Actors that dabble in the minefield of stand-up comedy need to ensure that their routine isn’t going to negatively impact their career on-screen, though one thing you can never fully predict is the influence of hecklers. When Seinfeld’s Michael Richards found himself in a battle of wits with a member of his audience during a live show in 2006, he made a split-second decision that destroyed his career in an instant. Richards responded to the man’s criticism with a series of racial slurs, demanding that the African-American customer be thrown out of the club.
A video of the incident soon found its way online, showing Richards stopping his show mid-monologue and turning on the audience member, telling him that “Fifty years ago they’d have you hanging upside down with a f**king fork up your a**.” There were audible gasps in the room as the incensed actor then repeatedly used the N-word, despite the man shouting back that the language was uncalled for. The comedian left the stage without finishing his routine.
Richards appeared via satellite on the Late Show with David Letterman to apologize for his outburst, telling the nation that he was “deeply sorry” about what happened and insisting that he wasn’t actually a racist. It didn’t do him any good; his career since has been limited to the occasional token TV appearance.