Michael Richards: Call Him Ku Klux Kramer?
Yep, that's Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld, dropping the N-bomb on a heckler. He offers said heckler Kyle Doss, an African-American, this historical perspective:
"Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f***ing fork up your ass."
Clearly, a meltdown. Richards has yet to comment, but message boards, blogs and forums are alive with Kramer smack. His tirade is a reminder that it's not just wide-eyed open mic performers who have to deal with heckling. We called the two major clubs in town to get perspective.
Today's ironic clip: Kramer calling Jerry an "anti-dentite" on Seinfeld:
Jenna Queen, a manager at the Laff Stop, says she deals with hecklers "quite a bit. And sometimes the comics will address them themselves, and sometimes we'll remove them ourselves." She recalls seeing Finesse Mitchell, a Saturday Night Live cast member, get heckled. "And it was pretty rude, too. He played it off, but I was shocked."
Queen says heckling doesn't just affect the comic. "It messes up our recordings. We want to be able to get a good, clear live recording, and with people talking in the background and cell phones ringing, you can't. It's really frustrating. You paid your money -- shut your mouth and watch the show." But Pete Prelli, the Laff Stop's owner, says that heckling can actually help a comic's act. He points to comic such as Ian Bagg, Lisa Lampanelli and Nick DiPaolo: "They actually use crowd rap in their routine. "
Eddie Brito, manager of The Improv and a former Laff Stop staffer, says "there isn't a comic out there" who hasn't been heckled. "Dave Chappelle can't get through a set without someone saying 'I'm Rick James, bitch!'" he says.
But is "I'm Rick James, bitch!" the same as all-out shit-talking a comic during his set? Brito says yes. "Heckling is any disruption of the show caused by the customer. There's a common misconception that you can go to a comedy club and it's okay to heckle. It's really not."
Which makes Brito wonder if there's more to the Richards rant. "When a comic's onstage, they hear things that people don't. For him to get that point, that heckler had to be talking for a while. The media's probably pushing that the heckler said one thing, and Richards exploded. But I wouldn't be surprised if the heckler was talking all night. When you talk through a show, comics get really offended, so he may have tried to retaliate in the most offensive way he could."
Brito is quick to say he's not defending Richards's comments. "He crossed the line, no doubt. He could've been derogatory, but he didn't have to make it racial. That was uncalled for. There's a difference between racial humor and a racial attack."
The Laugh Factory's management, says Brito, could've stopped this from happening in the first place. "It's not their fault that he said this, but they should've stopped the antagonizing from the beginning. You hold Richards responsible for what he said, but the club was responsible for letting it get to that point."
Brito says all clubs should have a zero-tolerance policy for heckling. "Usually the comic will have a quick-witted response to the heckler. Then the club should send door guy down and let that person know that stuff like won't be tolerated. I've had comics, when they see my staff coming down to the audience, actually defend the heckler."
So what's in Richards's future now? "He may want to go on tour and explain himself," says Brito. "I mean, Kathy Griffin has made a career out of negative press." But Brito isn't sure he'll put Richards's name on The Improv marquee. "Before, if he asked to play my club, I'd say, 'No problem, it's Kramer from Seinfeld. Now, I'd have to think twice about it." — Steven Devadanam