Cosmo Kramer was one of the greatest comedic characters in television history. He ranks right up there with Barney Fife and Ed Norton - and when you are mentioned in the same breath as Barney and Norton, you are walking in some pretty high cotton.
Just in case you never happened across Seinfeld during its nine-year run at or near the top of the Nielsen ratings, Kramer was Jerry Seinfeld's wacky neighbor. When I say wacky, I mean wacky. Waiting for the knock on the door and Kramer's sliding entrance - hair askew and neuroses breaking out all over - was one of the highlights of my Thursday nights for almost a decade.
If you are a fan, you will remember the time Kramer fell asleep in the tanning bed just before going to dinner at his new girlfriend's house. In another classic episode, Kramer adopted a highway and turned a three-lane stretch of expressway into a two-laner. And then there was the time Kramer tried to see how far he could go on empty while test-driving a new car and the time he let the Japanese tourists sleep in his chest-of-drawers - and on and on and on.
The actor who played Kramer, Michael Richards, was a genius at comedic timing and slapstick and created a character that will live on forever in the age of cable television syndication. It's a good thing, too, because in real life, Michael Richards' career is as dead as the proverbial doornail that Charles Dickens wrote of in "A Christmas Carol."
In case you missed it, Michael Richards was doing a stand-up routine at a Los Angeles comedy club earlier this week - and apparently bombing. I know how he feels. Nothing is worse than trying to be funny in front of an audience that doesn't think you're the least bit cute. I've played some tough rooms myself - Sunday School banquets and Rotary Club dinners and the like - but have never had to face actual hecklers, except in my 11th grade history class, but that's another story for another day.
Apparently, Michael Richards, aka Cosmo Kramer, was being heckled in L.A. He didn't handle it real well, and that's an understatement. What he did was he went off on his hecklers, who apparently were black, and dressed them down with a tirade of racial epithets, including the fatal n-word.
Like I said, Michael Richards' career is history. There are some things you just don't do, and for a white guy, using that word in anger is one of those things.
If Richards had happened to have been black, there wouldn't have been a story and we would be talking about eating leftover turkey sandwiches today - or the influx of Yankee-Americans into the Atlanta suburbs, or the fact that Georgia's worst team in 10 years is favored over Tech's best team in 10 years in today's blood-letting between the hedges.
But Michael Richards is as white as they come, and, to quote an old Hollywood axiom, will never work again in that town. At least, that's what the smart money is saying.
I don't know much about Michael Richards' background, and I don't know anything at all about his character, but I do know about political correctness in the 21st century. Richards' faux pas went way beyond a slip-of-the-tongue. I listened to the entire tirade on the Internet, and he was seriously berating the people who were causing him grief. But he doesn't know the meaning of the word grief yet.
George Carlin, who created the classic bit about the seven words you can't say on television, is still making the rounds of comedy clubs himself, and now has a new bit in which he claims that the list of seven words has been reduced to one - two if you are a white guy. As we have already established, Richards is a white guy, and he didn't say the words on television, but he might as well have.
Is it a double standard? Might be - but in this case, it's a moot point because, again, there are some things you just don't say - and of all the things you just don't say, you just don't say what he said most of all.
Of course he apologized - on the David Letterman show, but Al Sharpton says that didn't count because Letterman is a "white show." I wasn't aware that Letterman was restricted to whites, but if the Reverend Al says it's a white show, it must be. It's on way past my bedtime, so if it were a green or pink or purple show, it wouldn't matter to me. According to published reports, Michael Richards has now hired a crisis management team to try and salvage his career. He has gone to the team's go-to guy - New York publicist Howard Rubinstein, who has made the obligatory calls to Jesse Jackson and the aforementioned Sharpton, but he's whistling past the graveyard.
Richards' career is as done as the turkey Kramer portrayed the time he greased himself up with butter and fell asleep on the roof.
He would be better off calling O.J.'s lawyers than a publicist. They got O.J. off, and he's doing quite well. Of course, all he did was commit murder, which isn't nearly as serious as what Michael Richards did.
Oh well, at least we'll always have Kramer in the reruns.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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