Paul Mooney Believed Michael Richard’s Racist Rant Was a Godsend

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Paul Mooney Believed Michael Richard’s Racist Rant Was a Godsend

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Comedy doesn’t get much uglier than the night Michael Richards went nuts at the Laugh Factory in 2005. The Seinfeld star was completely unhinged, responding to hecklers with a racist rant full of N-bombs that tanked his career. If you haven’t actually watched the clip before, be warned — it’s not for the faint of heart. 

But at least one comic voice was grateful for the meltdown. “Michael Richards was a godsend,” explained Paul Mooney in the book Satiristas: Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians. “He put the N-word on the table, that’s what he did. It stopped the world. Everybody wants to say that it’s just one person, it’s just Michael Richards, but it’s not. It’s everyone. America is responsible for him; America has to take the responsibility. Everyone in this room has to take responsibility. I took it, and that’s why I stopped saying it.”

Mooney forsaking the N-word was a big deal. A stand-up comic and long-time writer for Richard Pryor (he co-wrote “Word Association,” probably the most incendiary sketch in the history of Saturday Night Live), Mooney insisted on keeping the term in his vocabulary even after Pryor gave it up. In his view, he was “an ambassador for the word.”

“I was a lover to that word — and like a lover, I stayed right with it,” he said. “Richard Pryor and I made a lot of money saying that word. Then Richard went to Africa and came back saying that it wasn’t in any African language, and he wasn’t going to say it. But I couldn’t see the N-word for the trees. Richard Pryor couldn’t stop me from saying it, but Michael Richards did.”

Mooney and Richards knew each other well from their comedy club days, so Mooney wasn’t buying it when people came up to him after the incident claiming that Richards wasn’t a funny comic. Or at least, he wasn’t buying the notion that Richards was never funny. Before Seinfeld, “he started out in stand-up, and he was very funny,” Mooney said. “But he got caught up in that Hollywood bullshit. He was the darling of the discotheque. They sucked out of his ass on that hit show of his, okay?”

What was really behind Richards’ meltdown, in Mooney’s view, was the end of Seinfeld. “When that show went off the air, he was looking for that same thing he always wanted: that attention.” But the stand-up game had changed, Mooney said. The clubs were different, the audiences were different and Richards didn’t know how to adjust. When he got heckled that night, it was vicious: “They talked shit to him, so he reached into hell to pull out all that shit he was talking.”

Mooney was called to a local hotel to meet with Richards. “That boy grabbed on to me — I told you how long I’ve known him — he clutched on to me, didn’t know if I was gonna hit him or curse him out or whatever. He just hid. He was scared to death,” Mooney revealed. “He told me he didn’t even know he had that in him; that it wasn’t a performance, it was a meltdown.” 

Mooney believed Richards when he said how sorry he was. “He was really sorry,” said Mooney. “I couldn’t believe that all the Christians in America didn’t have the forgiveness for him. We’re all human beings; we can all screw up.”

“I think everyone saw a lot of themselves in Michael Richards, and that’s why they all freaked,” Mooney added. “And everybody’s responsible for it and has to take responsibility for it before we can change any of this, so I stopped using that word. I knew I was a part of it. We’re all part of it.”

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