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''Stop Laughing! It's Not Funny!''

By RD Heldenfels Published: November 21, 2006

That's Jerry Seinfeld, berating the audience at David Letterman's show as his ''Seinfeld'' co-star Michael Richards labored through an apology and explanation of Richards's recent race-baiting rant in a comedy club.

It wasn't funny, either. Richards was clearly pained by what had come from his remarks, and made an interesting contrast to Mel Gibson when Gibson went the mea culpa route with Diane Sawyer. Gibson tried to grin his way through the disaster, while Richards knew this was no time to look amused.

That said, I can understand why some people might laugh -- you can also hear laughter on the recording of Richards's original screed, even though Richards appears to be completely off the chart. Aging hipsters might have heard echoes of Lenny Bruce in Richards' spewing of a racial epithet.

Younger people in the audience may have remembered Andy Kaufman, who often made audiences wonder if he was genuinely crazed or just doing a bit. And one of Kaufman's most notorious moments was a preplanned bit on ''Fridays'' where he appeared to go berserk over a sketch he did not like; one of the participants in that sketch was ... Michael Richards.

At this point, my cynicism starts to kick in a little: Richards gets huge headlines as a ''Seinfeld'' DVD hits the market. But a new ''Seinfeld'' DVD is going to sell anyway, and Jerry was already promoting it. (Hence the Letterman appearance.) But I don't want to be cynical. I want to believe that Richards was genuinely upset by what had happened, that his intermittently coherent remarks on Letterman were for real. Ifelt more pain coming from him than I did from Mel Gibson.

On another topic, if you haven't had enough O.J., my rumination in today's Beacon Journal is here.

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