Debate: The Kramer Kontroversy (Michael Richards is a Racist?)

By Glenn and Jake

Remember the 90s?  Judge Ito sentenced OJ Simpson to death for his acting in the “Naked Gun” movies, gas cost 90 cents a gallon, Don King was stealing all of Mike Tyson’s money, Mike Tyson was raping women, women gained the right to vote, voting was outlawed after Bob Dole lost the election, the movie “Election” was released, releasing laser discs was considered high brow, Seinfeld was a TV show you could buy on laser disc, and Seinfeld co-star Michael Richards released a video of a racist rant.  This was the 90s and this is a debate.

Glenn: What he said on that stage was inexcusable.  There are many horrible things former Seinfeld actors have done to this world - the Michael Richards Show, Bob Alexander, etc. - but we forgive them because of what they did on the show.  On Yom Kippur we can even silently sit in temple and ask Yahweh to forget - not forgive -  the two seasons of Marriage Ref.  But Kramer’s outburst at one or two black men who were, at worst, interrupting a mediocre comedy set is beyond the pale.  It is within his rights to get upset at them and even throw insults, but his quick retreat to racial slurs indicates a simmering bigotry that sits beneath the surface, retrospectively evident on every door slide he made into Jerry’s apartment.  I cannot imagine anyone trying to defend his actions except a hardened “race realist” like David Duke or Anders  Breivik.

Jake: I should preface this point by saying that I am not a racist.  I don’t even see race.  I cannot tell a Korean from a Chinese person.  Michael Richards merely had a bad night.  All of us have been there.  I have witnessed Glenn call a person a “gook” because he got cut off in traffic on his way to the Omelet Shoppe.  I frequently use the word “faggot” while engaging in rough homosexual intercourse.  We all have bad moments.  This was Michael Richards’ one bad moment.  It isn’t as if he was sliding through Jerry’s door on “Seinfeld” and calling any of their black friends a “nigger.”  He never did that.  He was always very cordial and welcoming.  Michael Richards isn’t a hero, but he is far from a villainous cad.  He is merely a human being with a momentary, rage-induced lapse in judgement.

Glenn:  Of course he didn’t do it on Seinfeld! All of his lines were written for him.  I am not arguing the character of Kramer was a vile, hate-spewing bigot but I think Michael Richards is.  You cannot simply chalk it up to a bad night or an asymptomatic burst of anger.  I have been angered many times in my life - mostly at the grocery store and mostly by people of different races and ethnicities.  My first instinct is not to shout racial slurs.  My first instinct is to defecate myself, if I have had enough food in the past few hours to justify it. This is because I do not hold a deep seated hatred of those different than me.  That’s the difference between Richards and me, even if some say it’s the ONLY difference.

Jake: It is a well-documented fact that all of Michael Richards’ lines on Seinfeld were improvised.  He is a master improviser.  He was doing a character that fateful night.  His character was called “Mr. Nigger.”  It, maybe, isn’t the best character, but it put some post-Seinfeld food on his plate.  He just forgot to introduce that he was doing a character before launching into one of his classic bits.  Michael Richards is not as good at segways as he is at improvisation--it is his Achilles heel as a performer.  I think we should cut Michael Richards some slack and accept the apology he made on Letterman.

Glenn:  I’m glad you mentioned his bizarre, uncomfortable and slightly erotic “apology” on Letterman.  There was so much buzz about Richards’ rant (and remember, this was before blogs) that Jerry Seinfeld asked if a video feed of Kramer could talk to people about it.  The studio audience was laughing at first because they thought it was a bit, so Jerry had to uncomfortably tell them to stop.  If he didn’t want anyone to laugh he should have prefaced the interview with a Marriage Ref commercial!  Michael Richards gave no real explanation for why he used those slurs and said these shockingly racist things and the audience was just left sitting there in silence, like during a taping of the Marriage Ref.  I am not saying people should never be forgiven for crimes.  In fact, I organized a successful letter writing campaign in elementary school asking Jim Edgar to pardon John Wayne Gacy Jr.  But the difference is that he deserved forgiveness and Michael Richards does not - primarily because he has never given an adequate explanation for why he said those things but also because he has done nothing redeemable since Seinfeld.  

Jake: The thing you fail to mention about Michael Richards’ heartfelt apology on Letterman is that he showed nothing but respect for “afro-Americans.”  He explained his character Mr. Nigger and why it is funny.  Sure, it was a bitter pill for the audience to swallow, but we should have been forgiving like Jesus and Rihanna.  We all loved Cosmo Kramer, but we cannot say “we forgive you” to Michael Richards.  We laugh at reruns and DVDs of “Seinfeld,” but we refuse to laugh at Michael Richards hatefully yelling “nigger” at a comedy club audience.  I guess that’s just America.


  1. From his "apology" video:

    "for me to flip out and say this crap, I'm deeply deeply sorry - and I'll get to the force field of this hostility, why it's there, why the rage is in ANY of us, why the trash takes place - whether or not it's between me and a couple of hecklers in the audience or between this country and another nation, the rage --"


    1. I think he is calling France the N-word!

  2. He's searching for the real killer.

  3. This happened in the 90s? Richards mentions Katrina.