Michael Anthony Richards (born July 24, 1949) is an American actor, writer, television producer and comedian, widely known for his portrayal of Cosmo Kramer on the television sitcom Seinfeld, for which he received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series three times.
Richards began his career as a stand-up comedian, first entering the 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, such as Cheers. His film credits include So I Married an Axe Murderer, Airheads, Young Doctors in Love, Problem Child, Coneheads, UHF, and Trial and Error, one of his few starring roles. 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 full season.
When Seinfeld ended in 1998, Richards returned to stand-up comedy. He incited media furor while performing at the Laugh Factory comedy club in late 2006 after cell phone video was published of him launching into an expletive-laced racial tirade after earlier interruptions from a group of late-arriving audience members. Subsequently due to significant media coverage of the event he announced his retirement from stand-up early in 2007. He appeared as himself in the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2009, acting alongside his fellow cast members for the first time since Seinfeld's finale, as well as lampooning his incident at the Laugh Factory.
Richards was born in Culver City, California, the son of Phyllis (née Nardozzi), a medical records librarian, and William Richards, an electrical engineer. His father died in a car crash when Michael was two and his mother never remarried.
Richards graduated from Thousand Oaks High School. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1970. He trained as a medic and was stationed in West Germany. After being honorably discharged he used the benefits of the G.I. Bill to enroll in 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, he enrolled at Los Angeles Valley College and continued to appear in student productions.
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, where Larry David was a writer. This included 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's 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).
In 1989, Richards had a supporting role in "Weird Al" Yankovic's comedy film UHF as janitor Stanley Spadowski. 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 procedural police comedy with an Inspector Clouseau-like character suffering from obsessive–compulsive disorder. Hoberman said that ABC wanted Richards to play Adrian Monk, but he 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 though he continued to provide interviews.
In 2000, after the end of Seinfeld, Richards began work on a new series for NBC, his first major project since Seinfeld's 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 cancelled.
During a performance on November 17, 2006 at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood, California, Richards shouted a racially charged response to noise from black audience members, shouting "He's a nigger!" several times, and referring to lynching, and the Jim Crow era. Kyle Doss, a member of the group Richards addressed, said that the group had arrived in the middle of the performance, explaining:
[H]ere's what happened. As we walked in, we sat down and started ordering drinks. And, as we ordered drinks, I guess we're being a little loud, because there was 20 of us ordering drinks. And he said, "Look at the stupid Mexicans and blacks being loud up there." That's the first thing he said. And then he kept on with his bit. And, then, after a while, I told him, "My friend doesn't think you're funny." And then when I told him that, that's when he flipped me off and said, "F-you N-word." And that's how it all started.
Richards made a public apology when he spoke via satellite on the Late Show with David Letterman, when Jerry Seinfeld was the guest, saying, "For me to be at a comedy club and to flip out and say this crap, I'm deeply, deeply sorry. I'm not a racist, that's what's so insane about this." The audience initially laughed at Richards using the terms "Afromerican" and "Afro Americans" and during uncomfortable pauses in Richards' explanation and apology, unable to decide if the interview was a bit; at one point Seinfeld chided the audience, "Stop laughing, it's not funny." Richards said that he had been trying to defuse heckling by being even more outrageous, but that it had backfired. He later called civil rights leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to apologize. He also appeared as a guest on Jackson's syndicated radio show. However both Doss and Sharpton have refused to accept Richards' apology, with the former saying "...if he wanted to apologize, he could have contacted somebody to one of us from the group...but he didn't. He apologized on camera just because the tape got out."
The incident was later parodied on several TV shows, including MadTV, Family Guy, South Park, and Extras. In an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Richards appeared as himself and poked fun at the incident. In a 2012 episode of Seinfeld's web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Richards admitted that the outburst still haunted him, and was a major reason for his withdrawal from performing stand-up.
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 the comedy thriller film So I Married an Axe Murderer, credited as "insensitive man". Richards played radio station employee Doug Beech in Airheads and co-starred with Jeff Daniels as an actor pretending to be a lawyer in 1997's Trial and Error. 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. In 2012, Richards appeared in comedy web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, hosted by Jerry Seinfeld. In 2014, Richards appeared as the president of Crackle in a trailer for Season 5. Seinfeld has said that the storyline of the trailer will be expanded upon in one of the episodes.
Richards was married for 18 years to Cathleen Lyons, a family therapist. They have one daughter, Sophia (b. 1975). Richards and Lyons separated in 1992 and officially divorced a year later. In 2010, Richards married longtime girlfriend Beth Skipp. They have been together since 2002.
|1982||Young Doctors in Love||Malamud Callahan|
|1984||The House of God||Dr. Pinkus|
|1990||Problem Child||Martin Beck|
|1993||So I Married an Axe Murderer||Insensitive Man|
|1994||The Flintstones||Paper Man|
|1995||Unstrung Heroes||Danny Lidz||Nominated—American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture|
|1997||Redux Riding Hood||The Wolf||Voice
|1997||Trial and Error||Richard 'Ricky' Rietti|
|2007||Bee Movie||Bud Ditchwater||Voice|
|2013||Walk The Light||Lester||Short film|
|1980–1982||Fridays||Various roles||54 episodes; also writer|
|1982||Faerie Tale Theatre||King Geoffeey||Episode: "The Tale of the Frog Prince"|
|1983||Herndon||Dr. Herndon P. Stool||Television film|
|1984||Faerie Tale Theatre||Vince||Episode: "Pinocchio"|
|1984||At Your Service||Rick the gardener||Television film|
|1984||Night Court||Eugene Sleighbough||Episode: "Take My Wife, Please"|
|1984||The Ratings Game||Sal||Television film|
|1985||Tall Tales & Legends||Sneaky Pete||Episode: "My Darlin' Clementine"|
|1984–1985||St. Elsewhere||Bill Wolf||5 episodes|
|1985||Cheers||Eddie Gordon||Episode: "Bar Bet"|
|1985||Scarecrow and Mrs. King||Petronus||Episode: "Car Wars"|
|1985||Slickers||Mike Blade||Television film|
|1985||It's a Living||Hager||Episode: "Desperate Hours"|
|1985||Hill Street Blues||Special Agent Durpe||Episode: "An Oy for an Oy"|
|1986||Miami Vice||Pagone||Episode: "The Fix"|
|1986||A Year in the Life||Ronnie||3 episodes|
|1986||Fresno||2nd henchman||5 episodes|
|1987||Jonathan Winters: On the Ledge||Various roles||Television special|
|1987–1988||Marblehead Manor||Rick||11 episodes|
|1989||Camp MTV||Stanley Spadowski||Television film|
|1989–1998||Seinfeld||Cosmo Kramer||178 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (1993–94, 1997)
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series (1995, 1997–98)
Nominated—American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Male in a Television Series
Nominated—American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Male in a Television Series (shared with Jason Alexander)
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (1995–96)
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series (1996–98)
Episode: "Wesayso Knows Best"
|1992||Mad About You||Cosmo Kramer||Episode: "The Apartment"|
|1992||The Larry Sanders Show||Himself||Episode: "The Flirt Episode"|
|1996||London Suite||Mark Ferris||Television film|
|2000||David Copperfield||Mr. Wilkins Micawber||Television film|
|2000||The Michael Richards Show||Vic Nardozza||7 episodes; also co-creator and executive producer|
|2009||Curb Your Enthusiasm||Michael Richards||3 episodes|
|2014||Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee||Michael Richards||3 episodes|
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