That Time Michael Richards Showed Up On Letterman With Jerry Seinfeld To 'Apologize'
We’re not here to talk about what Michael “Kramer” Richards did that 2006 night at the Laugh Factory. (But fine, if you really want to revisit the ugly, ugly details.) Instead, we’re here to dissect the aftermath, specifically, his bungled attempt to make things right on Dave Letterman’s show, with an unhelpful assist from Jerry Seinfeld.
In fact, Jerry seems to have set up the whole thing, ceding his appearance on Late Night to help his Seinfeld costar win back an audience that now hated Richards for a heckler tirade littered with racial epithets.
Richards himself wasn’t even on the Letterman set. Instead, he appeared via satellite from some anonymous avocado Hollywood limbo. Maybe that’s why Dave’s studio audience didn’t quite grasp Richards’ sincerity, though it’s unclear if he was sincerely sorry or sincerely spooked that he was in so much trouble.
Things went south right out of the gate as Richard’s ashamed confession of “I went into a rage” was met with audience giggles. The laughs built as he admitted “Said some pretty nasty things to some Afro-Americans.” (Er, yeah, he said “Afro-Americans.”)
That’s when Assistant Principal Seinfeld jumped in with a quiet scold: “Stop laughing, it’s not funny!” It had the same effect as the science teacher who warns everyone not to snicker about the lesson on Uranus. There’s no more uncontrollable laughter than forbidden laughter.
Here’s an abbreviated blow-by-blow of what came next, with a parenthetical translation of what was really being said.
RICHARDS: I’m hearing your audience laugh and I’m not even sure this is where I should be addressing the situation. (This was your idea, Seinfeld.)
(TO LETTERMAN): “I’ve already heard you make some jokes about it (you bastard) and that’s OK (I hate you) but I’m really busted up over this and I’m very, very sorry (will you please stop laughing so I can be done with this?) to those people in the audience. Blacks, the Hispanics, the whites (God, I hope there weren’t any Asians), everyone that was there that took the brunt of that anger and hate and rage and how it came through. (Anger and hate and rage -- that ought to cover it.)
There’s a great deal of disturbance in this country and how blacks feel about what happened in Katrina. (Yeah, why aren’t we talking about Katrina! So much more racist than the Laugh Factory! Deflect! Deflect!)
LETTERMAN: But Michael, let me interrupt here for a second (let’s stop this runaway train, shall we?) and ask a question about the people doing the heckling -- had they been white or any other race, what would have been the nature of your response then? (Surely you have some heckler zingers that don’t involve the n-bomb.)
RICHARDS: You know, I’m a performer. I push the envelope, I work in a very uncontrolled manner onstage. (Racial slurs just come with the territory, man.)
I’m not a racist! That’s what’s so insane about this! (You people need to see a psychiatrist! )
And yet it’s said! It comes through! It fires out of me! (To recap: I’m not a racist -- bigotry is only what I say, what comes through, and what fires out of me.)
You don’t have the whole clip of what they’re showing everyone (seriously, I’ve got a great bit about airport security). I tried to jujitsu my way through the heckling (God, I hope there aren’t any Asians) but it didn’t work. You talk about a bad night! (But at least it wasn’t Katrina.)
I think it’s important for the Afro-American community (Afro-American -- am I saying that right?) to make sure this kind of crap doesn’t come about. (It’s certainly easier than holding myself accountable.)
LETTERMAN: Having apologized, is there much more you can do? (Besides using my show to dig a deeper hole?)
RICHARDS: I just have to do personal work. (I just have to take the next fifteen years off from show biz.)
SEINFELD: I know how shattered he is about this. (This better not affect my rerun residuals.) He deserves a chance to apologize. (I just didn’t know he’d do such a lousy job.)
LETTERMAN: Michael, I know it’s difficult and I hope you don’t have regrets about being on the show this evening. (This wasn’t my idea.)
SEINFELD: That was good. That was good. (Michael’s going to kill me.)
For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:
For ComedyNerd exclusive content and more, subscribe to our fancy newsletter:
Top image: Worldwide Pants