Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tommy versus Kramer

At my new place of employment, people have been asking my opinion about Michael Richard's implosion at the Laugh Factory in L.A. I'm not going to comment about his choice of language (which was appalling), but here are some of my thoughts about this incident:

  • Mr. Richards violated the cardinal rule of performing: NEVER INSULT YOUR AUDIENCE. EVER. Once you do that, you've lost the battle and the war. Audiences behave collectively: even if some audience members disapprove of the behavior of other audience members, they will all react together. Whether that reaction entails walking out en masse or joining the heckling, pretty soon the performer will be one against many. And any military strategist will tell you that's a losing proposition. A microphone is not an adequate weapon against a mob.

  • The audience members who were either heckling or simply talking amongst themselves (reports vary) should be ashamed of themselves. I'm not saying they deserved to be insulted, but they behaved rudely before Richards did. If you pay money to see a show, you should take your seat and keep quiet so the people around you (who also paid to see this show) can enjoy themselves.

  • This incident illustrates why I can't do stand up comedy. I've tried it once or twice and failed miserably because I can't tell a joke to save my life. But I've been heckled several times over the years and I'm here to tell you that I've never experienced the kind of rage that heckling triggers inside of me. I don't want to go to their offices and make fun of them while they are on the job (a la "Seinfeld"). I want to kill them, plain and simple. So I completely understand where Mr. Richard's rage came from that night.

Once again, let me state that I am not apologizing for his use of a racial epithet. That was only one of the stupid things he did that night on that stage. As a seasoned performer, he should have known better than to insult the people who signed his paycheck.


TeacherRefPoet said...

Did you see him on Letterman Monday night? Richards looked shell-shocked. He can't understand how he did what he did.

What he did was almost unbelieveably awful, but nobody deserves to be judged exclusively by their worst moment.

Anonymous said...

In some talking-head discussion, it was brought up that Richards started out as an actor rather than a standup comic. Jerry Seinfeld (for example) would be much more used to a certain level of white noise (no pun intended)while he was doing his act.

What was very interesting was that the Letterman audience was laughing not because they liked to see Richards squirm, but because they probably had not seen the routine, and thought that he was doing a Kramer routine, or chanelling Andy Kaufman.

Is he a racist? Sure, as much as any of us are afraid of the Other. I know, I know, it certainly would have not been nearly so high-profile if he had shouted out "Faggot", or "Kike", or "Belgian", but it all springs from the same place.

I agree with TRP, and another sad thing about the arc of Michael Richards' career is that he had the steepest parabola of the four Seinfeld actors -- the steepest ascent and (apparently) the steepest and fastest decline.