Michael Richards Reflects on 2006 Late Show Apology Following Racist Rant

Over the course of his 40-plus years as a talk show host, David Letterman weathered his fair share of uncomfortable celebrity encounters, including Madonna’s F-bomb-filled 1994 Late Show visit. But few moments were as painful to watch as the time Michael Richards showed up—via satellite—to apologize for a racist outburst that had occurred during a comedy show just three days earier.     

In Entrances and Exits, a new memoir from the man best known as Seinfeld’s quirky Cosmo Kramer, Richards opens up about that infamous on-air mea culpa.

The story began on the evening of November 17, 2006, when Richards imploded his career with a single tirade while performing at Hollywood’s Laugh Factory. When a rowdy audience member decided to heckle Richards by declaring him “not funny,” the actor—who was attempting to ease his way back into the standup comedy scene—lost it.

Richards proceeded to deliver a graphic, angry diatribe in which he referenced lynching and used the N-word at least seven times—which “leveled” the room, Richards writes.

The racist rant caused an uproar in the moment, but it was also caught on video by an audience member, who then shared the footage with TMZ (who, in turn, shared it with the world).

Richards shares the remorse he felt and subsequent “heart-work” following the incident in his memoir. He briefly recounts the painful experience of his Letterman apology—and how a crisis management firm told him it was a mistake.

The Late Show apology was delivered the same day the video began making the rounds. Jerry Seinfeld had already been scheduled to sit down with Letterman that night, and was reportedly the one to suggest that Richards “conference in via satellite and apologize,” to which Richards readily agreed.

By that time, Larry King had already sent a handwritten note to Richards’ home, attempting to court him for an exclusive interview. But Richards didn’t respond. “I don’t know how to face the press,” he writes. “Somehow, I have to face myself first.” 

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In the six-minute interview with Letterman, Richards nervously explained: “I got heckled and I took it badly, and went into a rage,” which prompted the audience to laugh somewhat nervously.

But it became clear that this moment was real when Seinfeld reprimanded the crowd: “Stop laughing. It’s not funny.”

Later, amid more laughter, Richards himself noted, “I’m hearing your audience laughing. I’m not even sure this is where I should be addressing the situation.”

“I’m not a racist,” Richards continued “That’s what’s so insane about this. And yet, it’s said. It comes through. It fires out of me.”

“I know it’s difficult,” Letterman told Richards after thanking him for being there—before adding: “I certainly hope you don’t have regrets about being on this show this evening.”

Richards recalls taping the apology from a CBS space in Los Angeles: “I don’t have a publicist. I don’t meet with a producer beforehand to go over anything. This isn’t a performance. I’m raw. No mask. No makeup. No character to hide behind.”

He continues: “Here I am dead and all, waiting to go on national television where people can now look at Michael Richards, the corpse.”

Indeed, Richards did seem to be a shell of himself in the tense segment. In Entrances and Exits, he recounts the exchange between himself and Letterman, but doesn’t quite offer any present-day reflection on the content of his apology. 

For Richards’ part, he explains that he wasn’t ever interested in doing “anything phony or inauthentic” to show his remorse, but rather “apologize, acknowledge what I did, and take stock of myself.”

Whether his decision to apologize on Letterman’s Late Show was the right call or not, it inarguably made for one of the most memorable moments in late-night history.

Entrances and Exits, which includes a foreword by Seinfeld, hits bookstores today.

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