Photo: © 1999 -The Scottish Rite of Freemasonry
"Brother" Michael Richards enrols as a Freemason in 1999
(That's a Mason's "red hat" - not a "yarmulka"!)
Like everyone who has been exposed to the story of Michael Richards' baffling tirade - I hope that he is able to make amends to everyone he hurt. It will take serious effort by him to gain understanding of what he said and why.
It will be a process best-served by quiet, diligent effort and out-reach. It will not be well-served by the unsurprising emergence of Gloria Allred turning it into yet another publicity circus and money-grub. (I thought she had hit rock-bottom in 2001 when she tried to serve a writ on the widow of George Harrison because his death certificate gave an address that deterred ghouls from gathering at his place of death. But Ms. Allred made her way there anyway...)
On the few occasions I have bumped into Richards at industry events he has been engaging and charming. Betraying no indication whatsoever that he harbored hateful or bigoted thoughts.
My initial assumption was that his outburst was a dreadful mis-fire of feigned anger. An attempt to explore the Andy Kaufman genre of audience alienation. And if he had expressed anger towards noise-making audience members that had zero reference to their ethnicity - he might have succeeded in that. Expressing comedic anger towards hecklers can be okay - as long as the references are confined to the behavior of the people. There is no excuse whatsoever for referring to their ethnicity. Especially in a deeply unpleasant way. THAT is what was utterly unnecessary. And what he said was appalling. And I think he knows that.
What Richards will also need is clarity of statements - particularly by his newly-engaged, crisis management publicist - Howard Rubenstein.
In a widely-circulated AP news story today, Rubenstein addressed the most recent development - an accusation that Richards uttered some anti-semitic remarks during another standup comedy routine in April.
"He's Jewish. He's not anti-Semitic at all. He was role-playing, he was playing a part. He did use inappropriate language, but he doesn't have any anti-Semitic feelings whatsoever."
But IS Richards Jewish?
Comedian Paul Rodriguez certainly seemed to think so when he discussed last Friday's incident in the hastily-called press conference at the Laugh Factory on Monday. He said that Richards should know better, because the Hollywood community defended Jews against actor Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirades. The implication being that Richards is Jewish.
An understandable notion because the real-life Kenny Kramer (on whom Larry David based the Cosmo Kramer character portrayed by Michael Richards) is apparently Jewish.
However the Jewish Journal has claimed in a well-referenced article - that Michael Richards is NOT Jewish.
According to the article he was neither born Jewish - nor raised Jewish. He was raised as a Catholic and has been a proud Mason for many years.
Not that there's anything wrong with being Jewish, not being Jewish - or indeed being or not being Catholic or a Mason!
But given the many conflicting stories currently abounding on the internet - it would be good to get clarity about what faith Michael Richards was raised in.
The relationship between the Jewish and African-American communities does not need to be exacerbated by assertions that - if erroneous - may fuel ill-feeling between the two communities.
UPDATE!!! Wednesday November 29th 2006
MICHAEL RICHARDS IS DEFINITELY NOT JEWISH!
Full Details: Oy Gevalt! Now Kramer is the Jewish Eminem!