things, dealing with drug abuse AND race relations. Pretty ironic, huh? The series was considered to be both successful and educational.
After he did his 2-year stint in the army, he spent time in a commune before he got back to his comedic roots and made decisions on where he wanted his career to go. Neither the race relations flicks nor the commune stint point to a man who melts down after a few words from a fervent heckler.
Given these few facts, and then the current goings on, you probably realize that you don’t know this actor known as Kramer, even if he were a fixture in American living rooms during the Seinfeld run. I’d put money down that you wouldn’t peg him for a Scottish freemason, but he is, and an active member, not just one by tradition. Despite his comedic penchant, Richards is the only Seinfeld cast member who has NOT hosted Saturday Night Live. So what else don’t you know? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Some things you might guess. He knew early on he wanted to get into comedic acting. Richards ended up with a BFA in drama, and founded an improv company with Ed Begley, Jr. The company didn’t take off as he’d wished, and the draft interrupted his overall plans.
After he did his time in the army, he had spent time in the commune “coming back.” It’s not surprising that Richards went looking towards acting and comedy once again as he regained himself again. He devised a stand-up routine that hovered, but didn’t take off, until Billy Crystal took notice of him and gave him his big break. Even then, Richards was little more than just a pretty face, not really a stand out in the crowd, despite his 6’3″ frame.
It wasn’t for lack of trying, and it was full of near misses. For example, he had auditioned for, and was originally awarded the role of, Al Bundy in Married With Children. Richards also has a penchant for comedic detective role, and considers it his first love as it allows him to combine both acting and comedy. He was considered for the role of Monk, made famous by Tony Shaloub. Okay, that’s a bit of an understatement. The role of Monk was created for Richards. Unfortunately, the ghost of Cosmo Kramer reared its head and held Richards back once again. Executives were afraid that audiences would not accept him in the role of Monk, but would, instead, concentrate on trying to find those little Kramer quirks.
Now, given the current publicity, Richards will have a tough time getting people to accept him as himself, let alone as the Emmy-award winning actor he is. In the past, Richards has made anti-Semitic comments within his act, a fact he doesn’t deny. Richards’s publicist, Howard Rubenstein, has maintained that the remarks were only part of the act, and they shouldn’t be considered weighty given the fact that Richards is Jewish himself. According to The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, however, Richards is not Jewish.
Damage control? Poor judgment? There has long been a joke about the Seinfeld curse, Obviously, the actor/comedian Michael Richards is going to have much more than the Seinfeld curse to overcome.