THANKS A BUNCH, KRAMER...
WARNING: There is nothing funny contained in today's entry. Seriously. Being that it's "Tuesday Newsday" and I am by all accounts a stand up comedian, I can't really avoid addressing this Michael Richards craziness, can I? Hell, how often is stand up comedy front page news--especially a story that doesn't involve the words "Dane" and/or "Cook"? So I will try to adress it here, even though the whole story just makes me kind of depressed and angry. This story will have residual effects on the stand up community as a whole, from the barrage of anti stand-up editorials that are already being written to my suspician that an increasing number of people are going to start filming comedy club shows on their cell phones, hoping to catch something "incriminating". It's just bad for comedians everywhere, which makes it really difficult to feel sorry for this fuckhead.
Obviously, the tirade was insane. But having been taken to task for things I've said (or have been perceived to say) on stage a few times over the past few years, I was looking for a reason, ANY reason to exonerate the dude in my mind. Well, I tried--really, I did. I'm willing to stand up (no pun intended) for any comic, saying any sort of offensive shit, provided that there is a joke involved. It doesn't have to be a great joke--hell, it can just be a vague and poorly executed premise. But there is absolutely nothing resembling a joke in Richards' screed. Not even the germ of a joke. Not even a whisper. Oh sure, he babbled something about "words, words, all these words", obviously trying to point out our cultural taboos. Setting aside ethics for a moment, that's a pathetic cop out--invoking the word "nigger" for shock value is considered indisputably hack among real stand up comics, no matter what silly context you try to put it in. But for the sake of argument, I'll give Richards this one. that still does nothing to address lines like, "fifty years ago you'd be upside down with a fork up your ass" or "that's what happens when you interrupt the white man". That's just nonsense, pure and simple.
You have to understand, I'm still not terribly comfortable taking this position. As I said up top, my instinct is always to side with a comic over any "offended party". There is so little respect for stand-up in the culture at large, and pundits and journalists are ALWAYS looking for subtle (or not-so-subtle) ways to diminish what comics try to do. By talking shit about Michael Richards, am I not taking sides against my peers? But then a very simple truth dawned on me:
Michael Richards is not a stand up comedian. So fuck him.
Michael Richards is one of a growing number of on-the-wane celebrities who have decided to attach themselves like barnacles to the world of stand-up (think Screech). There is always an air of palpable condescension that comes from people like this. They think it's easy. Or if not "easy", than certainly nothing more than a means to an end. Stand up is a way to stay visible until an on-camera gig comes along. Plus, it gives them some feeling of "cred". These are not people who feel compelled to spend five hours at a shitty Tuesday night open mic, waiting to perform for a handful of disinterested drunks.
Simply put, someone like Michael Richards has never paid his dues and obviosuly doesn't understand that stand can be...well, pretty fucking intricate. There are things about comedy that you can't learn by waltzing into a club on Saturday night and babbling (and trust me, there are no fucking jokes in this dude's set--I've seen it) to a packed room full of people who adore you because you were on the tee-vee. All of those open mics and late night hell gigs teach you things, such as: Don't try to be "edgy" without knowing what the comedic payoff is supposed to be. To paraphrase "Glengarry Glen Ross, "If you don't know the shot, keep your fucking mouth shut." Watching Richards scream "nigger" over and over again in some weak-assed attempt to be Lenny Bruce (overrated, by the way) was liking watching a foreigner read the Pledge of Alleigance phonetically.
Look, I know Richards was a sketch comedian for a very long time before Seinfeld. But sketch is not stand up--neither is improv. Only in stand-up are you forced to take full ownership of every word that comes out of your mouth. There are no characters to hide behind, no scenarios to "yes-and". There is only you, your opinion and whatever ability you have to express that opinion in a humorous fashion.
Michael Richards doesn't know that because he's not a stand up comedian. He's an out of work actor trying to be edgy and dangerous until his next "wacky neighbor" role comes along. So fuck him.