Coincidentally, just last night I happened to catch the scene from the movie "Lenny" where Lenny Bruce (played by Dustin Hoffman) spouts racist epithets directly at people in his audience before mellowing into an explanation about how if we'd only use these words all the time they'd lose their force. Richards, however, never mellows... and Bruce's theory was a new theory when he tested it out, not a long-argued, tried, and failed one.
IN THE COMMENTS: Someone posts the text of the Lenny Bruce routine. I and others continue to distinguish what Richards did from what Bruce did. Some people get sidetracked into a discussion of how some people seem to be permitted to use racial epithets while others don't. To them I say, watch the video. This isn't a question of using the word. It is the entire sad, angry, sorry context for which there is no decent excuse.
UPDATE: Richards is on Letterman tonight, explaining himself. Here's a report on what he said:
"I'm a performer. I push the envelope. I work in a very uncontrolled manner on stage. I do a lot of free association — it's spontaneous, I go into character. I don't know. In view of the situation and the act going the way it was going, I don't know. The rage did go all over the place it went to everybody in the room.ANOTHER UPDATE: I've watched the show now, so let me make a few observations.
"I'm not a racist, that's what's so insane about this."
1. Poor Jerry! Seinfeld was the scheduled guest, there to promote a new DVD collection of the old sitcom, trying to make the best of the situation, with Richards having degraded the value of the product.
2. Richards seemed calm -- and his deadpan delivery caused some clueless audience members to laugh -- but he also seemed deeply broken up and in need of help. At one point, he questioned whether to be talking on the show was the right place for him to be, and he seemed really stunned. Maybe he was on tranquilizers.
3. The stupidest part of Richards' performance was when he shifted from admitting to his own rage to talking about needing to get to the bottom of rage generally, including the rage that takes nations to war. He also tried to connect the offense that the black people in his audience took toward him to the effect Katrina had on black people.