FOR a man who has spent much of his adult life in comedy clubs, comedian and Seinfeld character-actor Michael Richards turned out to be surprisingly thin-skinned. Nearly everyone with a television or a computer has seen the footage of Mr. Richards flying into a rage during his stand-up act at a West Hollywood comedy club.
The man who played Jerry Seinfeld's eccentric neighbor Kramer was so discombobulated by two African-American hecklers that he resorted to racist slurs and a tacit approval of lynching to reclaim the upper hand.
Before hurling vile racial invective at the men who heckled him, Mr. Richards bragged that he was rich and claimed he could have the men arrested because wealth has its privileges. The mix of class presumption and racial bias created a toxic stew that even a brilliant comedian couldn't overcome, much less a mediocre talent who has seen little success since Seinfeld ended nearly a decade ago.
By the time the incident turned up on the celebrity-busting Web site, TMZ, Mr. Richards' goose was effectively cooked. The resulting firestorm threatened to overshadow the release of the seventh season Seinfeld DVD box set.
At the prompting of his friend, Jerry Seinfeld, Mr. Richards appeared via satellite on David Letterman's show to apologize for, but not necessarily explain, how the hateful words crossed his lips if they weren't in his heart. He later appeared on the Rev. Jesse Jackson's radio program to apologize again.
Mr. Richards' mea culpas didn't shed much light on the mystery of what one wag described as his Ku Klux Kramer moment.
Still, it's difficult to second-guess an apology. Until an invention comes along that makes it possible to peer into the human heart, we can never know how sincere it is.
The audience at the Laugh Factory suffered through a hateful tirade, but Mr. Richards suffered a loss of reputation he may never recover.
Was he speaking from his heart or from some other dark place?