Michael Richards is doing damage control.
In the aftermath of his racist tirade against two black hecklers during a standup comedy routine, Richards on Wednesday hired a publicist with strong ties to the black community who set up calls to the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
New York publicist Howard Rubenstein took on Richards as a client, then arranged for the actor to call the black leaders.
“Michael apologized profusely,” Rubenstein said. “He wants to heal the tremendous wound that he’s inflicted on the American public, and on the African-American community. ... I think it was a positive discussion.”
Jackson said Richards called “expressing his remorse and his confusion.”
“He’s embarrassed. He got caught on tape. That’s a big part of his anxiety now,” said Jackson.
“Clearly he needs some race sensibility training, and some psychiatric help. His anger is volatile and dangerous to himself and others,” Jackson said. “I hope he gets the help he needs. But the culture that’s producing this kind of animosity toward blacks must be addressed. ... We’re increasingly facing cultural isolation in Hollywood, in the movies and in TV.”
Calls to Sharpton’s home and to his National Action Network on Wednesday were not immediately returned.
Richards, who played kooky neighbor Kramer on “Seinfeld,” lashed out at the hecklers last week during a performance at West Hollywood’s Laugh Factory. A video of his rant then appeared on TMZ.com.
The video shows him calling one of the hecklers a racial epithet, and repeating it over and over again.
In a subsequent satellite appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” Richards said his tirade was fueled by anger, not bigotry.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said in a statement Wednesday that Richards’ comments and anti-Semitic ones by Mel Gibson this year point to a trend in American culture, and that Richards’ declaration “is indicative of the type of denial that too often accompanies racist rhetoric.”
Rubenstein, whose media relations firm specializes in “crisis management,” according to its Web site, said he had never met or spoken to Richards before the actor called him.
“He convinced me that he was sincere in his repentance and would do what’s right,” Rubenstein said.
“I’ve been very involved in the African-American community for 25 to 30 years,” Rubenstein continued. “It would be a tragedy if this exacerbated our race relations. I hope I can help. ... It’s always been an effort on my part to improve African-American and Jewish ethnic relations.”
As for reports that Richards shouted out anti-Semitic remarks during another standup comedy routine in April, Rubenstein confirmed that Richards did, but that he was only role-playing.
“He’s Jewish. He’s not anti-Semitic at all. He was role-playing, he was playing a part. He did use inappropriate language, but he doesn’t have any anti-Semitic feelings whatsoever,” Rubenstein said.
“Michael says that he has a very hot temper, and that he says inappropriate things from time to time. Yes, there’s no excuse for that.”