On Oct. 8, 1993, many Americans were introduced rather uncerimoniously to a longstanding tradition known as the Friars Club roast. On that evening, actor Ted Danson took the stage in blackface—during a roast of his then presumed sweetie, Whoopi Goldberg. It caused a firestorm of controversy, though Goldberg herself had written much of the bit and fiercely defended the performance and Danson.
Through that incident, many Americans have been made aware of a fierce brand of comedy that sometimes toys with racism to be funny. It’s there. You can argue that it shouldn’t be or that people should grow a spine over it, but it’s there.
You just gotta be careful if you choose to go and use it. Michael Richards, eh, not so careful.
The whole thing makes you wonder, when the heck are white people are going to get the message once and for all, that it becomes less and less cool every day to insult a man for his complexion, and that it is especially not cool if you do it by using that word. Dear white people: You no longer own, or even lease, that word. You are not to use it, period. Not with the “ah” at the end and certainly not with the “r” at the end. Just for good measure, let’s avoid “niggardly,” too. I know doing so patronizes the masses and kills a perfectly good adjective, but “miserly” works just as well and has just as many syllables.
On the other hand.
I’ve never done standup. I’ve come close. You know. Karaoke. And I’ve threatened to do standup at Dremo’s. But I haven’t. So I can’t imagine what that feels like, to know that you’re drowning up there and to hear affirmation of that screamed at you by those who have ostensibly shown up and paid to see you do this. It must be infuriating. It must be very tempting to go there, to venture into the living room and to come out with something awful, something about hanging one upside down and shoving forks in places, and then to go that one step further, as did Michael Richards.
I’d like America to give Richards a pass, only because I think we owe him one. For years, the man entertained you and you and you with his mugging and his pratfalls, sometimes to the point of making you think, how did he DO that?. It was unprofessional and foolish of him to go there, certainly. Wrong place wrong time, and worst of all, it wasn’t funny. But, foogit. He’s Kramer. Cosmos Kramer. Give break. Right?