It wasn't a magic act, but by saying that magic word he launched himself into the headlines and transformed some obnoxious cads into aggrieved national victims.
One doesn't have to look very hard to find a criticism of Michael Richards, so let's take the other side, play Clarence Darrow, and see what can be said in his defense.
Lenny Bruce and George Carlin made their comic bones by using words that many people didn't want to hear. If there's anything to learn from their experience it's that what sounds awful to one generation might very well end up as everyday slang in the next.
Michael Richards' career has been flat since his stint on "Seinfeld," and he was probably engaged in standup comedy in an attempt to show that he was not just another pretty face. His act probably wasn't that funny anyway, and his attempt to strike back at the hecklers was just an unfunny rant.
A good comedian could have made the audience laugh at the heckler, not with him. I once witnessed Rodney Dangerfield do that effortlessly in a live performance -- "You want a funny joke take off your clothes and look in the mirror."
But Richards used the "n" word, and critics came out of the woodwork. Other commentators "tsk tsk" at the threatened lawsuit now hanging over Richards' head. But that's what broke the code for me. This is the grievance industry at work.
The "n" word trumps everything. O. J. Simpson is a free man partly because Mark Furhman used the "n" word, and lied about it. Michael Richards' hecklers could have committed any number of foul acts on Richards, but his use of the "n" word placed a weapon in their hands that was more powerful then anything Richards had left with which to defend himself.
It brings to mind the Geico commercials in which the aggrieved caveman is so offended by an implication that something is simple enough for him to do. The commercials always have a Geico spokesperson apologizing profusely at the caveman's perceived slight.
I'm amazed that those ads ever made it onto television, because they exemplify a phenomenon we've seen play out so many times. The grievance industry must have been very upset about those ads, because they say that someone somewhere is able to see that the grievance industry emperors have barely any clothes.
So what's Richards to do? He can go big, go home, or go lame. He chose to go lame, but if he wanted to stay in show business he really had no choice.
So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defendant you see before you is guilty of going on stage to try to make people laugh. Maybe he wasn't funny. But there he was, up there on the stage, unprepared for the obnoxious hecklers who felt perfectly comfortable verbally assaulting him. And when they attacked him, he had a bout of temporary insanity, lashing out, trying to defend himself, trying to hurt them as much as they had hurt him. He used every insult he could think of, but then he made a mistake. He hit on race. And because of his use of that one word, he is before you now. When you go into that jury room, please remember that this is a free country. Freedom of speech means that we are supposed to be able to say what we please. And just because someone gets offended doesn't mean he's entitled to anything more than a refund of his ticket price.