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My take on "Kramer Gone Wild"

by Jay Black, posted Nov 30th 2006 11:04AM
Michael Richards aka KramerMichael Richards' recent experimentation with Tourette's Syndrome has one fortunate outcome -- it provides a good excuse for me to introduce myself to the readers of TV Squad! I've been a professional stand-up comic for the last four years, and as TV Squad's newest writer I've been asked to give an insider's take on Michael Richard's use of the "N word."

I think the most important fallout from what I will from this point forward call "the Kramer incident" is that Jamie Masada, owner of the Laugh Factory where the Kramer incident took place, has banned the N-Word from his club. A club owner has the right to ban any kind of speech he'd like from his stage (I've worked places where you had to be Disney-clean and places where every foul word on the planet was not only acceptable, but encouraged), but Masada's PR move is fear-driven and wrong.

You wonder what would happen if Richard Pryor or Lenny Bruce were to suddenly spring back to life and decide that they wanted to get back into stand-up (believe me, the pull of the stage really is that powerful!) Could Masada argue that Pryor's use of the word is similar to Richards'? In the former instance you have a man using dirty words to make a point about racism in this country and in the other you have ... well, a faded former TV star losing his mind on a heckler. Any sensible viewer is aware that there's a major difference between the two.

What's missing from Masada's move is context. Every word has the potential to be both insightful or inciting, depending on how the speaker uses it (for instance, I can construct a very offensive sentence using only the words hope, I, you, herpes, and get. In and of themselves, the words aren't offensive, but string them together in the right context and poof, I've lost my TV Squad job just as soon as I got it!) I sincerely hope that the Laugh Factory changes its policy to address language problems on an incident by incident basis.

Other observations from the Kramer incident:

  1. There's a difference between comedic actors and comedians. Studio 60 tried to make this point recently as well. Michael Richards is a phenomenal comedic actor. When someone is writing the words for him and he's got a director and time to rehearse, he'll floor any room. When he's forced to make up what he's saying himself, he's not nearly as funny.
  2. The Laugh Factory needs to update its roster! Did anybody else get a look at who was there that night? Sinbad? Paul Rodriguez? Paul Mooney? Funny guys, all of them, but if It wasn't for the fact that this scene was recorded with a camera-phone, I would have thought that it was a film from 1985.
  3. Whenever someone describes their act as "stream of consciousness" it means they have no act. Audiences are forgiving of a lot of things -- not being funny when you're Kramer and you're performing at a comedy club isn't one of them. I'll never support a heckler -- I'm a comedian, and it's my belief that all hecklers should be boiled in flop-sweat -- but I do understand why an audience might get antsy during a "stream of consciousness" rant.
There's an undeniable Pee Wee Herman kind of draw to watching any celebrity break down so publicly (I for one can't wait for the sure-to-happen Betty White/Bea Arthur catfight at the next Golden Girls reunion), but as a comic and as a fan I hope Michael Richard's recovers from this. I hope he figures out how to make a coherent apology and I hope that the next time he gets heckled on-stage he just says "shut up" and moves on.

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Richards is about to cut a check to these guys for offending them.

That's a very dangerous precedent.

Where's MY check from Andrew "Dice" Clay?

December 02 2006 at 11:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I reckon Paul Mooney is right...and Jay Black is also right about Jamie Masada being wrong.

When Pryor and Mooney claimed "that word" as their own, their intention was to defang the word and remove its power to hurt -- to make it a word that could only be laughed at and be considered ridiculous. This was a noble goal and it was worth trying. But it had to be tried for us to find out, all these years later, the experiment had the exact opposite effect from what they intended. Instead of killing the word, it perpetuated the word and indeed resurrected its power. It was right on the verge of becoming archaic and dying out altogether, but now it's become a staple. And when a non-standup who had no business being on a stage in the first place (Richards) gets heckled and doesn't know how to handle it, the word was right there for him to throw back as the most hurtful thing he could say at that moment. And Paul Mooney, a really thoughtful and sensitive guy, is shaken to see this final evidence that his good intent utterly failed. So for him to renounce that word and say he was wrong all these years is a big deal.

The problem is, you can't legislate or enforce your insights onto other people. As Dwayne Conyers points out above, how can you erase bad intent by banning one word? And why only that one word? Are wops and chinks and gooks and kikes less entitled to protection? Pretty soon we're all being marched off to the Death Camp of Tolerance...

November 30 2006 at 6:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well said, Captain Obvious. I'd like to buy you a drink.

November 30 2006 at 6:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This incident has been getting very annoying. Michael Richards did something very bad (and stupid), but its over. He made his horrible apology and i personally think everyone should just move on. I mean, did people even mourn Steve Irwin for this long? (just a reference) He said nigger, which said wrongly can be (and is) a very derogatory (is that the word?) term. No he shouldnt have, but he did, and now his career is probably ruined (or horribly crumpled). There must be soo much better things to talk about than this (Not that this was a bad article, just...late)

November 30 2006 at 5:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robin H Goodfellow

RE: Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, there is no reason for "Christian" clerics to be using ANY derogatory terms to describe any ethnicity. And their flocks are obliged to get in their butts about it; failure to do so is a condoning of such uncivilized behavior. And I've met Jesse Jackson; if you are not a Brooks Brothers suit wearing brotha, or have some cause Rev JJ can rally behind, he won't speak to you or shake your hand... UofM A2 MI

November 30 2006 at 2:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robin H Goodfellow

Michael Richard's is a bigot. Pure and simple; When some people use the word "nigger", they mean that persons of African descent are less than people, less than dogs and deserve to be treated that way; when many persons of African descent use the term "niggah", they are expressing a subcultural reclaimation of a derogatory term to illustrate a feeling of camaradirie with others who might feel disenfranchised by the Euro American plutocratic "majority". Michael Richards was talking about hanging niggers and sticking forks up their anuses. Yep, I'm sure the Ku Klux Klan wants this guy to do stand up at their next negro roast, and why is he apologizing ? Because now he won't be able to get a job at a Coney Island washing dishes, because he can't keep his hate to himself. When you have a word for people to distinquish them from your group/faith/clan/tribe, you're just human, when you're verbally saluting the treatment of African Americans like plague rats ? you're a bigot. I have prejudices, it's a universal human xenophobic quality, but I don't believe everyone of any group deserves to be treated like African American are still treated in this country. I wish he (Michael Richards) would do an encore of that meltdown in a penitentary, or a bar in Detroit... Now, the end result of that would be comedy...

November 30 2006 at 2:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

First of all, great column. One thing coming out of this that I find interesting is that the n-word has changed for black comics as well. Is Paul Mooney's dropping of the word really because he feels ashamed for using it, or is it because it will now stick out and make the audience remember such an uncomfortable incident? It will be impossible for the next few months to hear any comic of any race say "nigger" without an audience questioning its use and their response.

November 30 2006 at 2:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Whoa LB -

Did you read the same post I did? He mentions the fact that he is a comedian because that's why he was hired by TVSquad - an insider's point of view. He never once compared himself to Bruce or Pryor, only tried to put the issue in context with the work they did. And I don't know where you pulled this idea that he felt writing this was beneath him. Re-read the post and try again.

Jay - I think you're on point with this. Banning the word outright does seem to me to be a knee-jerk reaction, but it's Masada's club and he can do what he wants. Only thing is it really doesn't address anything, just kinda tucks it away in hopes it doesn't rear its face again.

November 30 2006 at 1:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

To be fair, he didn't say "I'm a comedian therefore I'm going to write a routine about how this incident was bad"

I think it's all funny, a case of a mad man making a really bad judgement call and I love that Mel has jumped to his defense!

November 30 2006 at 1:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Roger Rees

I don't understand why this is such big news. Assuming Richards did not say "n***r." Instead he said "f**k you" or "i hope you get herpes" or "c*ck s*ckers" or "p*ssies" or "motherf*ckers" or any other string of offensive words. All of these words would have been said in admittedly irrational anger. But why is the use of "n***r" automatically transforms Richards' outbreak from irrational anger to "hate speech" or "racism?" When you're acting irrationally and in anger, you say things you don't mean. For instance, sometimes I say "don't be such a bitch" in the heat of an argument. Doesn't mean I think it, doesn't mean that my wife is. A white person's use of the word should not immediately brand them as a racist.

Just like Jesse Jackson's use of "hymietown" and Al Sharpton's anti-semitic rhetoric shouldn't immediately brand them as anti-semites...oh wait, their comment were not said in irrational anger but in thought-out and planned speeches. Interesting.

November 30 2006 at 1:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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