Michael Anthony Richards (born July 24, 1949) is an American actor, comedian, writer and television producer, best known for his portrayal of the eccentric Cosmo Kramer on the television sitcom Seinfeld.
Richards began his career as a stand up comedian, first stepping into a national spotlight when he was featured on Billy Crystal‘s first cable TV special. He went on to become a series regular on ABC’s Fridays. Prior to Seinfeld, he made numerous guest appearances on a variety of television shows including Cheers, Night Court, Miami Vice and St. Elsewhere. His film credits include So I Married an Axe Murderer, Airheads, Young Doctors in Love, Problem Child, Coneheads and UHF. During the run of Seinfeld, he made a guest appearance in Mad About You. After Seinfeld, Richards starred in his own sitcom, The Michael Richards Show, which lasted less than one season.
After his series was cancelled, Richards returned to his roots performing stand up comedy. After inciting some media furor in late 2006 over explosively addressing audience members at a comedy show with repeated racial epithets, Richards announced his retirement from stand-up in 2007. Most recently, Richards appeared as himself in the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2009, acting alongside his fellow Seinfeld cast members for the first time since Seinfeld’s finale.
Richards was born in Culver City, California, the son of Phyllis (née Nardozza), a medical records librarian, and William Richards, an electrical engineer. Richards was brought up with no specific religious tradition. He was drafted during the Vietnam War, was in the U.S. Army for two years, and was stationed in Germany as one of the co-directors of the V Corps Training Road Show. “This was a successful, educational operation, boosting the morale of our men and incorporating the arts into the service.”[cite this quote]
He attended the California Institute of the Arts, and received a BA degree in drama from The Evergreen State College in 1975. He also had a short-lived improv act with Ed Begley, Jr. during this period. Enrolled at Los Angeles Valley College, he continued to appear in student productions. He later said: “I am grateful that the public schools introduced me to the performing arts.”[cite this quote]
He also spent a few years “finding himself” at a commune in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1979 he drove a bus and developed his own nightclub act.
Richards got his big TV break in 1979, appearing in Billy Crystal‘s first cable TV special. In 1980, he began as one of the cast members on ABC’s Fridays television show, including a famous instance in which guest Andy Kaufman refused to deliver his scripted lines, leading Richards to bring the cue cards on screen to Kaufman causing him to throw his drink into Richards’ face, before a small riot ensued (Richards later claimed he was in on the joke). The film Man on the Moon featured a re-enactment of the Andy Kaufman incident in which Richards was portrayed by actor Norm Macdonald (although he is never referred to by name so he could be seen as a composite character taking the place of Richards).
He was also famous for a brief sketch that he did on the show, during which he simply improvised with a large pile of dirt and some army toys. In 1989, Richards had a strong supporting role in “Weird Al” Yankovic‘s comedy film UHF. On television, Richards also appeared in Miami Vice (as an unscrupulous bookie), Cheers (as a character trying to collect on an old bet with Sam Malone), and made several guest appearances with Jay Leno as an accident-prone fitness expert.
According to an interview with executive producer David Hoberman, ABC first conceived the series Monk as a police show with an Inspector Clouseau-like character suffering from obsessive–compulsive disorder. Hoberman said that ABC wanted Richards for the Monk role, but Richards turned it down.
In 1989, he was cast as Cosmo Kramer in the NBC television series Seinfeld, which was created by fellow Fridays cast member Larry David and comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Although it got off to a slow start, by the mid-1990s, the show had become one of the most popular sitcoms in television history. The series ended its nine-year run in 1998 at #1 in the Nielsen ratings. In the setting of Seinfeld, Kramer is usually referred to by his last name only and is the neighbor of the show’s eponymous character. Kramer’s first name Cosmo was revealed in the sixth season episode “The Switch“.
Richards won more Emmys than any other cast member on Seinfeld. He took home the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1993, 1994 and 1997.
Starting in 2004, he and his fellow Seinfeld cast members provided interviews and audio commentaries for the Seinfeld DVDs, but Richards stopped providing audio commentary after Season 5. He continued to provide interviews.
The Michael Richards Show
In 2000, after the end of Seinfeld, Richards began work on a new series for NBC, his first major project since Seinfeld’s high-profile finale. The Michael Richards Show, for which the actor received co-writer and co-executive producer credits, was originally conceived as a comedy/mystery starring Richards as a bumbling private investigator. However, after the first pilot failed with test audiences, NBC ordered that the show be retooled into a more conventional, office-based sitcom before its premiere. After a few weeks of poor ratings and negative reviews, it was canceled.
Cameo roles, guest appearances, and film roles
Richards played himself in Episode 2 of Season 1 “The Flirt Episode” (1992) of the HBO series, The Larry Sanders Show. Richards also played a cameo role in So I Married an Axe Murderer where he was an “insensitive man”. Richards played radio station employee Doug Beech in Airheads. He also made guest appearances on Miami Vice, Night Court and Cheers. In 2007, Richards voiced character Bud Ditchwater in the animated film Bee Movie, which starred, and was produced by, Jerry Seinfeld. In 2009, Richards and the other main Seinfeld cast members appeared in the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Laugh Factory Incident
On November 17, 2006, during a performance at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood, California, a camera phone video captured Richards shouting “Shut up! Fifty years ago we’d have you upside down with a fucking fork up your ass!” to a pair of black hecklers in the audience, followed by repeated shouts of “He’s a nigger!” to the rest of the audience (using the racial epithet six times altogether and making a reference to lynching). Another black member of the audience who was offended by the remarks retorted by calling Richards a “cracker” and “fucking white boy.”
Richards made a public apology for his racist remarks, during a telephoned appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, when Jerry Seinfeld was the guest. He described going into a rage and said, “For me to be at a comedy club and to flip out and say this crap, I’m deeply, deeply sorry.” He said he was trying to defuse heckling by being even more outrageous, but that it had backfired. Richards later called civil rights leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in order to apologize. He also appeared as a guest on Jackson’s syndicated radio show.
Kyle Doss, one of the members of the group that Richards had addressed, gave his explanation to CNN of the events prior to the cell phone video. He said that they had arrived in the middle of the performance and that, “I guess we’re being a little loud, because there was 20 of us ordering drinks. And Richards said, ‘Look at the stupid Mexicans and blacks being loud up there.'” Richards then continued with his routine. Doss added, “And, then, after a while, I told him, my friend doesn’t think you’re funny,” which triggered Richards’ outburst.
The incident was later parodied on several TV shows, including MadTV, Family Guy, South Park, Extras and Curb Your Enthusiasm; in the last, he appeared as himself.
In July 2007, partly due to the incident at the Laugh Factory club in November 2006, Richards announced that he has retired from stand-up comedy for “spiritual healing” purposes and would be traveling with his fiancée to Cambodia, where they would visit Angkor Wat, as well as more remote temples, on a tour sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Nithyananda Foundation.
Richards is a Freemason and also a 33° member of the Scottish Rite. He has been very active in preservation of Masonic research.
- 1980–1982 Fridays (54 episodes) – Various
- 1982–1984 Faerie Tale Theatre (2 episodes) – King Geoffrey, Vince
- 1983 Herndon – Dr. Herndon P. Stool
- 1984 At Your Service – Rick the Gardener
- 1984 Night Court (1 episode) – Eugene Sleighbough
- 1984 The Ratings Game – Sal
- 1985 Tall Tales & Legends (1 episode) – Sneaky Pete
- 1984–1985 St. Elsewhere (5 episodes) – Bill Wolf
- 1985 Cheers (1 episode) – Eddie Gordon
- 1985 Scarecrow and Mrs. King (1 episode) – Petronus
- 1985 Slickers – Mike Blade
- 1985 It’s a Living (1 episode) – Hager
- 1985 Hill Street Blues ( 1 episode) – Special Agent Dupre
- 1986 Miami Vice (1 episode) – Pagone
- 1986 Fresno (TV miniseries) – 2nd Henchman
- 1987 Jonathan Winters: On the Ledge – Various Characters
- 1987–1988 Marblehead Manor (10 episodes) – Rick the Gardener
- 1989 Camp MTV – Stanley Spadowski
- 1989–1998 Seinfeld (177 episodes) – Kramer
- 1992 Dinosaurs (voice 1 episode) – Director
- 1992 Mad About You (1 episode) – Kramer
- 1996 Ellen’s Energy Adventure (uncredited) – Caveman discovering fire
- 1996 London Suite – Mark Ferris
- 2000 David Copperfield 2000 – Mr. Wilkins Micawber
- 2000 The Michael Richards Show (7 episodes) – Vic Nardozza
- 2009 Curb Your Enthusiasm – with the entire cast of Seinfeld
- 1982 Young Doctors in Love – Malamud Callahan
- 1984 The House of God – Dr. Pinkus
- 1985 Transylvania 6-5000 – Fejos
- 1986 Whoops Apocalypse – Lacrobat
- 1989 UHF – Stanley Spadowski
- 1990 Problem Child – Martin Beck
- 1993 Coneheads – Motel Clerk
- 1993 So I Married an Axe Murderer – Newspaper reporter
- 1994 Airheads – Doug Beech
- 1995 Unstrung Heroes – Danny Lidz
- 1997 Redux Riding Hood (voice) – The Wolf
- 1997 Trial and Error – Richard ‘Ricky’ Rietti
- 2007 Bee Movie (voice) – Bud Ditchwater
- 2011 Jock (voice) – Mr. Morris